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Is This How Adults Behave?

December, 2002

Someone you know, someone you have worked with before, calls you up and says they’ve had an actor drop from their cast. You’re being offered the part. It’s a good part, in a classic play, being done in a decent venue near you. What do you do? Do you call right back and accept? Do you call back and get more information, so you can check it against your schedule and find out more about the production? Or do you ignore the message and the email altogether?

You go and audition for a production. You find a well-run, professional audition with a good atmosphere. You mark on your audition form that you will accept any role and that you have no conflicts with the rehearsal schedule. The auditions are competitive; there are more people right in the room with you than there are roles in the play. The producer contacts you and offers you a good part; rehearsals will be in the same place you went to for auditions and they’re at the same times and dates as you saw on the conflicts sheet. Do you accept the part? Do you talk to the director to resolve any questions or reservations? Or do you just turn it down flat with some mumbled nonsense about it being too far to travel?

When you audition for a play, you are informed that you will be expected to learn your lines before the first rehearsal. You are cast, and you are given your script two weeks before the first rehearsal. You have a normal-size supporting role. Do you arrive with your lines solidly learned? Do you arrive with at least a good grasp of your lines, so that you call for lines frequently, but not unduly so? Or do you arrive with nothing learned at all?

In my latest random sample, four out of five actors choose the last course of action mentioned in the first of the cases above. Two out of seven actors choose the last course of action in the second case. Two out of five chose the last alternative in the third case.

Is this how adults behave?

Artists are seen by the general public as flakes. First of all, we don’t do honest work for a living; that’s obvious, right? Walking about on a stage flailing our arms and talking loudly hardly constitutes honest work, right? Second, we are thought of as gypsies, ne’er-do-wells, transients, shiftless, unfit for Christian burial, and not to be trusted with anybody’s daughter, let alone son. We are seen as likely to be sexually deviant, unable to form lasting relationships, prone to serial monogamy or worse, and generally irresponsible.

So why do we live up to that portrait in our professional lives?

I don’t expect anybody to be a saint. But if I call you up and offer you a part, especially when you and I both know you’re not working, at least call me back and let me know your response. If you go out to audition and you take up the producer’s time in auditions and you make the producer believe you actually do want to be cast, don’t blow me off when I should be so rude as to cast you. If you know you won’t be able to meet a certain requirement or commitment, don’t just show up empty-handed instead of letting me know as early as possible that there’s a problem.

I, or any other producer or director for that matter, can work with almost any situation or problem if I just know what’s coming down the pike. There are actually very few genuinely unforeseen major emergencies in life. Most of what happens to us happens with warning, usually quite a bit of warning. Sharing your problems with your producer is not going to get you killed, or if it does, you didn’t want to work for that person anyhow. Leaving people in the lurch who need a response from you, even if it’s negative, is just plain rude; you can guarantee that’s the last offer you’re ever going to get from somebody you treat that way. And when push comes to shove, being unprofessional is simply the shortest, quickest, and most irreversible way out of the profession.

So why not make a point of acting like an adult? You work in a profession that doesn’t need you. There are plenty of others out there like you. In fact, in a really top-level audition process, you’ll meet a whole bunch of them in the room at the last cut. Some of them – I hope you – will be professionals in word and deed. Others – I hope not you – will be professionals in deed only. I truly hope it’s someone – maybe you! – from the first group that nails the job.

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