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The Working Actor

Reasonable Request, Accidental Advantage

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Reasonable Request, Accidental Advantage
Dear Jackie:
I am an "old-young actor." Old in the sense that I'm getting into the business in my mid-40s, after a successful corporate career, and new since I just finished a full-time acting program.

During this past year, I've auditioned a lot. Most of the jobs I've taken have been nonpaying, and I understand that at the beginning of a career you have to pay your dues. But along the way, I have also learned that you must be careful in selecting projects, since your name will be forever attached to them. So, a couple of months ago, I started to follow the rule that I not accept any project whose script I hadn't previously read, unless it meant a) working with a recognized team or b) a lot of money.

The other day I got an audition for a new play—nonunion, nonpaying, at a theater that drives away casting directors, according to one CD I talked to. It went well, and they called me back and asked me to attend a meeting. I arrived at the theater, signed my name, and waited for an hour. When they called me in, the person walking me to the studio where the production team had gathered told me I didn't have to read or audition again; they were only going to tell me about the role.

The team was seated at a table. They told me the role I was going to play and wanted to know my conflicts, since rehearsals were scheduled to start in a week. Before answering, I told them, "Before saying yes, I need to read the script." Had I asked them to sacrifice their firstborn, I would have gotten a less hostile reaction. A woman on the panel started to rise, but fortunately the person next to me calmed her down and asked her to send me the script via email. Up to now, nothing has arrived, and, honestly, I don't think it ever will.

Is it too much to ask for the script before committing to a project? Or are starving actors supposed to take anything without asking any questions?
—Committed but Careful
via the Internet


Dear Committed:
Honestly, I can't see that you did anything wrong. I don't know what tone of voice you used or the mood in the room, but on the face of it, asking for the script before signing on the dotted line seems entirely logical and 100 percent normal.

Perhaps there was a misunderstanding. It's possible the woman who rose from her seat was under the impression that you'd already had a chance to read the script. Perhaps she thought you'd already accepted the role and was shocked that you might pull out of the show. It's important for actors to remember that small theater companies usually run on a shoestring budget. We all know what this means to actors' salaries and benefits, but keep in mind how it permeates the rest of the production. Without a real casting pro, the person communicating with the actors is probably unpaid and doing the work as a favor. Even if the producer or director handles auditions, he or she is probably juggling a dozen other duties. The result is a less-than-stellar system under which everyone suffers.

In a perfect world, the script in its entirety would have been made available to you before, or at least at, your first audition. Barring that, it should have been available at your callback-turned-booking. That the company didn't have the foresight to print out a couple of copies to share with actors speaks either to its disorganization or its hubris. Add to that your description of the theater ("drives away casting directors"? Where do they perform, in a crypt?), and I think you should chalk this one up to experience and let it go.

In the future, make every effort to see the entire script before you arrive at the callback. Do your best to give the impression that your request is based on your desire to do good work as opposed to a need to check the script's quality. Try something along the lines of: "Would it be possible for me to read the entire script before the audition, so I can better prepare?" If you're not given the script ahead of time, use tact when needed: "I'm so excited to begin working on this project, but as a policy I always make sure to read anything I'm offered before committing. If I can get a copy of the script today, I can confirm with you in 24 hours."


Dear Jackie:
I recently suffered a head trauma and fractured my skull. Luckily, I'm alive, but as a result I am now deaf in one ear. I have heard there are some theaters that have to, by law, hire a certain number of disabled people per year. While I'm not one to abuse the system, I am now officially half deaf, and since my disability isn't visible, it does not affect my castability.

Are there additional opportunities I'm eligible for due to this condition, or is this just an old myth? Basically, I want to make the best of my accident.

—Half Deaf and Hoping
via the Internet


Dear Half:
Nonunion theater is regulated only loosely (if at all), so the rules will vary by state. But to find out about union theater, I contacted Actors' Equity Association to see whether it had any such policies in place.

According to national communications director David Lotz, "There is no AEA requirement that compels a producer to hire a certain number of disabled performers. However, Equity has strong contractual language that prohibits discrimination in hiring based on race, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, in order to promote a theater industry that reflects the full diversity of our society. There are Equity theaters like Deaf West (L.A.), Mixed Blood (Minneapolis), and Wheelock Family Theatre (Boston) whose artistic missions specifically embrace the philosophy of inclusion and diversity in the arts. Equity is fully committed to these goals through the work of our EEO committees and the recently launched triunion I AM PWD campaign, a global disability-rights effort to increase visibility and equal employment opportunities for actors, broadcasters, and sound-recording artists with disabilities throughout the entertainment and news media."

If you're near one of the theater companies Lotz mentioned, your first step should be to contact it and see what opportunities you might dig up. Lotz also pointed me to these resources, which should be of help as you chart your new course:

-- I AM PWD (Inclusion in the Arts and Media for Performers With Disabilities): www.iampwd.org. This site also has a very helpful list of resources at www.iampwd.org/resources.
-- National Arts and Disability Center at UCLA: http://nadc.ucla.edu/theatre.cfm
-- Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts: www.inclusioninthearts.org

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