No, not me, silly. I won’t quit as long as you are reading my stuff. However, let’s talk about you.
Just to be clear, everyone in this business wants to quit at some point. At many points, in fact. Sometimes several times within one production. Within one rehearsal. It is rarely worth it and even more rarely pleasant. Let’s talk about all that.
When you are feeling like chucking the whole thing and becoming a debate champion, synchronized swimming captain or math whiz, you need to seriously consider that decision and make sure that if it really is your decision, that you do it in a professional and courteous manner. The first thing to consider of course, are your reasons for wanting to quit.
There are good reasons to quit. There are many, many more bad reasons to quit. First, let’s examine the bad reasons to quit a show.
BAD REASONS TO QUIT
- I HATE THE DIRECTOR.
This is a bad reason for quitting. You are going to work with some real pieces of work in this business, so you’d better start learning how to deal with them now. More extensive advice on that in another post. Your director is the one yelling at you daily, telling at your friends daily, being a raving jerk and putting up a crappy show. Maybe. But you are the one who will be either onstage, joining together with others to make a brilliant piece of art, or backstage, helping to create all the magic pieces that will make up that piece of art. You have accepted a responsibility and a privilege, very little of which has to do with the director in the most important moments. The director is temporary. Your mark on that production and the lives it touches is permanent.
- MY PART IS TOO SMALL/TOO HARD/BORING/NOT WHAT I WANTED.
I’m just going to take a moment to suppress my gag reflex. OK, I’m back. The Golden Rule is that if you would be happy to rock this part on Broadway, be happy to rock it anywhere. Because one, it makes the whole show better when you do your part to the best of your ability, and two, those are the parts you are most likely going to need to rock when you first get to the big leagues, so don’t start now thinking you are too good for them. No one, I don’t care who they are, no one is too good for any role. The most talented people are often put into the smallest roles. More on that in another post. If your role is daunting you, there are dozens of people around you who would love to help. But you have to ask.
- SOMETHING ELSE CAME UP.
Choir trips, desire for a job, friends going on a 2-week road trip, captain position on a sports team- lots of stuff is possible. But. You have committed to this production, and you need to fulfil that commitment. I know that’s hard when the Something is something you have wanted for a long time, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or is just really, really appealing as an alternative to the grueling/boring/frustrating work on a show. But besides the commitment you’ve made to all involved, you also need to build personal integrity by standing by your word, following through with what you have promised to do.
- BALANCING SCHOOL AND SHOW AND LIFE IS TOO HARD.
It is hard, for sure. And it is exhausting. And frustrating. But not impossible, and you are not alone. But there are some compromises you may be able to make; if you are a 4.0 student and that is super important to you, talk with your teachers. Sometimes one or two of them may be persuaded to wait for a certain paper or project, scheduled to be due during tech, until after you have opened. Some might even let you report on your experience in the show in lieu of another type of research or creative project. Others will be totally inflexible. But you don’t know until you ask. Try to make dates with your significant other (if they are not also involved in the show) that are short and frequent, or every other week for an intense bit. Or get them involved (don’t get distracted). Life… goes on. When you are in a show, it can feel like you are in a little bubble of another world and time/friends/experiences are passing you by as you watch through the stage door window. In reality, the show is very temporary (as you will feel on closing night), and you can and will rejoin those things soon. You may feel like you are not able to put in the time to do a good job on the show; again, there are people who want to help you. They want to help you run lines, fix dialect, drill dance steps, even tutor you in the classes where you are falling behind. But you HAVE TO ASK.
- IT’S NOT WHAT I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE.
Yeah, life seldom is. When you joined costume crew, maybe you thought you’d be sewing more. Or on lights, maybe you hoped to actually make artistic choices. Or as an actor, maybe it sounded easier or more fun than it turned out. The first step to getting rid of that feeling of disappointment and disillusionment is to forget about what you had hoped for and look at the good parts of what you are expected to do. Make a list of 10 things that you like about your job on the show, and then concentrate on really enjoying those 10 things. Again, temporary. And personal integrity.
GOOD REASONS TO QUIT
There are a few, and here they are:
- FAMILY EMERGENCY
When you have a major unexpected (or even expected, but hoping that it wouldn’t happen so soon) event in your family, sometimes you need to leave a show. If someone dies, especially a parent or sibling, you need time with your family to grieve and process. Sometimes you can want to hold onto your theatre family too, and you need the daily routine of being someone else somewhere else to forget about the pain, but I would caution you there. Go home. And if the event is that your family is suddenly going to need to move for some reason, that can be great and exciting, but makes it impossible to continue with the show. These kinds of things are out of your control, and there is nothing anyone can do to change the circumstances.
