What’s my job
Handling the stress
Offer help nicely
A lead is a leader
When you’re ambitious and dedicated, when you want the show to be the best it can possibly be, it can be almost unbearable to work with others who don’t. So what are you to do when those you are working with are disruptive, disorganized, or not dedicated?
Unexpected things will happen in theatre. There will be days when you feel your time is being wasted because the director is solving other problems. However, there are endless things to work on for your own character (backstory, intentions, subtext, the way you move, moment before… the list goes on). There will be decisions you don’t agree with but unless you feel the decision endangers someone, let it go. What you continually have to ask yourself is “What’s my job?” This has kept me focused and productive in times of frustration.
People have different ways of dealing with this stress (and at one time or another, I’ve tried them all). Some lose interest, they stop caring so they avoid disappointment. While this tactic may relieve some of the stress, it also means becoming part of the problem. Others try to become the boss, they think “I can do this better, so I’m going to tell you how you should do it.” While tempting, this is not a great way to handle the situation. If your advice is not asked for, others will resent your input more than appreciate it. Plus, unsolicited advice may undermine the director’s authority as the final decision maker. Understanding that some behaviors come from stress can help you avoid overreacting to these behaviors when you see them in others, and to avoid engaging in the behaviors yourself when you’re starting to feel the tension. Instead, take a deep breath and do your job – let everyone else sort themselves out.
Just as it’s not your responsibility to second guess a director’s decision, it’s not your responsibility to judge a fellow actor’s choices or talents. Imagine you’re in a scene with someone. The moment you start to analyze their quality as a performer is the moment you have stopped thinking as your own character, you are no longer doing your job. It can be hard not to analyze (particularly when you’re off stage watching) but try your best to be supportive. Put your energy into hoping they do well or celebrating their smallest triumphs. Theatre is a collaborative art that means cooperation is key to its success.
Now, I don’t want to imply that you can’t offer help with things outside your role, particularly in community or school theatre. This is a wonderful part of the process, once you reach the professional level you’ll find that union theaters have strict rules about who can do what job. If you know your choreography and lines but someone else is struggling, by all means, offer to practice with them but do so by encouraging them, not disparaging their shortcomings. Make very sure that your attitude conveys “how can I help?” It’s a fine line and it will be a learning process.
You might prefer to be in a lead role, but being in the ensemble is a wonderful opportunity to practice taking risks. Give your character a silly voice or a funny walk. Any director would rather have to tell you “that’s too much, do less” than try to draw out something interesting from the energy that isn’t there. Once you have earned a lead role, remember that to be a lead is to be a leader. Your attitude matters. Others will follow your example so be kind, be humble and be inclusive – include everyone (leads, ensemble members, orchestra, crew) in your conversation. This will help to develop a united creative environment.
If you are inconsiderate or you make others feel bad, it won’t matter how good you are in a role. The only thing people will remember is that you were difficult to work with. If you are agreeable and dedicated, it will be noticed. You will have the gratitude of the creative team and they will want to work with you again. A good attitude will bring more opportunity than talent and it makes for a better world!