Disappointing a Fellow Cast Member

Jennifer Kuzmeskas

OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

I think it is fairly safe to say that most, if not all of us have been in that place where the director is upset with us. We didn’t get the blocking right, we don’t know all the lyrics, we haven’t learned all our lines yet or whatever the case may be.  While disappointing a director is bad, it’s a completely different feeling than disappointing a cast mate.  

Disappointing a director usually results in a director getting upset with you, providing you feedback (maybe in a slightly aggressive voice) and you knowing exactly what you need to fix in order to get it right the next time. It’s usually much easier to not take it personally as the director’s job is to create the best possible show he/she can. They are supposed to be hard on you in order to be successful in the creative process. 

A cast mate being disappointed in you though, that solicits a completely different response.

With a cast mate you need to work with them on stage, you need to trust that they are going to do what they need to do in order for all the puzzle pieces to fit together. You rely on each other in that live moment to present your story to the audience. 

So when you are going through the rehearsal process and you disappoint a cast member (or worse multiple cast members) that trust is broken, if only for a small amount of time. Trust of other people is something that is often difficult, and at the same time, something that is necessary in many different aspects of life, including theatre. Have you ever wondered why people play games at the beginning or end of rehearsal? It’s to build the bond between cast mates, with more trust there is more accountability and more trust being actors. 

Of course there can be other benefits to “theatre games.” For instance, the greater the bond between the cast as actors, the better they will work together to tell the story, the more fun everyone will have, thus providing more motivation to give the audience a performance that will be remembered long after they leave the theater. Does this mean that every director should incorporate theatre games? Definitely not! 

There are many actors that do not like theatre games, they find them boring, unnecessary and, quite frankly, rather trite. A director should attempt to read his/her cast and take their own feelings into account also. My personal opinion is these often work with younger casts for Kids Shows, Junior Shows and even High School performances. However, as actors get older and they find themselves more and more able to build that bond on their own. 

By now you are probably thinking something like, “Wow, she started by talking about the difference between disappointing a director versus a cast mate, but she is completely off on a tangent.” Well, I assure you, I am not. When the cast has bonded (no matter the method) and trusts each other, the guilt in letting down a cast mate down can be far more impactful than disappointing a director. Not only do your cast mates expect a certainly level of commitment from you (just like the director does), they also rely on you when rehearsals are over to work together before that live audience. 

I was working as a Stage Manager for a Director once where in a cast of 8 people there was 1 that didn’t learn his lines for a scene by the specified off-book date. During production week that actor apologized to the director again for not having known his lines at that rehearsal, then went on to thank the director for not yelling at him and for letting him continue on. The director said, “I knew you would never be unprepared again, the disapproving looks from your fellow actors took care of that.”  The actor laughed and agreed that letting them down was the worst.  

The message here… Directors, sometimes (not always), it’s okay to let the cast be the ones who disapprove of unprepared actors. And actors, you know how it feels to have a cast mate disappoint you and how difficult rehearsals can be when even one person is unprepared, so don’t do it!