As amateur performers (without a union to dictate regulations), it is easy to get caught up in uncomfortable situations. When you are volunteering your time, it is up to you to decide which boundaries are inviolable. This is a matter of personal choice. If you are a “yes” person by nature, it is difficult to be anything less than agreeable. However, not only does this breed your resentment, but taking on too much can actually have the opposite effect and make you come across as flaky and unreliable. Furthermore, sometimes a no to someone else is a yes to yourself.
With this being said, sometimes it’s hard to determine what your boundaries should be. Every one of us starts out with no experience and learns along the way. Over the past 20 years, I have performed in both amateur and professional capacities, and I hereby humbly submit my short list of criteria for a comfortable and rewarding performing experience.
1. Respect for your time
There is nothing worse as a performer than working with a director who doesn’t respect your time. Whether you are being financially compensated or not, it is incredibly frustrating to arrive promptly for a rehearsal and then spend hours sitting around doing nothing because you are not actually needed. The best directors adhere to a schedule and make sure that only the players required for a particular scene are called. This may sound overly regimented, and there is certainly something to be said for going with the flow during the creative process. Still, especially in the amateur arena, everyone involved has a day job and other important facets of life to attend to. Of course, it should go without saying that performers do their part by arriving on time, giving full disclosure about any conflicts, and being off book in a timely manner. This allows directors to adhere to the schedules they create.
In the same vein, it’s important that all expectations be clear from the outset. If you are going to need to attend a certain number of work calls, sell ads for the program, or pay a participation fee, that information should be presented at the time of your audition.
2. Personal respect
In the corporate world, there are laws regarding harassment. In the amateur theater world, it’s possible that the cast-mate who touched you without permission while you were standing backstage won’t automatically get cut from the show. Worse, what if the director is the one behaving inappropriately toward you or other cast members? It is never okay for someone to belittle or berate you. Would you allow or expect your boss at your day job to curse at you in front of other people? If so, I would advise you to raise your expectations, and perhaps to contact human resources. In any event, there is no reason for you to tolerate anything less than respect and decency when you are volunteering your time. There is no good reason for you to sign up to be abused. You may feel guilty for leaving your cast in the lurch by dropping out, but if you are being treated unprofessionally, it’s up to you to defend yourself and leave the situation. Never apologize for standing up for yourself. In doing so, you may give others the courage to do the same. Better opportunities await, and you’ll never discover them if you settle for less.
3. Respect for your talent
Just about every performer has a story about auditioning for a show that was pre-cast. I’m no statistician, but it seems to me that about half of these cases are sour grapes, and half of them are legitimate. Most directors have some idea of who might be a good fit for certain roles, but a good director doesn’t make promises she can’t keep, and a self-respecting performer endeavors to earn roles on her own merit. It may feel good if you are the one who has been promised a role, but it is awkward to sit and watch others audition for that role when you know they won’t be getting it. This ties back into respecting your time. If you truly only want one part and know that you won’t be accepting any other role, you wouldn’t bother preparing a song or a monologue and taking the time to come out to the audition knowing there was no possibility that you would get what you want. Directors who are decent people have the courage, to be honest.
Having never directed a show myself (and with meager experience as a music director), I would be interested to hear what directors would put on a list like this for their performers. I suspect that many of these criteria would work in the reverse. It all seems to come down to mutual respect. What I want most is to work with kind people who take their talent seriously. I have been fortunate enough to learn that this is a reasonable expectation.
Photo: Sydney Theatre Company