To quit or not to Quit?

There's a lot of ker-fuffle over at Don's house regarding 2 female actors who dropped out of slated shows due to being cast in "Shout! The New Mod musical". I have some pointed responses in the comments...

The bottom line (IMHO), is that regardless of whether it's a great opportunity or not, quitting a show SUCKS. Replacing an actor a week or 2 before a show opens sucks in the obvious ways (finding someone, getting them caught up with blocking, and getting them off book), but it is the UN-obvious ways that can do irreparable harm to a show.
Even losing the smallest cog in the wheel right before heading into tech week can change the emotional and psychological makeup of your cast - not to mention, your cast that is still in place will need to work even harder while you bring the new person up to speed, creating a hostile atmosphere if not handled correctly.

I understand the idea of artists having "better prospects" - but there should still be at least SOME element or respect for the dudes that cast you in the first place...

Let me tell a story... and I will humourously refer to myself in the third person. (it's long, go grab some coffee first Brownlee)

Years ago, when a wee Dianna first descended upon the Chicago Theatre scene (1999 - 2001), she had some early success working for a couple of smaller companies - she always thought herself woefully under-qualified, so she took whatever she could get. One of those was a gentlemen's handshake/agreement in earnest to stage manage a smaller company's fall & spring shows. (This is a company that no longer exists, but she still won't tell you...). Well, in the fall they produced a fairly ok version of Guare's "House of Blue Leaves". It was the first time she even read the play and she really enjoyed it - plus, the production wasn't bad. Working with the Artistic Director and Managing Director was... strange... and.... complicated....
They weren't unprofessional - but they were weird to work with. Needy and over-emotional. They both were in the show (in the leads, of course), so it created some conflict here and there.

Now, in between the Fall and Spring show for the company described above, Dianna was hired as ASM for the About Face production of Neil LaBute's "Bash: The Latterday Plays". This was (and still is) one of her most artistically satisfying production of her career.
When Bash was drawing to a close, the then-PM of About Face, Greg Copeland, told me they loved me, loved my work, and I had a great relationship with the SM (Cassie?). They wanted to hire me for their next show, "The Terrible Girls". He described the show - it sounded awesome - I was totally excited.
However, dates for the Terrible Girls fell directly in conflict with dates for "Un-Named Company"'s Spring show of "Death and The Maiden".

Herin lies the conflict (and it hurts to write in third person, so now I'll stop): I never had a contract with the other company - we always talked about it, but we just never got around to it. But I was conflicted about leaving "Death and The Maiden" to work with ABout Face. While it was an AWESOME opportunity, I was new to the city, and I was afraid of burning bridges etc..
I spoke with Greg about it, and I explained that even though I didn't have a contract, I didn't feel "right" about leaving them - Greg completely respected my decision, and that was that.

Now, before we started "Death & The Maiden", The Artistic Director told me that the Managing Director was going to direct. (and of course, AD was slated to be the female lead). I explained to the AD that the MD is very emotional and confrontational, flies of the handle, yadda yadda, and she cajoled me by saying "well, you'll only have to deal with him during rehearsal... once the show opens he'll be gone"

Let's flash forward to the Thursday or Friday before tech week. It was a rehearsal I couldn't make it to, so the Asst. Director ran the rehearsal - and I find out later that the MD/D had a SHOUTING match with the male lead, and the actor stormed off and left the rehearsal. I spoke to the AD, and she said worst case scenario is that the MD could step in and learn the role quick --- I nearly shit my pants - - the MD I don't like, that always reacts strongly to EVERYTHING - I now had the prospect of dealing with him for the additional 8 week run.... oy vey!
We convene for the Saturday afternoon rehearsal - things are going ok for awhile - and then....
ka-BLOOEY! Director and Actor start shouting at each other, and actor (rightly so) tells the director fuck you, and storms off saying "I Quit!"
The director picks up the script, jumps on stage and says "lets keep going - looks like I'm gonna have to start memorizing these now"

As I left the rehearsal, my hands were shaking and my mind was reeling - I did what all women in my family do when they are freaking out - I stopped at the store and bought a pack of cigarettes. I had a standing date to meet my friend Lisa at The Melrose Diner that evening anyway, so when I walked in and she was already at our customary booth, she waited until finishing her page she was reading to look up - and when she did and saw me frantically puffing on a cigarette, she said "holy shit - what happened?". I related the story - said I didn't think I could handle another 8 weeks of this. I told Lisa I thought I should quit. She agreed. I called the AD the next day (Sunday) and said I couldn't work with the MD anymore, and that the propect of another 8 weeks with him was enough to make me chain smoke. She tried to get me to stay - I refused. I stopped by the theatre the next day after work to drop off the keys to the space and the audio disc for the show - the AD answered the door, and the MD was in the background - he looked like he wanted to punch me in the face. I didn't care. I handed off the items and said 'see ya" and I was out of there. I never felt so free in my life.

So, 4 days later, instead of being at opening night of Death and The Maiden, I attended a preview performance of "The Terrible Girls" at About Face with Lisa. We had a LONG conversation after the fact about whether or not I should have ever gone back to the other theatre company, whether or not I should have just ACCEPTED the Terrible Girls job....
I'm still (7 years later) not sure which decision would have been right....
Would I have been happier at About Face? probably.
But I still feel I learned a valuable lesson staying with the other company - I learned how far my threshold is, what things I will and will NOT accept in a job environment, and I also learned that sometimes (regardless of the consequences) you HAVE to feel empowered enough to be able to walk out the door.

Now -
My situation was a little different than the gals involved in 'Shout", but the essense is the same....
Knowing when to quit or not...

1 comment:

Michael Brownlee said...

Thanks for the heads up. But I drink tea. I think you made the right decision in both situations. But it's still a tough call and I don't think anyone would have faulted you for taking the About Face gig. Ah, life.