I recently read an article in the The New York Times about a Broadway production that, at the time I read the article, was in rehearsals and grappling with a very public firing of a cast member (no, not Spiderman). There was at least one high profile celebrity involved which is probably why the incident received a generous amount of media attention. In addition to that, the estranged actor (who is not a celebrity…or wasn’t at the time, at least) utilized social media to air his grievances and subsequently attracted interest in his predicament.
The The New York Times sat down with the actors on the other side of the argument (including the aforementioned celebrity) to discuss the status of the production post-firing. In the interview, one of the actors spoke about a mutual respect and understanding amongst actors that what happens at rehearsal stays at rehearsal, suggesting that the estranged actor was wrong to have utilized social media to blame and disparage fellow actors, but also suggesting that the discussion that was being pursued by the New York Times reporter was encroaching upon actor etiquette, as well.
Interesting point. How “private” is the rehearsal process in the theater? Do we even want it to be private? Does the old saying still hold that any publicity is good publicity? And, ultimately, how much control do we have over what our fellow actors and artists perceive about the process and then share outside the theater — even if we collectively agree (in theory or otherwise) that rehearsals are private? The answer to the last question is undoubtably “none” for me. We have no control over another artist’s perceptions and no control over how they choose to act on those perceptions — publicly or otherwise. And this is especially scary to me now that social media has made it so easy for people to proclaim their perceptions so publicly and so immediately.
As actors, we can and often do disagree with the other artists we work with. When that happens, it sometimes means the difference between a fulfilling creative experience and a job that we are seeing through to the end because we are bound by a contract, or we need the weeks for the union, or we’ve come too far in the process to back out now, or whatever your raison d’etre is. In short, internal strife in rehearsals can make your dream job feel a lot like any other survival job. And like any other survival job, it is possible for you to get fired from your dream job if you don’t meet expectations — even if you feel that you’re not at fault.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. There is always three sides to every story — 1) what he said, 2) what she said, 3) and what really happened. That said, I like the idea of leaving rehearsal mistakes in the rehearsals from whence they came and I even like the idea of keeping rehearsals private. I also like the idea of starting fresh every time you walk into rehearsals or show up for a call. Actors are all human after all, and we are in the business of replicating humanity at it’s most juicy and most disjointed moments. Acting requires empathetic, vulnerable humans to do it well. So shouldn’t we expect, even welcome, some of our human foibles will creep into the producing of meaningful theater? And is it, perhaps, reasonable to have a certain level of tolerance and compassion for imperfect behavior (within reason)? And if the answer to those questions is yes or even maybe, then is it fair to be gossiping publicly about actor drama. Gossip to me is like junk food, it can taste good in the moment, but later it makes me feel yucky.
My son’s teacher starts each child with their name on the color green every morning. The first time a child causes a problem in class, their name gets moved to yellow, the second time to orange and the third time to red (which means a phone call has to be made to mom and dad). My son tries to stay on green every day but even if he doesn’t, he takes comfort in the fact that the teacher moves all the names back to green at the start of each new day so that everyone gets a chance to try again and start fresh. I like that.
Even though I have no control over anyone else, I am going to try my best every chance I get to treat the rehearsal process and fellow artists with dignity and respect. I vow to leave my mistakes for the day (including those involving other actors) at the door. Like a coat being checked but never retrieved.