If this is the only post on this blog that you read, I hope you read it well, print it, paste it on the ceiling above your bed so you see it when you first wake up and when you are trying to go to sleep at 2 AM. It could be the most important thing you ever learn in your career.
Your reputation is more important than anything else. Build it carefully, guard it well, and polish it whenever possible. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to repair once it is damaged, so truly, take it way, way seriously.
The arts community of the world is amazingly small. Even (and for your purposes, especially) at a local level. You can have a drama teacher who designs lights for one company every fall and stage manages a summer production at a different company each summer. You might have a choreographer who comes in once a week to work on your school musical, and she also teaches dance at a local studio and is in a major production at least once a year, and is an assistant choreographer on big projects once in a while. You may have a guest artist come in for one class, who is well connected to the biggest houses in town. Whomever you meet as you develop your reputation, you will sometime in some way meet again. And everyone talks.
Let me say it again: Everyone talks.
Directors call teachers, teachers talk to coaches, stage managers talk to directors, actors talk to everyone. It only takes one drop to contaminate the waters of your reputation. By the same token, everyone talks, and a great reputation flies quickly and can do good things for you.
HOW DO I BUILD A GREAT REPUTATION?
Glad you asked! What a great question.
Here are the things you want to get a reputation for:
- Good attitude, onstage and off
- Positive and professional, always
- Good physical and mental health
Easy, right? Not so much. This takes diligence on your part. A lot of it. Start with the basics: Show up. Learn your lines. Don’t bump into the furniture. Then go into the harder parts.
- Say “Thank you” to the Stage Manager in response to whatever you are told. Then follow that direction.
- Say “Thank you” when you are given a note by the director. And write it down. Then don’t make them give you the same note twice.
- Listen to the director. Do what they tell you. If it’s wrong, they’ll fix it.
- Use your downtime wisely. Work on your lines. If you are letter perfect, offer to help others with theirs. Do you homework. Practice dance numbers, and get others to work with you. Write down questions you want to ask the director later.
- Be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there. No one should have to shout for you when your entrance comes up.
- Leave the props and costumes alone unless they are yours and it is time to use/wear them.
- If there is a problem, be honest about it. If you realized too late that you have a dental appointment that will make you a half hour late to dress rehearsal, first try to change it, then explain to the director exactly the truth. Don’t call in sick to the whole rehearsal. Work with honesty, or it will bite you in the butt. (Did I mention that everyone talks?)
You’ll find more ways. Look for them. Take advantage of them.
HOW DO I DAMAGE IT?
Another excellent question. You are so smart.
Every rehearsal you miss or are late for, that’s taking away from the development of your reputation. Every time you let it be known that you think you should have gotten a better part. Every bit of backbiting gossip you participate in. Every day past the off-book deadline that you are still using your script. You get the idea. And one temper tantrum can effectively destroy your rep. In the last two years, I have seen two students dig themselves professional graves. Here’s how easy it was:
A. One student looked at a callback list and saw his name as called back for ensemble. He said, in full view of everyone, “Ensemble?!? Ugh!” And then texted the director that he couldn’t come to callbacks because he had too much homework, and stalked off, extremely offended by the thought of being in the ensemble of the musical. (More on that subject later.) Of course, by the Everyone Talks rule, the story got back to the director almost as fast as the text. He blew Commitment, Honesty, Attitude, and Professionalism in about 12 seconds flat. Not only was he not cast, he was not even allowed to audition the following year.
B. The other student had built a fabulous reputation in Stage Management, which is really hard. She had done a great job as a Props Master, and her reputation was solid enough that she was given an internship at a local playhouse. They thought she was super too. Then, in her senior year, stage managing the musical, she got overwhelmed, had a bit of a hissy fit, an walked out of rehearsal, never to return. A whole year later, the playhouse who had had her as an intern was considering hiring her as an Assistant Stage Manager- but heard about the tantrum, and crossed her off the list.
C. Another (adult) actor who was hoping to get back into acting after a hiatus basically shot himself in the foot by getting into a show and going through the whole rehearsal period, then during the tech week (when nights are long and everyone’s exhausted), he one night refused to do the second act, and walked off set and went home. He was (barely) allowed to finish the run.
That may all seem super harsh and unfair. But consider: A group has very limited time and resources to put up a show. There is absolutely NO room for babysitting or extra drama. There are plenty of people to fill in- talent has very little to do with that. Most directors would much rather have a person who’s not so talented but that they can absolutely depend on than a drama queen who is the love child of Meryl Streep and Lin Manuel Miranda. You must sometimes do your best acting outside of rehearsals. You can absolutely be disappointed in your casting- cry about it in the bathroom, alone. You can be totally fed up with rehearsal; ride it out and then go for a run or break some Goodwill dishes or write a furious letter (don’t send it) to the people who are pissing you off. But keep it together and positive while you are anywhere near anyone who will talk. And who would that be? Trick question! EVERYONE TALKS.
HOW DO I FIX IT?
That may be the best question yet.
What do you do when you have lost control, said something stupid, made an offhand remark that gets back to the director, or otherwise did something to damage your reputation?
The worst thing you can do is to pretend it didn’t happen, and hope people forget about it and it goes away. Never going to happen. Put that right out of your mind. You absolutely must address it.
Student A (ensemble casting) could have and should have gone to the director the next day, privately, and with humility, explained himself. Something like “I was very surprised to see that I was called back for ensemble because I worked so hard in the fall play. I felt like I deserved more. I acted immaturely, and I know it was stupid, and I really shouldn’t have lied to you. I was acting out of instinct and I wasn’t thinking, because this project was so important to me. I’m really sorry, and I hope you can forgive me and give me another chance.” Depending on the director’s take on everything, he might have been given a second chance, he might not. But his reputation would have a decent band-aid on it.
Student B (Stage Manager tantrum) could and should have returned, either that day or the next, and apologized to the cast, no matter what she decided about whether or not to continue with the show. She should have stayed long enough to fully transition her work to the Assistant Stage Manager who suddenly had to step into a role she was not prepared for. She should certainly have spoken privately with the director to explain why she had a meltdown, apologize for the meltdown, and figure out exactly what decision was going to be best for all involved. But an apology was certainly the least she should have done.
Actor C (Adult walk-out) Should have and did return the next day and apologize publicly to the cast and crew for his behavior, after having a conversation with the stage manager after his walk-out. He told everyone that he was getting flak from his boss for being overtired at work because of rehearsals, and he felt like he had to choose between the show and work, and for just that minute work won. But he was fully committed to the production going forward, if the company would forgive him and have him back. It was agreed that he would do the show. Not a full repair, but definitely a good start. Then he followed through, and was great after that.
So, it is possible to come back from messing up. But here’s the other thing about that. YOU CAN ONLY DO IT ONCE. We all get that craziness happens- we fall apart, have a horrible day, we snap under great pressure. But you can only go off the rails and get back on once before it becomes a pattern. Being the wild card in the deck is no better than being the black sheep, pardon my mixed metaphor.
So, save that one Get Out Of Jail Mostly Free card for when you really, really need it. Build a solid, sparkling rep so that if/when life happens and you slip, it’s only a bit of tarnish that can be polished back up with some serious apologies and hard work.
You can do it. I have faith in you.