The Business of Show Biz – Getting Notes From A Fellow Actor
by Velina Brown
Q: A while ago I was cast in an AEA show with an actor who took it on themselves to give notes to their fellow actors after opening. This would happen during the fight call, in front of stage management, and when we had no choice but to be there. Once the actor went so far as to read their notes aloud to the cast from a notebook they were keeping. This practice created anger in the cast, and I complained to the stage manager, but they seemed too intimidated by the actor to say anything. AEA’s rulebook doesn’t say anything about this, but I need some advice as to how to deal with this as I just found out I have been cast in another show with the same actor.
A: You’re working with the same actor again but will you also be working with the same stage manager? The last SM definitely dropped the ball. They should not have allowed an actor to pull out a notebook and start giving notes to the actors.
Exceptions would be if an actor is also a dance captain or fight captain. In that case they are endowed with the responsibility and authority to ensure the dances and fights remain tight and as directed. Therefore, said captains can give notes about the dances or fights but not about anything else.
Once a show is open, only the stage manager is to give notes to the actors with the intention of maintaining the show as it was originally directed. It’s so interesting to me that no one said anything to the bossy actor.
This may seem off the point but I think it’s more difficult these days to have a conversation that involves the possibility of disagreement because the societal discourse in general has become so vitriolic. It can feel like unless one is actually spoiling for a fight you just can’t risk saying anything that may require real communications skills: saying what’s on one’s mind with clean intentions, listening carefully to truly understand what the other person is saying and not just impatiently waiting for one’s turn to speak, and being able to trust that the other person will do the same. Such conversations aren’t always easy but we need to regain the ability to have them.
Now that you are going into the next project with a fair amount of pent up irritation with this person, you are at risk of blowing up and looking crazy the first time the bossy actor says anything to you. Be careful not to overreact in the new situation. By the time you work with Bossy again they may not be so bossy. However, if they haven’t changed you have two options: speak directly or go through channels. Trying to stifle your anger again may back fire. So:
- I am a big fan of speaking directly to the person in question. Sometimes people really have no idea how they are coming across or when they have crossed a line. Taking the time to be compassionate but clear about the bothersome behavior can be very effective. Use “I” messages such as “I am not open to receiving notes from cast members. While I’m sure you have many great ideas, I would prefer to hear them from the stage manager after they’ve been approved by the director.” Say this calmly and collegially in front of the stage manager. With “I” messages you are simply stating the behavior that is bothering you and the behavior change you are expecting without attacking, accusing, or mind reading. Note the difference from such “you” messages as, “You seem to think you are the director when you’re not. You are such a jerk. How dare you try to give me notes!”
- However, since it’s not actually your job to correct the actor, you could go through channels. Speak with the stage manager and request they instruct the actor to stop giving notes to the cast. If the new SM fails to do so, you can try putting your request to the SM in writing and cc-ing the director. The director may then provide support to the SM to maintain the show as it was directed.
We’ve had a tough couple years when it comes to public discourse. As we begin a new year I would like to see us all up our game when it comes to having difficult conversations. I want you to feel empowered to speak up when needed. Do it with kindness and care, but do it.
Happy New Year!
Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at Velina@BusinessOfShowBiz.com.