I have worked in theater since I was very young and always loved the art form. One might say that theater is a passion for me. I haven’t participated in a few years, but it an undying love.
Several years ago, I was directing a one-act play; a show which included five actresses and one actor. Given that it was a one-act, it was a little less involved than a full-length production. The actors were expected to show up for rehearsals prepared, meaning know their lines and remember their blocking ->the actor’s movement on stage. That is their job, after all.
When I direct, I give my actors a significant amount of latitude to find their character and do their job – memorization. And while, it is their job, that doesn’t mean it is easy. It takes work and it takes concentration, but it is what actors sign up for when they audition or accept a role in a production. One of my actresses was struggling with memorization and I encouraged her to spend more time outside of rehearsal studying; she was in her late sixties, so I was as patient as I could be with her struggle. However, she started to over-compensate for her lack of preparation by unexpectedly and ardently supplying props and helping other actors with costumes, as well as bringing snacks or drinks to each rehearsal. I pulled her aside at one point and thanked her for the help but I really needed her to concentrate on what her job was in this show – to be an actor and actors memorize lines.
She seemed to improve but the over-compensation continued. Our final rehearsal was rough and I reminded each actor of their responsibilities, not only to a paying audience but to each other – their teammates. They each assured me they would be ready;they understood their roles. The next night, we opened. I also ran tech for the show, meaning I worked the lights and sound for each performance; I had selected specific music & lighting and created a look for the show using these mediums – all to accent the actors’ work. I was mostly happy with the show, just hoped my one actor would be able to step up to the plate.
Lack of Preparation
Unfortunately, her lack of preparation was clear and she failed her fellow actors miserably, dropping lines, skipping over several pages of dialogue and stammering. The discomfort was evident on stage and my other actors looked as if they were dying an extremely painful death. I had given the benefit of the doubt to an actor that hadn’t prepared nor did she understand the power behind that preparation. Not only this, but she felt that multiple mistakes in front of an audience were OK given all the other “stuff” she had contributed to the production. How wrong she was and she looked at me incredulously as I fired her from the production. I couldn’t put my other actors – the prepared ones – through another gut-wrenching performance. Another actor stepped into her role and performed beautifully through the remainder of the run.
The bottom line is everyone is replaceable. Everyone.
Do the job you are assigned to do.
Understand why you are paid and fulfill your end of the bargain.
I have worked with colleagues who perform similarly to this actor, they fail to prepare and fail to perform their “own” job and then try to cover it by sticking their noses in everyone else’s affairs, hoping to divert attention. This experience changed how I direct and how I work. Recognizing your own responsibility and how it affects the team is paramount to achieving success, both individual and joint. And while “you’re fired” were difficult words to say, it was the best thing I could have done for the whole. And that’s what it’s all about.