- I’M NOT SAFE.
If you are feeling unsafe within the rehearsal process, you absolutely need to remove yourself from it. Unsafe can mean several things; if you feel threatened, either physically, emotionally or sexually, by any member of the cast, crew, or production team, immediately report it to the director. If it is the director that you feel threatened by, go directly to your principal if it’s a school show or to the artistic director if it is a community or professional show. That is not your fault, and you will not be the last person that that individual threatens, so quitting only removes you from your immediate danger. The report can help protect other artists from what you are going through. If the danger comes from unsafe conditions in the building or set, or if you are being asked to do something unsafe onstage, such as a fight without choreography and supervision or a sexual assault scene without a safe word, a report is also in order there. If the danger is coming from yourself, and that is absolutely a real thing, pay attention. If you are feeling stressed to the point of self harm, like cutting, extreme dieting, suicidal thoughts, or other frightening thoughts, again, it’s important to get yourself to a safe place with safe people. Go to an adult you trust and tell them what is going on. You are not alone, and there are people waiting to help you to feel better and more in control.
- I’M ILL.
If you are physically or mentally ill, or become injured, and you are unable to continue with the show due to treatment; or if the circumstances of the show are too difficult for your illness/injury to bear- this is a good reason to quit. But listen carefully to your body. Tell the director, choreographer, stage manager, and anyone else that you care to share the information with about your condition at the beginning, if you know it. Tell them what hurts, what helps, and what and where your medications are in case of emergency. That can cut down on the possibility that you have to use this reason.
- MY PARENTS INSIST.
Again, this is out of your control. If your parents are forcing you to quit for academic reasons, to help at home, or as a consequence of other behavior or circumstance, there is not much you can do about it. If your parents have laid out quitting the show as a possible consequence for something, though, do whatever you can to avoid it.
Everything in the world has consequence. You need to carefully consider the consequences of quitting to yourself and others. Consider these before making the decision. If it’s a school production:
- How does your program work? Does quitting make you ineligible to do another show in the future?
- Are you likely to lose a friend or two over it?
- Could your quitting make it necessary for friends and others to choose sides?
- Might other people follow you in quitting?
- Is there someone that you can think of who might replace you?
If you are considering leaving a community production,
- How badly will it damage your reputation, and your chances for a future with them?
If you are in a professional production,
- Read your contract carefully.
- What will it mean in terms of your contract? Are you even allowed to pull out of the show for the reasons that you have?
- Could you be sued for breach of contract?
And in any quitting situation, remember the universal truth that Everyone Talks, and your quitting will have an effect on your reputation, no matter your reasons.
Having laid out the good reasons and bad reasons to quit, and the possible consequences involved, let’s just say that you have analyzed the situation and decided that you want out. At least do this right. Here’s how.
- QUIT WITH A CLEAR HEAD. Don’t storm out of a rehearsal in anger and never return. Don’t call a director in the middle of the night crying and tell her you can’t do it anymore. Wait till you are calm and clear, in the light of day.
- BE TRUTHFUL. Don’t lie and say your parents are making you quit when you are just plain bored. Your director will find out. Don’t ask how. They always do.
- SOONER RATHER THAN LATER. Do this if you are considering quitting for one of the Bad Reasons especially. The earlier you pull out, the less other people have to work to replace you. As an actor, your quitting means extra work for everyone involved- costumes have been pulled and/or fabric has been purchased for your costume, lights and sound levels are tailored to you and your balance in the cast, relationships onstage have been built, you may be involved in scene shifts. Not only does your spot need to be filled, but every single person need to put in extra time and energy to change the entire dynamic of the show. As crew, you are depended on by the entire cast, no matter how insignificant you perceive your bit to be. Your absence is felt. Everyone is replaceable, yes, but it costs time, money, energy, and emotional investment, all of which are in short supply on any production.
- DO IT IN PERSON. Do NOT send a text or email. Certainly do NOT send someone else to tell the director that you are not continuing. And under no circumstances should you simply disappear. Speak to the director privately (with another person to witness is totally fine), and not right at the beginning of a rehearsal when there are a thousand other things that need the director’s attention. A time outside of rehearsal, even at the end of rehearsal is better than the beginning.
- GIVE SOME LEAD TIME. If you are able to, give some notice. That way you can take on some of that time and energy burden getting your replacement up to speed.
- APOLOGIZE. No matter how good your reason, you are creating a rift in an artistic process. Even if you don’t feel it, say it. It’s professional, and you owe them at least that, if nothing else.
Having said all of that, now I’ll say this. No matter the reason, I know many, many people (including myself) who have regretted quitting a show, and I can’t think of a one (including myself) who was glad that they did. Consider that too.