The Business of Show Biz: Quit to Save My Reputation?
Monday, July 6, 2015
Posted by: Katharine Chin
By Velina Brown
Q: I'm currently working on my first Equity theatre gig. We are two weeks into the run with a month left to go. The show is wonderful, the actors are wonderful, the company well respected...but I have completely psyched myself out with the pressure of my first professional show and being surrounded by veteran actors. So much so that my performance has suffered, and the work I am doing is borderline humiliating and bad. It’s so bad that I'm considering putting in a request to leave the show and have my understudy take over, if that is a possibility.
I don't know what's worse, me leaving the show in the middle of the run, or sticking with it even though I truly feel like I am embarrassing myself and holding back a wonderful cast of actors. I feel miserable after pretty much every performance. My question is: Do you have an opinion in terms of what would be the best choice with this production? I'm concerned about my reputation, but am not sure which option is the lesser of two evils.
A: Wow, your inner critic is really kicking your bootay! Let me see if I understand your situation. You rehearsed the show and you didn’t get fired. You’ve opened the show and you didn’t get fired. There is currently an understudy waiting in the wings, ready to go on for you and you’re still employed. You don’t mention that anyone—the director, producer, or stage manager—has ever taken you aside to give you notes on your performance since you’ve opened, indicating that there is a problem. So, externally, in the material world, everything is fine. I am not downplaying the agony that you are in right now. I’m just pointing out that the location of the drama is completely in your head. Therefore, the short answer is: you must not leave the show in the middle of the run!
Here’s the long answer. You didn’t hire yourself. It is not your job to fire yourself. Those jobs belong to the producer and/or director. As an actor, your job is to do the role to the best of your ability until the production is completed. Period.
If the folks who hired you felt that you were ruining their production and “holding back a wonderful cast of actors” while an understudy is waiting in the wings ready to go on, you would have been replaced by now. (Note: you would have to be pretty powerful to singlehandedly ruin this “wonderful” show of “wonderful” actors.) And it appears that that has not happened.
Also, if you suddenly decide to leave the show because your inner critic has gotten the best of you, what would you say? “I’m leaving because I’ve decided that you made a mistake when you hired me. I suck and I’m leaving”? How do you think that would go over? You will be telling the people who hired you that not only do you believe you are bad at your job, but also that they are bad at their jobs because they hired you. Short of extreme illness, injury or family emergency it is expected that you will complete the project. “I’m not feeling great in this role” simply isn’t a legit reason for quitting. You’ll only torch the reputation you’re trying to protect.
Listen, you’re not alone. Most people at some point have had the sneaking suspicion that they suck in a role. That fear of being bad is often what makes us work harder to be good. You have no idea how many others in the show are feeling the same way. You work through it. This is how you build confidence. One day you’ll look back on your first project as an Equity actor and be proud that you overcame your nerves and made it through. But if you quit now, you won’t have that accomplishment to build on for the next challenge. For the sake of anything else you might want to do in the future, you cannot let the voice of your inner critic kick your butt like that. It’s fear. It’s only fear. It’s not the truth. Thank that voice for trying to protect you from falling on your face. Assure that part of yourself that even if you do fall you’ll get up. You’ll survive, learn and be better next time.
And every day, close your eyes for 60 seconds, remind yourself what is awesome about you. Share those qualities with your audience. Have fun.
Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.