Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Apologizing For Your Mistakes

By • Jun 16th, 2010 • Category: An Actor's Advice

Elton John was correct; sorry does always seem to be the hardest word. At least for many people in most cases. But we need to say it, when we have erred. It is especially helpful for the smooth running of a production.

I have a reputation for having a low tolerance of mistakes during productions. I pride myself on making as few mistakes as possible, and I expect those with whom I work to hold themselves to the same standards. Which means no careless mistakes.

But of course honest mistakes will happen, and despite the impression some may have of me, I understand that. I have made them. So have you. I will do so again, and so will you. Dropped lines. Tripping over something backstage that makes noise. Bumping into someone making an entrance and knocking a prop out of their hand. It happens. I’m okay with it.

So why do I sometimes gain a reputation for being unwilling to overlook mistakes?

Because I sometimes am evaluated not by my reaction to honest mistakes, but to my reaction to nobody apologizing for those mistakes. This angers me more than any actual earnest mistake does during a show.

Productions are such a team effort. The cliché about clockwork is an apt one, because so many parts of the whole must fall in line in order for the rest of those involved to be able to to their jobs. Ergo, uncommon is the mistake that doesn’t have at least a 50/50 chance of throwing off someone else. And when we make a mistake that effects someone else’s ability to perform a task, we should apologize. I do.

Even if a specific person is not affected, I make sure to apologize to the whole cast and crew, if I throw off the timing off the whole show.

Not to do so would be to disregard to efforts, time and energy that others are putting into the same production. To foul something up, and then pretend it did not happen, (or worse, to simply laugh it off, and move on) would indicate that I am accountable only to myself, and nobody else. This is of course not true. Every single show is about more than me. It is about other actors, sure, but also the crew, the director, the theatre in which I am performing, and the audience that has paid money to see the play in which I appear. Even a small amount of obligatory respect for each of these requires, in the very least, an acknowledgment of any error I might make during the course of the show, no matter how honest the error was.

Not to mention the fact that apologies can go a long way in helping others get pass the moment. I have been quite annoyed for the remainder of a scene when a mistake has occurred, but have cooled down instantly when the performer at fault comes to me, in all sincerity, and explains what happened, and apologizes to me for doing so. It is a great way to bring a strained moment back into focus for everyone.

I don’t mean to suggest that saying “I’m sorry” is a magic cure all. Making the same mistake night after night while not making any discernible effort to correct the problem will not be overlooked simply because you are “sorry.” Neither will mistake born out of simple carelessness or apathy. To an extent, talk is just as cheap in the theatre as it is anywhere else.

But a sincere apology to all involved matched with an obvious attempt to not make the mistake again, and to fix any damage that may have been caused by same will go a very long way with me, and with anyone who is as serious about producing a high quality show.

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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 (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

One Response »

  1. Ty
    I am someone who could be considered a little intolerant of people who do not have high standards of professionalism. That does not mean I am intolerant of people making mistakes. Apologies for ones mistakes when affecting others is common courtesy.The theatre is not a place which is always common. I only suggest this thought as a consideration not a solution. As you stated there are many kinds of different mistakes that can be made for many different reasons. I would hope that any mistake made that would affect others on stage would not be done with indifference. I would hope it would be done with an honest feeling of regret for the mistake. If the individual making the mistake approached the project from the beginning meeting my standard of professionalism, instead of seeking out an apology I might be offering them my support. Them feeling the need to apologize could make them feel a lot worse. I think the worse thing that can happen to an actor on stage is to be self conscious. I don’t always need an apology to know when one is sorry. However if an apology is warranted I hope it comes with the understanding that the mistake will not be repeated.and I don’t mean the action, I mean the reason.
    David James