It's Okay to Turn Down a Role, So Stop Punishing Performers Who Do

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I was recently having lunch with an actress friend who told me of an upcoming community production she was in. I asked her how the rehearsal process was going and she didn’t seem particularly enthused about the project. When I pressed further, it mostly had to do with the fact that she wasn’t happy with the role she was playing.

“Then why did you accept the role?” I asked.

“Honestly? It’s because the director has a reputation of punishing actors who turn down roles in her shows by not casting them in future productions,” she replied.

Sensing that this might be just a bit of actor paranoia, I mentioned my doubt that it was as severe as she explained.

But then she told me of instances where people had turned down roles and were not cast in future productions despite being the most talented in the area. She even told me that a stage manager once witnessed in a production meeting that an actor was dismissed from auditions because the director said “he once burned me when it came to a role, so I just can’t trust him for this show.”

I wish I could say I was shocked by all of this but I’m not. I’ve seen many examples of amateur directors(and even some professional ones) that hold out grudges against actors who turned down roles they were cast in previous productions. It would seem that for these directors’ egos, actors must accept any roles in their productions if they want a shot at being cast again.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s wrong for an actor to quit a show right before opening for selfish reasons. But there is a vast difference between that and turning down a role that is offered to them.

Given the amount of time that is needed for these productions, at a community level, I completely understand if a performer doesn’t want to sacrifice that much time for a role they didn’t audition for and therefore didn’t want. I never begrudge that and directors shouldn’t. If actors are willing to give up a lot of their time(for no pay) for roles they dream of playing, I won’t hold it against them if they turn down roles that aren’t. It’s completely okay for actors to turn down roles, and directors need to be mature enough not to punish them for it down the road.