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The Working Actor

How To Handle Being in a Bad Show

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How To Handle Being in a Bad Show
Photo Source: Thomas Pittili

This being Thanksgiving, it seemed appropriate to share my continued conversation with a well-meaning actor stuck in a show that promises to be a turkey. (In case you don’t know the expression, it means a flop.)

Last week I responded to Walking in Circles, who was surrounded by unprofessional and inept behavior while rehearsing a show and was deciding whether or not to drop out. I advised taking value from the experience and trying to resist judging or fixing anyone, as I find those things only add to the stress. Here’s Walking’s response.

“Dear Michael: Thank you for your wise words; I humbly took them to heart, went to rehearsal, and just did what I’m supposed to do—my best! Your insight was a great relief, and working was much more pleasant once I stopped worrying about everybody else’s job. One of our cast members is still not nearly off book, though we’re six days from opening, but that is none of my concern. Maybe that’s just how he works. He wouldn’t be the only one in the history of theater not to be off book by opening night, and God knows I might be in his position one day, for one reason or another. I will naturally have my doubts as to trusting him onstage, but then again, I should only expect to trust my own work, and, in the end, I want to be the person who people can rely on.

“It’s not easy studying with amazing teachers and working with awesome directors (thank you, Stella Adler Studio), then going out into the wild, wild world, where things are different—not worse, not necessarily always better, but certainly different. The concepts and ways of working I learned at my acting studio can and will apply to my own work, but I now understand that there are as many ways of working as there are professionals.

“Even the best artists are not perfect, or maybe their perfection lies within their shortcomings and/or faults. I am certainly not perfect. I’ve learned my lesson: Listen, observe, trust your work, and let others be and do their own thing. At least until I direct my own play!”

All of us who care passionately about our work have found ourselves fuming when we’ve encountered what we perceive as impediments to the process—behavior that seems to work against making good art. In such circumstances, it’s hard to be accepting and tolerant, especially when people don’t seem to be doing their jobs. True story: I corrected my own attitude only after realizing I was making myself miserable, and becoming miserable to work with. That’s no fun for anyone and improves exactly nothing. It wasn’t easy to relinquish the idea that I was entitled to make judgments about other people’s work habits. But I sure am happier and more popular since I did. I applaud Walking in Circles for making that adjustment so quickly. May we all learn from the example.

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