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TBA Online: News & Features: July 2012

The Business of Show Biz: Saying No

Monday, July 30, 2012   (0 Comments)
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By Velina Brown

Q: I was invited to an audition. Because of my crazy schedule the director and I both had to go to a lot of trouble to set up a special audition time for me. I really appreciate the director's efforts to make the audition happen. But during the audition process I learned more about the piece. It turns out I'm not crazy about the script, a member of the artistic team and I just aren't a good fit and the pay would just barely cover my travel costs. Taking on the project would just make my life hectic, cost me money and worst of all not be much fun to do. How do I say no without burning a bridge?

Actor and career consultant, Velina Brown. 

A: In general, if you don't want to do something, just say "no." No need to apologize, make excuses or feel guilty. But give your answer in a timely manner. Don't leave people hanging, wondering or thinking you're going to do something you're not really going to do.

Therefore, if you don't want to do the project you speak of, just let the director know right away. You don't need to go into the specifics of how you feel about the script or members of the creative team. All you need to say is something like, "I want to thank you for thinking of me for this project and for your efforts to make it possible for me to audition, but it doesn't look like it's going to work out for me to do this particular project. Please do keep me in mind for other opportunities to work with you in the future. Thanks so much again." 

If you let the director know your decision in a timely manner and are gracious, it should not be a bridge burning event. Besides, it didn't sound like the director had even made an offer yet. 

Definitely avoid auditioning for a role that you know at the outset you have no intention of accepting "just to be seen." That wastes everyone's time. But you do have the right to change your mind.

We actors can feel afraid of saying "no" because of the fearful voice that warns, "There are so many actors and so few jobs. You can't afford to turn anything down!" Yes, the job-to-actor ratio is unbalanced. But if you make your decisions based on a feeling of desperation and scarcity, the actions you take can end up perpetuating that feeling. For example, I have a friend I'll call Pam. For a long time Pam had a problem with overbooking herself. She was often running from poorly paid gig to poorly paid gig feeling frazzled and fried. When asked why she was trying to juggle all these draining little gigs she'd say, "I need to make money. So I've gotta work." One time she was specifically asked by a company not to take any other jobs while she was working for them. But she compulsively took on two other jobs anyway, citing that she needed to make more money. But one day she tearfully admitted in a fit of complete exhaustion that by taking on the other jobs she had actually lost money. The additional gigs required her to hire babysitters and buy takeout all the time. If she had just focused on her one major (very cool) gig she would have had more time to buy groceries, cook, spend time with her kids and get a bit more sleep. But because of her scarcity mentality she believed she couldn't turn anything down. As a result, she ended up wasting the very thing she claimed to need more of—money—while straining her health and family life as well. Fortunately, she's gotten better at saying "no" on occasion and choosing gigs for their quality over mere quantity.

We often hear that "work begets work" is a reason to take anything and everything that comes our way. To a certain degree this is true. Sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring is not exactly a winning career- and relationship-building strategy. However, if we routinely keep ourselves fatigued and overbooked with just "stuff," we are creating a tedious life, and incidentally we may not be making the best impression. Besides when something really great comes along...oops! Already booked up with grim obligations. If you crowd your calendar with things chosen out of fear, you aren't leaving space for the things that could bring you joy.

Communicate clearly and with care, and you will not be burning bridges when you say "no." Instead, you will be building the strongest of bridges with the wonderful energy you will bring to projects to which you can joyfully say, "Yes!"


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