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The Working Actor

How to Deal With Unprofessional Co-Stars

How to Deal With Unprofessional Co-Stars
Photo Source: Britt Sanders

Dear Michael: I’m in a show with a rather significant number of cast members. I’ve been having a lot of fun, but I’ve noticed the professionalism isn’t quite where I would prefer it to be among some members of the cast. There’s a lot of chitchatting during rehearsals, people goofing off in the wings while other actors are doing scenes onstage, and one cast member will even point out what we’re doing wrong while we’re in the middle of rehearsing a musical number (which pulls me completely out of character!). I understand my cast mates mean well, but it’s incredibly irritating because it’s affecting my performance.

Do you have any tips on how to still put on a great performance, despite tensions within an ensemble? Or am I being too much of a hard-ass? —Driven to Distraction

Dear Driven: I can’t stand it when fellow cast members don’t show basic professional decorum, respect for the work, and respect for time-honored protocols. Really can’t stand it.

But the question of how to react is much trickier than you might think. Because, speaking strictly in terms of what’s effective, pointing out (or reporting) unprofessional behavior doesn’t usually yield the best results and can easily increase tensions. No one likes being shamed. Also, few things will exclude you from intra-cast socializing faster than being labeled a killjoy. And let’s be honest: It’s nice to be liked.

I recommend ignoring the offenses whenever you can. But if cast behavior is really making it hard to do your work, I suggest using very sneaky, passive-aggressive means to point it out. Getting notes in the middle of a musical number? Stop cold and give the person your full attention. Ask for clarification so you can get it just right. If the director asks why you’re stopping, say, “Oh, I’m sorry. So-and-so was just helping me with the step.” Director: “So-and-so, please don’t give notes during rehearsal.” Later, tell the note giver, “So sorry! I was just trying to hear what you were saying.” Manipulative? Sure. But it gets the job done. And none of it falls on you.

People talking or goofing off? Cup your ear and strain to hear the director’s comments or your fellow actors’ lines. Or say with your friendliest voice and nicest smile, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that? I didn’t hear you.” The stage manager or director will usually see what’s happening and shush the talkers. You just smile like an angel.

Finally, if you do need to address something one-on-one—as you might—approach your colleague as a respected collaborator with whom you share similar goals. Presuming disrespect or nefarious motives makes for a tense conversation. Instead of complaining, try asking advice or solving the puzzle together. It’s not as satisfying as telling someone off, but it works a damn sight better.

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