The Business of Show Biz: Wanting to Quit the Show
By Velina Brown
Q: Okay, weird question. I just started rehearsals for a show. I am cast to play opposite someone that I just don’t like at all. I mean I really don’t like him. He is replacing an actor I was excited to work with but who suddenly had to leave due to a family emergency. So I didn’t audition or do callbacks with this new guy at all, which might have given me a clue about him. I want to quit so badly, but the director has already had to scramble once to find this replacement guy. Am I just stuck?
Actor and career consultant Velina Brown.
A: If you’ve just started rehearsal and are already dying to leave, it is probably only going to get worse. So, if you are really miserable and you simply don’t want to work on the show anymore, I think you should find a way to as gracefully as possible leave now and give the director the maximum amount of time to recast. I can hear some people saying, “Oh, that’s so unprofessional.” But if it’s simply not going to work, it’s better to deal with it sooner rather than later for the good of the production as well as for the good of your well-being. You don’t want to make a habit of bailing on projects. You’ll get a reputation for being unreliable.
However, I just don’t think it helps anyone to stay in a situation that is abjectly miserable. Quitting now is infinitely better than waiting until the show is almost open (like during tech week, when people tend to be tired and testy) or, even worse, after the show has opened. As a director, I once had an actor leave after six weeks of rehearsal and a wonderful opening only to melt down and quit. OMG. What? Turns out she had been very uncomfortable with someone the whole time. I was aware that she was struggling with her part and tried to assist her as a director, but she never shared the depth and breadth of what was causing her difficulty. I wish that she would have either asked for help in directly addressing the person with whom she was so upset or left at the point in the show where you are now—the beginning of rehearsal—rather than two days before the next performance. Her leaving in that time frame made it hard not just on me and the producer, but on the cast, the costumer and everyone who had to come in for extra hours to put in the new actor. Fortunately, the replacement actor did a fantastic job, and the show had a very successful run. But man, the stress!
Let’s back up a moment and consider whether there is any way to work out what is bothering you. Sometimes relationships can get off on the wrong foot due to a misunderstanding that, once addressed directly and honestly, can be cleared up. You didn’t say exactly what the problem was between you and the new actor. If it is at all possible to sort it out, I highly recommend you do so. As actors we need to be able to work with a variety of people under a variety of circumstances. Not everyone will be one’s cup of tea. However, we must also have our boundaries and standards. Is the actor behaving in a way that is generally creating a toxic work environment? Are you experiencing him as sexist, racist or anti-LGBT? You may want to consider letting the director and stage manager know about it. Perhaps they can address with him the problematic behaviors or will want to replace him instead of losing you.
If it’s not any of the above issues, you may be able to improve the situation by talking with the guy. Maybe ask to speak with him before or after rehearsal, preferably during the day in a public place such as a coffee shop, and let him know you’ve been feeling uncomfortable working with him and why. See if he has any interest in or ability to make adjustments to his behavior that could improve your working relationship. You could also request assistance from the stage manager or someone you think would be neutral and helpful in facilitating a productive conversation.
Do your best to sort it out. Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out. Give people a chance to help you solve the problem. Part of a director’s job is to create an environment conducive to doing good work. They can’t do that if they don’t know there’s a problem and exactly what it is.
However, if you feel you’ve tried everything and it’s still horrible for you, leave. I do not believe we are obliged to stay in situations that make us miserable.
Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at Velina@BusinessOfShowBiz.com.