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Anonymous Showbiz Confessions Post #3

November 21, 2012

All of this week’s posts are written by my fellow Green Room Bloggers (not myself…or are they?), but I have published them all under my username to protect their identities. Hope you enjoy their confessions!

I’d like to start this blog post on a positive note by saying I have been blessed to work with some incredible directors. Men and women who I could trust, respect, learn from, and communicate easily with. There have been a few (2, maybe 3) in my career that I would choose not to work for again, but things remained on friendly terms, and in the end, the good outweighed the bad.

Until now.
My latest show has been THE WORST theatrical experience of my life.

I kick myself for not seeing the signs earlier. What director stops a first read thru to give notes, and insists that the actor make the change right then before we can continue the reading?! Or when an actor has a question about a scene, but the director doesn’t know what scene or page we are on, because he doesn’t use a script when directing? If only these little “quirks” were where this ended.

One time the director didn’t want to block a song, so he made me do it. On the spot, while he corrected my choices. “I don’t like that. You need to play more. Don’t do it the same every time.” When I told him I might need some time to write basic blocking into my script he refused to let me. “Haven’t you ever done improv?” he asked me. Oh dear director, if only this was improv! I love improv! But no, it’s scripted musical theater. And blocking is YOUR job.

The next rehearsal the director called me out in front of that cast with some very mocking words about my emotional history. I get it, acting is being emotional vulnerable But violating my feelings in from of everyone is not the way to get me to that place.

When we started rehearsing on the stage, I had some serious apprehension about the safety of our set. I calmly communicated these fears to our director, then the stage manager, then the producer, with no response. Scratch that– the response I got from the producer was “actors adapt; when you know where the hole in the flooring is, you’ll avoid stepping there.”

After that meeting I had a long talk with my manager. Who gave me the green-light to quit the show. Then I talked to a friend on the phone, and the water works started. Every negative interaction and word the director had thrown at me had finally broken me down and all I could do was cry angry tears as I sat in Starbucks, 100+ miles away from anyone who I really trusted.

I had to make a choice. I could quit the show and go home, maintaining my sanity, health, and safety. But leaving would mean a new reputation for quitting a show a week before opening. I was the biggest role in the show and had no understudy; the show would be cancelled if I left this late in the process. Staying meant continuing to work with people who didn’t treat me with respect and were not willing to ensure my safety. IS THIS REAL LIFE? My manager suggested maybe I was on a horrible reality tv show about insane small town theater owners. IF ONLY!!!

So I stayed. I knew my personal regret for quitting would overwhelm me. I chose to not let a bad situation bring me down. But I set boundaries for myself. I (without announcing to the director, of course) refused to do anything that I felt was unsafe. If I was late on an entrance because it wasn’t safe to change in the wings (they ignored my request for railings, hand grips, or a backstage dresser), well then I was late. I had expressed my concerns, they chose to ignore them, and the only thing that matters now is my safety. I refuse to let my future success and health suffer because of one production. If I have to adjust my blocking because the stage floor is cracked and I don’t want to fall thru and break my ankle, well then I will. Basically I have become a bobble head doll, constantly smiling and nodding, while keeping on my alert at all times. The latest break through on this story is that the director wants me to change how I’m playing a very pivotal moment in the show. His request only solidifies my thoughts that he doesn’t understand the emotional arch of my character, and I’m torn with how to handle this note because changing this moment changes the entire rest of the show for me.

I hesitate to even blog about this. I tend to think that voicing negative experiences like this will reflect badly on me, but at this point I am beyond that thought and only wish to avoid ever being in a situation like this again. Friends, don’t ignore red flags when working with a new director or company! There are reasons that Actor’s Equity has so many rules about the way theaters must be run, and those reasons are to protect us (I need to join the union ASAP). In closing, let me share a story about a director who I have so much respect and love for. In fact, I’ve done four shows with him, and hope that number only grows as the years pass. We were learning a dance and he blocked me to be dancing on a rolling and turning ladder. I felt uneasy on the ladder and expressed my concern to him. “Get down and let me do it” he said. So he climbed the ladder and did my choreography while the other dancers turned the ladder. This was so assuring to me, that he would put himself in my position, and see how “unsafe” the ladder was. Probably more unsafe for him, because he weighs more than I do, but his point was proven. He wouldn’t put me in anything that I wasn’t comfortable in, and more importantly, he wouldn’t ask me to do something that wasn’t safe. THIS is the kind of director we should all aspire to work with.

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