Touring: the P Word

Amen. It's a great place when one and all know and do their jobs in the comfort and safety of knowing all others are doing the same with pride. Punctuality, preparedness, and courtesy are all parts of this wonderful world of theatre.  And thank goodness being professional also means getting paid. I like getting paid.  

For me, after I read and re-read my contract, my signature means that it's a deal and my time is the show's, not really my own. That's often taken for granted, so it's a treat when my time is respected and not wasted. Well-planned direction with good stage management will see to that. And not just one day in advance!  A well-made schedule allows us to plan ahead and know what to prep and when so as to work our hardest.  Great schedulers impress me, especially when the schedule works. 
Some of you may be new to this world of the P word – maybe just out of, or on a break from school, or after years of trodding the community boards. To these grown-ups, like I, who decided to give the dream a shot, to all I need to make something clear: this is a different place than you have known…and welcome to it! Your job as an actor now has limits. You're being paid to act. Period. Sure, as an intern, company member or even as a character jobber some scene shifting may happen, especially in start up or non-union companies, but not so where union rules apply. In fact, in union houses with IATSE stagehands, be careful to only do your job so that they may do theirs. They work to make sure backstage and onstage are safe places so we can do our jobs. They can be highly territorial – as well they should – so you must not try to help out with an idea or an out loud thought any more than you'd take an acting note from anyone not your director or stage manager. If by some miracle you do have a good idea or a fix, it goes to and through your stage manager. 
From time to time things don't go as planned…and sometimes it's obvious there was no planning. Here's when fists clench and pound, voices become shrill and language can even shock the more profane among us. In these heated moments rest assured somebody is going to invoke the P word. Experience has shown me, thus far, it's generally the party who, if not entirely in the wrong is to thank for making a mess causing the situation.  But they're usually in denial. And they’re usually very much in the wrong. 
A visit to the site NonEquityDeputy.Com will bring you to many a shrill story. Actually, I'm due for a visit to check on one place in particular because it is always a fun read. My first time at this one theatre, there was a time when we were in the process of getting ready for the show and the TD called a meeting. It was about some silliness the Producer decreed as a new rule. A note on the call board would have been enough. In such moments the messenger posts the note and runs. Well we still had character make-up to finish and loads of costumes and props to preset and we're being delayed while said TD is invoking our contracts and the P word. I raised my hand. "MJ?" "Yes, contractually I'm five minutes late from being ready to go." "OK then," end of meeting. 
At another place I was jobbed in for the end of the season and it was deadly hot backstage. The A/C wasn't broken, just off.  Now given the nature of the show a few gags and ad-libs, all in character, were growing. Now most of the kids in the ensemble had never played in so long a run, not been away from home except for school and not worked for money before. Some still had a semester or two of school to finish after we closed. They were an enthusiastic and very young and raw bunch.  The Managing Director saw fit to leave the office, where the A/C was on, and do a monologue from The Riot Act.  Again, what's the call board for? Who needs anything in the way before a ten minute call anyway? Of course the P word was held over all. For me I was being paid a low rate. I took it because it was a good track and wasn't far from home – and don't get me started about how local actors are treated.  The ensemble kids were paid even less and all of them, on top of their tech and office duties, had to get jobs outside the theatre to afford food. If you want professional actors and professional behavior please pay a professional wage. Otherwise you get what you pay for…or don't. I've seen a few theatres where the seats started going empty because even folks who don't know from how a show goes on know an unhappy cast when they spend money on tickets. I wish I could feel sorry for these companies. I really do but I cannot. Even as I always figure that work is work is work there are places not worth working.  
The P word cuts both ways so do be careful about invoking its power, for with that comes the responsibility of living up to it. Abuse of it will see you run out of good places to work or good actors to work for you, depending which side of the game you're on. 
Acting, especially on stage, is a job I love, but it is a job at times a lot like real work and I'm thankful my day job is rehearsing. Since I began getting paid, I've done scripts I'd never otherwise read, let alone even think to pay to see and it's been a surprise that a lot of those have been real crowd pleasers. For me, really using or living the P word means an audience never notices or ever thinks I'm not having the time of my life.

MJJ Cashman


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