Should Actors Accept Abuse?By Ty Unglebower • Nov 5th, 2009 • Category: An Actor's Advice
No level of performing, (professional as well as community level) should have tolerance for rudeness as a prerequisite. A sense of self respect not only as an actor, but as a person should always be at the center of what you are doing. Yet I have found that in more cases than one might think, people tend to accept rude behavior in a theatrical setting, especially from directors, when such people would otherwise speak up and refuse to be treated in such a manner. It is almost as though an understanding has arisen that such behavior is “part of the game” that is stage acting. It is not. Actors are not slaves to their directors, and they should not be treated as such, ever.
Directors, despite what some may be inclined to think, are just people, just as actors are. They certainly need to have some control of the overall vision they have for the piece they are directing. But this should not be accomplished through intimidation, rude comments, or bullying. It is not only ineffective, it is crossing the line.
I have both heard stories of, and seen first hand, directors making remarks about the intelligence, talent, and as even the weight of actors and actresses on stage. Yet in most of the cases I have mentioned, nobody quit the show in question, or for that matter even corrected the director. I am not certain why. Such people should be put in their place. Perhaps because of the overwhelming desire to be in a show at all costs. Perhaps it is the often talked about theory that people tend to not want to buck authority. The reasons for it actually are of little consequence to my point. My point is that all such reasons need to be ignored. Directors that treat actors and others within the theatre in this manner should be called out for doing it. They are merely guides over a production, not generals on a battle field.
Whoever you may be, whether you find yourself in your first show, or your 50th, whether you consider yourself a good actor, or just an okay actor, always remember that you are entitled to your dignity. You are entitled to personal respect from a director. Low budgets, unruly casts, and difficult scripts are not in even the slightest ways excuses for people to cast personal aspersions upon you. If you find yourself in such a situation with such a director, please, for your own sake, insist that they stop. Demand the esteem that you deserve as an actor, not to mention as a person. If the director doesn’t respond to your overtures for respect, speak to others who may have equal influence over the show or authority over the director. The stage manager. The managing director of the company. If you feel very strongly about it, approach the board of directors of the company. It is certainly understandable if you want to do everything you can to stay in a show to which you have committed.
Be prepared however for the fact that the director in many cases may be the top of the pyramid, and that others may be unable to sway him or her. In that unfortunate scenario, quit the show.
I repeat, do not stay in a show if you must be subjected to personal jabs. It is better of course to quit early, as opposed to quitting late in a show, but if a problem develops late in a show, and you need to walk out in order to preserve your own dignity, do it. There will be other shows, but life is too short to be made to feel 6 inches tall by someone who is living with delusions of power.
I am a very committed actor, and I would never quit a show lightly. Yet self respect is of major importance. Don’t surrender it. Not even for a show.
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Ty Unglebower is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and tooxyz.blogspot.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.