Allison Page has some sage advice for producers, directors, and pretty much everyone else out there making theater. Of course, I may have to write one now called, “Actors: Why You Should Never Be Cast Again.”
ATTENTION: This is a public service announcement. If you do any of the following things, it may inspire actors not to work with your theatre company again in the future. Seriously. Actors may be meat puppets, but the USDA has standards, and so do we.
1) NOT CONTACTING THE ACTORS WHO WEREN’T CAST: Oh, come on. It’s 2014. Take the 5 minutes and email the actors who gave time to your project before the project even started, and tell the miserable bastards that you’re not using them. This coming from someone who usually forgets about whatever the project was until she hears about it again. Recently, that was not the case. There were very few people at the callback and I had the distinct impression that I was seriously being considered for more than one role. Naturally, I waited around to find out about it. *Crickets* *Crickets* and then they announced the cast online without ever telling the actors who weren’t cast about it. NO. DO NOT DO THIS. This isn’t your high school drama department. You aren’t pinning a list up on the wall so Susie Shithead can see if she got the coveted role of Chorus 2. Remember that actors are trying to plan their schedules just like you are – they want to know if they should take something else that comes along or be in your awesome show.
2) NOT CLEANING THE COSTUMES: Ew, stop it. It’s not the job of the actors to clean their costumes. It just isn’t. Especially if you have a costumer. If the costumer says “Um, I don’t clean costumes.” Then you need to take care of that by either A) Being sure that the costumer knows that IS part of their job, if it is or B) Making other arrangements or C) Being up front with the actors and saying that they will have to take care of their own costumes from the beginning. I don’t love this for several reasons (the actors might not know how to properly care for their particular costume and/or the fabrics it’s made of, they might be idiots and forget a costume item at home, etc.) but if no one else is going to be cleaning them, everyone should know that in the beginning, not after weeks of having a filthy costume and asking “WHYYYYY?” to everyone and getting no answer because you don’t feel like addressing it.
3) LETTING THE TECH SIDE GET AWAY WITH MURDER: You can appear to be a great producer, but if your stage manager or lighting or sound tech or costume person is a total douchebag – it’s going to reflect poorly on you. And what’s going to be waaaaayyyyy worse is if you don’t do a damn thing about it. If you hear about someone either being bad at their job or treating other people – the people who are trying to make your damn show come together – like shit, you need to intervene. Lighting tech who passes out in the booth in the middle of the show so the lights don’t come up? HI, SAY SOMETHING.
Costumer groping the actors? STOP IT. More than anything – just pay attention. And if someone comes to you with a real problem (not a “my M&Ms are all supposed to be blue” problem) – listen and act if necessary. Don’t avoid the problem, it won’t go away. And don’t punish the people who’ve raised the issue in the first place. That’s completely ridiculous. If you show that you don’t care enough to do anything about the issues with your staff, that’s not going to look good to anybody. And actors talk.
4) DISAPPEARING: No cast is an island. Say your show is up and running – good for you! Now say it’s even been extended – WOW, THAT’S SO GOOD! Now say that because it’s been extended, it’s been running for weeks and weeks and weeks and no representative of your company has checked in with the cast, stage manager, or anybody. If we’re out there breaking our butts X amount of times per week, and not making much money to do it, it would be nice if someone checked to see if we’re still alive. Or if we had to tape our costumes back together backstage. Or if there’s something in the show that stopped working.
These things happen all the time and a company’s total absence from their show after opening allows standards to fall rapidly in all kinds of areas. Maybe on Broadway this isn’t such an issue, but when you’re gettin’ $150 for several weeks of performances…well, you know. Stuff can happen. Just check in, that’s all. We’re doing this show at your company, maybe remind us of that by existing occasionally after the second week’s run. Doesn’t have to be every night (and probably shouldn’t) but some feeling that we’re not floating out to sea, abandoned, would be nice. Being able to call you like you’re a hotline isn’t as good as you just showing up once in a while.
5) FIGHTING IN FRONT OF THE CAST: Um, we’re right here. We can hear you. And see you. Because we’re in the room. Take it outside, or wait until after rehearsal. This also applies to aggressively second-guessing the director’s direction. It’s really uncomfortable if the producer/artistic director/whatever comes in, watches a scene, and turns to the director – in full view of everyone – and says “Why are you making them do that? That is stupid. This is all wrong.” over and over again while the director looks like a sad puppy and the producer proceeds to re-block and change every scene while the director watches, helplessly. If you’re choosing a director, hopefully it’s someone you trust. Hopefully it’s someone you actually want to direct your show. If changes need to be made because you don’t think something is working, talk to the director about it before shoe-horning the show they’ve been working on by sauntering in and pointing your finger for three hours only to disappear for two weeks, come back and do the same thing. Embarrassing the actors’ leader in front of them isn’t exactly going to solidify their confidence in him/her/zir is it? Working together to fix issues – YES. Parading your authority around – NO.
6) SAYING WEIRD STUFF ABOUT ACTORS’ BODIES: “You’re too flat-chested! This bigger-chested person is totally going to upstage you because you can’t fill out your costume the same way! HAHAHA!” – (an actual thing I’ve heard said) NOOOO WE DON’T SAY THIS. Just say you want a different costume. Say that one’s not working. That’s cool, costumes don’t work all the time. Don’t make it weird. You don’t know how many times that person has heard something like that before. Just say things you would say to a fellow human being. Shouldn’t be too hard. The actor didn’t do anything wrong by putting the costume on. Just tell the costumer to get a different one and explain what you want out of it.
7) REEEAAAALLY LONG AUDITIONS: Dude. Just split it up into two days. There are 147 of us in the lobby. That’s too many. We’ve been here for 3 hours and haven’t read anything. You’re only stressing yourself out by constantly feeling rushed and staring out at a sea of bored/expectant faces. Split it up and ensure that you’ll have the time to consider everyone you’re seeing, and that the actors can concentrate on trying to show you what they’ve got, instead of worrying that someone stole their purse in the lobby or feeling like they have no reason to be there. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, yo.
Listen, I know a lot of these sound like “Oh, God, OBVIOUSLY.” – actually, I hope they all sound that way. They shouldn’t be surprising. But, as always, I wouldn’t have to bring it up if it hadn’t happened. A LOT. These are all very real things. I love working in independent theatre. I really do. But because we’re small/mighty instead of big/mighty we have to work a little harder, with a smaller staff to make things happen. This shouldn’t mean that you cut corners on being a human. Again – PAY ATTENTION. I mean, feel free to not take any of these things seriously. What do I care? But just know that actors talk to each other all the time. We know if your company is a shitshow of disorganization and misplaced priorities and though you may think actors are a dime a dozen, there might be one dime you want who doesn’t want to work with you when you want them.
Allison Page is an actor/writer/person in San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.