Webster’s dictionary defines gossip as “a rumor or report of an intimate nature”. I ask you to be extremely cautious when engaging in exchanges of gossip. I will not tell you not to do it, because that would be futile. I will tell you that gossip can ruin friendships, lives, and shows. I will also tell you that actors are almost as gossipy as military wives, and that the knowledge that they have to pass around is a thousand times more hurtful than anything the wives have on one another.
We become performers, in part, because of a wealth of pain and passion that we were born into. We also turn to the stage as an escape, a release, or a high. We feel things more deeply, and react more strongly than Everyone Else. We often have terrible things that have happened to us, sexual abuse, irrational fears, physical traumas. You must understand that when people get together to work on a production, or even a small class scene, there is a certain level of trust that is implied. While you are exploring emotions and discovering abilities, certain things sometimes come out about people’s past, or their fears, or their hopes and dreams that hitherto have been private. Sometimes, what we see and hear in these revelations are very heavy, and sometimes heart-wrenching, and sometimes downright depressing. It’s difficult, sometimes impossible, for you to carry the burden of what you know about someone’s intimate feelings. If you need to talk to someone about what you have seen or heard, I urge you to do it in this way:
First of all, if what you have to say involves someone who is currently being abused or harmed in any way, the adult you tell is compelled by law to report it to the police. I urge you to go right away to a trusted adult with news of that nature, regardless of if the person has sworn you to secrecy or begged you not to tell or whatever. They need help, and you need to be that person. It is better to lose a friendship by helping them out of a bad situation than to lose the friend permanently by leaving them there. It can, does, and will happen.
If the person is not in immediate danger, and you can, go to an adult whom you trust. Your parents (if you’ve got a good thing going with them), an older sibling, a neighbor friend. Let them know what you need to talk about and why. Then talk about whatever is on your mind, but DO NOT mention names.
If writing in a journal or drawing in a sketchbook helps you to process stuff, do that. Journaling and drawing can be extremely cathartic (look it up) and calming.
You can also talk PRIVATELY with someone else involved in the show or class or wherever you got the information. Someone who was there at the same time and already knows the situation, so all you are doing is talking about your own feelings regarding what you both know. What you do not want to do is to take a student or friend from outside the situation and give them this new, intimate information. Then it becomes gossip, and has gone outside of where it was intended to stay.
All this pertains, as you can see, to very intimate gossip, the kind that can really destroy people. The other type of gossip I will touch briefly on is the kind that doesn’t destroy, but can really hurt. You already know in your head that you shouldn’t spread lies about people. You also know that you shouldn’t talk about people behind their backs. You know this, but most likely you do it anyway. Sometimes without knowing it, you pass on or act on a piece of information that is untrue. Sometimes in “venting” about someone, you are giving a bad impression of a good person. A very wise friend of mine once told me two things about gossip. He said, “Always check with the root of a rumor. And if there’s a problem, tell someone who can do something about it.” What he meant by the root of the rumor is not to find the person who started it, but the person that it is about. When you hear something that disturbs you, or seems likely to be untrue, you can do one of three things:
- pass the information on without a second thought.
- ignore it.
- go to that person and say, “I’ve been hearing something about you that seems strange to me. Can I ask you about it?” and go from there. If the person asks you where you heard it, explain that you don’t want to be a gossip, you just want to get the record straight. You’re not going to pass along the info, you just want to understand things and make sure that this person is not being falsely rumored. Don’t press them to tell anything they don’t want to, and don’t reveal your sources. That creates a gossip web, and while it feels a bit exciting and CIA-like, it can really hurt people.
Even before you go to the root, a quick assessment is a good idea. Ask yourself if this information, true or false, is any of your business to begin with. If not, leave it alone and DON’T pass it on.
Another choice when you are in a gossipy situation is to do what’s called reversing the gossip spiral. You take the information being passed around and either turn it positive, or you add something positive to it. For instance:
GOSSIPY FRIEND: Did you hear that Evelyn wasn’t even supposed to get cast in this, she actually got cast by accident because Ms. Smith put her name on the wrong list.
YOU: Yes, I heard that- but whether or not it’s true, I’m really glad she’s in the show. She’s a great dancer, and she’s sweet.
That gets the conversation onto a positive note, and dismisses the validity of the gossip being passed. It will tell the person trying to gossip with you that you are not interested in talking about others behind their back in a bad way, but you are definitely interested in discussing the good in people.
All this and more can and does occur during rehearsals for shows, where there are lots of people in a heightened emotional state sitting around with time on their hands. A gossipy cast has bad feelings and poison spreading constantly, and that’s not what you want to spend hours with every night in a small area for weeks. Think about it. Be very, very careful about what you say to whom about other people. If you’ve ever been the victim, you know what I’m talking about.