Sunday, 16 September 2012

Professional Conduct

It always amazes me when I see castings having to specify that they require actors who are capable of being professional on set. Professionalism shouldn’t be asked for. Like a bottle of water and an eagerly highlighted script, professionalism should be brought with you from day one. But, as anyone who has ever worked with anyone else knows, this often isn’t the case. 

Someone on Twitter mentioned this week that an actress was leaving a production just four days before the show was  to open. Now, I don’t know the ins and outs of this particular story so I won’t comment on it but I have been in productions where an actor has had to leave pretty last minute and being left in the lurch is bloody annoying. The couple of times that it’s happened, I really can’t say that I blamed the actor. They were involved in pretty terrible productions and instead of putting themselves through it, they took the wise decision to bail. However, it’s one thing realising a couple of days into rehearsal that a show is destined for the theatrical bargain bin and another thing waiting until you’re halfway through the tech rehearsal to hand in your scripted notice. Like I said, I understood on both occasions why they did they left. The first ditching happened because he got a paid job. Strangely he was sick and tired of being in a job that didn’t even offer expenses and mainly consisted of us all rehearsing in the dustiest room in north London. Instead of appearing in a show that was wrongly listed in Time Out, he chose to appear in a well-paid film. I was seconds away from hiding in his bag and living off his lucky air. And then the second incident happened because an actor found himself in a fairly horrible situation. There were too many actors with not enough money and we were all away from home. There was bitchiness, bullying and as a man of older years, I don’t blame him for deciding that he shouldn’t put up with such things.

However, the aftermath of these actions mean that everyone else is left picking up the pieces. The director gets a big ol’ kick in the teeth and the actors have to suddenly work a whole lot harder. Either they’re having to cover the role between them or they have to support a new cast member coming in at very late notice. The whole production starts running on panic mode and the atmosphere changes dramatically. Actors will start wondering whether they too should jump this rapidly sinking ship and the director and producer get the same look of desperation in their eyes as the captain of Titanic did.
But a bit of last minute escapism isn’t the only way an actor can be unprofessional. A moment that will always stick with me was during a rehearsal for the complicated final scene of a play I was in. It was at that point when everyone is ready to kill each other. We’d been rehearsing for hours, it was hot and every single line and movement was being agonised over. Suddenly a mobile phone rings. Normally you’d expect the owner of the phone to apologise profusely and switch it off. However, this actor was a pain in everyone’s arse. So, of course, he answered it. And he didn’t go to one side and deal with the call quickly. Oh no. He decided the best place to take the call was right in the middle of the scene. The director tried to ask him to finish the call or at least move elsewhere and the actor asked him to not interrupt his call. I know actors like to react to everything but I think even the least reactive hermit in the world would be aghast at such behaviour. How he kept his job, I’ll never know.

And then there’s all the other annoying things that actors do. They turn up late and destroy hours of rehearsal time. They don’t learn their lines and are still stumbling over them on the opening night. They appoint themselves as assistant director and take great pleasure in giving actors unconstructive notes. They turn up to rehearsals still drunk from the night before and despite having a kissing scene, they fail to brush their teeth. They get drunk and tell other cast members that they’re not very good actors. They tell the director/stage manager/costume designer/front of house how to do their job. They take costumes home and lose them. They upstage you just so that the scene works for them. 

They say you can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends. However, the saddest thing for an actor is that you can’t choose your fellow cast members. 

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