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The Working Actor

More Perfect Union, Bard Games

More Perfect Union, Bard Games
Dear Michael:
As a relative newcomer to acting, being at the start of my fifth year, I found your article ["Welcome. Now Stop Working," March 15] interesting and informative. I had no idea that because I'm in the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists but not in Actors' Equity Association, I'm not supposed to be honing my acting skills in anything other than Equity productions, which, for the most part, they won't even allow me to audition for. This is insanity of the highest order! I have suggestions for SAG and AFTRA:

1) Join forces; become a single union.

2) Make membership financially easier by allowing qualified actors to borrow the full initiation fee from the union and pay it back over time, much like GMAC used to do for car buyers.

3) Create an apprentice (training) program for new actors as the requirement for membership, as guilds are supposed to do.

4) When the vast majority of actors are in the union, nonunion productions might falter and die.

5) Begin teaching actors that they are competing only with themselves.
—Bill Rapp

New York City

Dear Bill:
These are terrific ideas. Why not send them to the unions? While I'm glad to be able to share your letter in the column, we can't be certain that union officials will see it here, so I hope you'll contact them directly, as you'll have a better chance of being effective with regard to these issues. But I sure like the way you think.

Dear Michael:
I'm an actor from the United Kingdom and joined Back Stage because the advice here is fantastic.

I recently finished a leading role in a national tour of a classic Shakespeare play, which I got rave reviews for. There was one problem: my castmates. I'm a normal actor in most ways—focused, driven, with a good agent, and as neurotic as the best of us—but I care about my work and want to do my best. Some cast members were untrained and would mock my constantly warming up before shows and even the fact that I basically hate being in a tour bus pissed as a newt like them and would ride in a car with some other actors, so I was comfortable and not subjected to actors who were drunk. I mentioned I felt it was wrong to drink excessively before a matinee, as it's a paying audience. I was criticized by the director (also in the cast) as being elitist and arrogant and not being willing to fit in. He said he wouldn't cast me in the next show, mainly because I hate drunkenness and would rather withdraw when it gets too much that way.

What are your thoughts on this? My coach directly said, "He's right. They are not the company for you. You need to work with higher people who care about the work."

The rejection hurts like hell, despite my bringing in great reviews and being thoroughly consistent. Any thoughts?

—Pissed Off
London, England

Dear Pissed:
This is a tough one, and I've certainly been in similar situations. Unfortunately, the choice often seems to come down to fitting in or being true to your professional ethics. With a few years of professional work now behind me, I'd like to think it's possible to do both. But without a doubt, it's challenging.

Years ago, I was on tour with some people who didn't want to do their jobs on stage. We were in a beautiful show—a huge hit that on a nightly basis deeply affected audience members, some of whom came back to see it again and again. But many of my castmates didn't care to invest in the story. They fooled around on stage and tried to make each other laugh. They talked sports scores and gossiped when their mikes were off. It was shocking and immensely disheartening. As for me, I was so thrilled to have such a great job, and I felt a responsibility to this much-loved piece of theater, so I tried to give it my all. Many of the actors seemed to resent me for that. And because I found the onstage chatter distracting, I asked the stage manager if he could give a note. He did. That didn't do much to improve those relationships. Some decided I was a diva who demanded silence around me and wanted to be the star. It was lonely being in a cast that didn't like me. And I'm sorry to say, I eventually gave in and started playing around on stage, just to fit in. I hated how that felt, but people were friendlier to me once I joined in the jiggery-pokery. If I had it to do again, I'd do things differently. I'd follow the advice I'm giving you.

As you mature in your career, you may find ways to do your work in the lovely, professional way you've learned, without commenting on the unprofessional behavior around you. Remember, it's not our job to teach, correct, or scold, and we don't get points for being right. You'll get along better with your piggish colleagues if you just do your thing without making it a statement. Be friendly and never show your disapproval, but faithfully maintain your professional ethics. You never have to convince them that your way is right. In fact, I don't believe you can. So if they mock your warm-ups, you can say something humble like, "Oh, I know. They're silly. It just makes me feel more prepared" or "I don't know how you guys do it. I can't jump into the show cold the way you do. You're so lucky." Or you can give it right back to them in a funny, kidding way with something like, "Ugh! Amateurs!" (just don't say it seriously).

Now, if someone's behavior truly interferes with your ability to do your job, take him aside and, rather than lecturing or accusing, say, "I wonder whether you could help me with a problem I'm having." That's what I should have done in my circumstances. Sometimes, going to the stage manager just makes things worse.

Still, if they dislike you because you don't want to be on a bus full of drunkards, to hell with them. Your coach is right: They aren't worthy of you. And if such unprofessional animals reject you, rather than feeling hurt, I'd suggest you count yourself very lucky. By not hiring you back, they're only sparing you further aggravation. Stop throwing pearls before swine. Shake the dust from your feet and move on to greener (and more professional) pastures.

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