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The Working Actor

Timing Tiff, Sexist Stiff

Timing Tiff, Sexist Stiff
Dear Jackie:
I found your response to Committed but Careful (Sept. 10–16) a little odd. In the past six years, I have auditioned for many plays and musicals in New York, attended quite a few callbacks, and performed with several companies. I have never expected to see a full script of a new play at auditions. With my current company, the scripts are made available to members before auditions, which I consider a wonderful advantage to working with a small, dedicated group. Not being a playwright, I wouldn’t know if the writer of a new play would want his or her entire script made public before it’s produced (especially since so many changes can occur in a first production), but perhaps that’s part of the reason you don’t usually see them.

Maybe I’m too eager to work, but if I’m not interested in a project, or there is not enough information available, I simply don’t audition. I don’t audition for companies with bad reputations (anymore!), and I don’t accept jobs I don’t feel good about. I feel that asking for the script before you are cast is a bit of a diva move. I could be the only person who feels this way, but there are too many great actors in this city who are willing to work with what they get to not strike while the iron is hot. It’s like renting an apartment here: Go with your gut, or you could be stuck with nothing.

—Hard-Working and Humble
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dear Hard-Working::
You make some great points. In my desire to reassure this actor that there’s nothing wrong with asking for a copy of the script before accepting a role, I neglected to fully consider the playwright’s perspective. The writer might very well want to keep his or her work private—at least until all the cast members are committed and can be asked to keep the text in confidence until the premiere. It’s an understandable position, but it puts the actors in a tough spot.

Still, I don’t feel that asking for the script up front is unreasonable, and I think every effort should be made to accommodate such requests. If a playwright is offended by an actor’s desire to read the material in order to prepare for an audition or before committing to what can be a long and difficult process, that—I would argue—is the playwright’s problem. Just to be clear: I am not suggesting that actors walk into auditions and say, “Hey! Gimme the script!”

Just that it’s perfectly acceptable, when you get a call about an audition, to ask, “Is it possible to see a copy of the script before the audition/callback/committing to the project?”
As you pointed out, writers may have different opinions about making a new script available, so I asked a New York playwright, who preferred not to be identified, for his input: “If actors are being called back for lead roles, they should have a chance to read the whole script. It behooves the production for an actor being considered to have a more specific understanding of the role at that point. For smaller roles? Maybe not. It’s definitely not out of the question for someone who is cast in any role to request to see a script before they commit.”

Tim Wright, artistic director of Circle X, a Los Angeles theater company dedicated to new works, had this to say: “We encourage anyone auditioning for us to read the entire script—not just so they can see what they’re getting into, but so they have a better idea of the story and the context for the scene or sides they’re auditioning with. Typically we make a read-only copy available so they can’t print or keep it, but if a playwright or theater is really protective, they can make a hard copy available and have the actor sit and read it at the theater or office. I always prefer an actor who requests or wants to read the whole script. That shows me that he or she has a passion for the craft and wants to invest in the process.”

Dear Jackie:
I’m acting in a short film and I’m having a problem with the director. He is really dismissive of me and makes weird, sexist comments about me, right in front of my face. I only have two scenes, but at the read-through he made a joke about me being too “hot” to be expected to act well, and then yesterday he said to the guy in the scene with me, as if I weren’t even there, “Don’t blame me; the producer loved her rack” (except he didn’t say “rack”). He then laughed and smiled at me like it was a funny joke. I have no idea what to do. Should I just go along with this guy? Or should I tell him where to shove it? I only have one more day on the project.

—“Hot” in Houston
via the Internet

Dear Hot::
Yes, the director’s behavior is sexist, disgusting, and ridiculous. Then again, you have only one more day until you never have to see this person again. If the film plays the festival circuit, you don’t have to attend any events—and if you do, you can avoid him. So it all seems to come down to whether sticking up for yourself will make any difference.

There’s no way to know whether a few words from you will force this guy to look at the way he treats women on set, but it’s doubtful. The way you’ve described him, I can imagine a response along the lines of “Oh, I love it when she gets angry!” or “Please, spank me!” It’s not up to you to teach this director his manners, so be sure you don’t put yourself out there for that reason alone.

If, however, speaking up will help fortify your self-image, confidence, or sense of professionalism—or just make you feel better—do it. It might sound appealing to wait for him to make another rude comment and then let him have it, but for many reasons you should probably take the high road. After you’ve wrapped your last day of shooting, pull him aside and tell him that although you appreciated the opportunity to work on the film, you were really disappointed with how he spoke to you. You might get the welcome surprise of his apology. I hope so. If so, be gracious and wish him well.

But more likely, he’ll say you should learn to take a joke or you need to lighten up, or that a “girl like you” should expect that kind of treatment in “this business.” Resist the temptation to get into an argument with this guy. There’s no winning. Tell him instead that you wish him the best and promptly take your leave. If you stay calm and professional, you will have proven your point. After all, only an idiot argues with a jackass.

Any questions or comments for The Working Actor?  Please email Jackie and Michael at  

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