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TBA Online: News & Features: January 2012

The Business of Show Biz: Disclosing Physical Issues

Monday, January 23, 2012   (0 Comments)
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By Velina Brown

Q: I have a physical issue that flares up every now and then. I am wondering if I am at all obligated to talk about this issue with the director of a show once I'm cast or even before I'm cast. I am a private person and would rather not talk about it unless I have to because I'm having a flare-up and it is limiting me physically, which is rare.

Actor and career consultant Velina Brown. 
A: I'm sorry about your condition. But I'm really not sure to what degree you are limited physically when you have a "flare-up." Are you limited in that you can't run or do acrobatics, or are you limited meaning you would have to drop out of the show?

When a potentially very physical scene or bit is being planned, actors are often asked if they have any knee or back issues or anything that should be taken into consideration in the blocking or choreographing of a scene. If there is anything that the director or dance or fight choreographer should know to avoid, it's important to pipe up with your physical issues when they ask. 

We actors generally don't want to enter talking about what we can't do. We want to be known for what we can do exceedingly well. We don't want there to be anything that could prevent us from being cast. And we have a right to our privacy.

However, if you have something going on that would affect your performance, I think the director would need to know this. Most of us have performed ill or injured at some point, because most of us believe the show must go on. But if a) you are working at a theatre that generally has no understudies, b) you know it's possible that you could have a flare-up, and c) a flare-up means you'd have to drop out of the show, perhaps there is an obligation to disclose this to the director.

On the other hand, anything can happen to anyone at any time. Anyone can suddenly get sick or injured, even if they don't have an ongoing physical issue. Stuff happens. Sometimes the person you're most worried about does fine and the person it never occurred to you to worry about gets into a car accident or whatever, and they're gone. So, from that perspective, perhaps you don't need to say anything unless and until it is absolutely necessary and only to those who need to know, such as the director, choreographer, stage manager and, in some cases, costumer.

I mention the costumer because, for example, just as I was beginning rehearsal for a show, I learned I was pregnant. My husband was directing, so he knew, and we had agreed not to announce the pregnancy until we had gotten through the first trimester. However, I ended up telling the costumer before I even told my mom! The costumer was about to cut the fabric for my costume, and it would have been expensive for her to learn after the fact I was going to need elastic waistbands in everything.

Once, when I was directing, one of my actors had a flare-up of a very painful condition. She took me and the stage manager aside and told us what she was dealing with. She didn't want her situation to be discussed with the cast. She just wanted the two of us to know. She felt that she could do the show and didn't want to be defined or confined by her illness. She was a total pro and did great in the show. But it was very helpful to know what was going on. Secrecy tends to lead to misunderstandings and loss of trust. Because she told us what was going on, the stage manager and I could be extra careful about calling her only for as long as absolutely needed and working around her doctor's appointments. But if she had just started popping up with a lot of scheduling conflicts and being resistant when I asked her to do certain physical things, she would have seemed uncooperative and difficult to work with. Instead she let me in on her situation, which allowed me to be of assistance to her. We worked very smoothly and successfully together. And her privacy was maintained. The rest of the cast and the audience had no idea.

I don't think you need to walk in telling people about a condition that only rarely shows itself. But if it does, it's best to let people know what's going on. That way, adjustments can be made, trust can be maintained and hopefully the show can go on.

Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send your questions to