Why You Shouldn’t Do It

This will be one of the last posts I do on this blog before I either shut it down or move it over to a sort of “daddy-n-me” picture blog for my family and friends to keep up with the baby and the wife and me. I hope this will be pretty short.

There is a sense as an actor that you are supposed to take every job that comes your way, and there are very few people who would argue this point. Work begets work, as the saying goes, and you should take every single opportunity, no matter how much the material may or may not appeal to you. Maybe the lighting designer will get you another job, maybe the lyricist is also a playwright, every job you take creates opportunities in the future.

It wasn’t so for me, and I think I’ve learned why. I was involved with several shows over the years that had no merit, no material in them for me to hold on to, and no chance to move forward. I didn’t like the shows, and I did them in the hopes that work begets work. I was wrong.

And I’ll tell you why in just a second, but first I want to ask, why is this true for actors but not true for writers or directors or designers? If you don’t like a project and you’re asked to direct it, of course you turn it down, no matter how large an opportunity it is. If you’re asked to design a show you have distaste for, of COURSE you don’t do it, and every designer in the world knows that. When you’re offered a job as a music director, you’re given the score and the script before you decide to take it.

Why is it different with actors? Why can’t an actor come in, audition, and then say “before I commit, I’d like to read the whole script. Not because I want to see if the material is worth my time, but to see if I can bring something to the material.”

Now to the why. If you can’t find something in the material to embrace, you are gonna be bad. It isn’t a judgment on your talent or your maturity, but if you don’t respect what a play is trying to say, then you aren’t gonna be able to help the writers and design staff tell the story. It’s that simple. If you are asked to play a divorcee, but you’ve never really been in a long term relationship and you don’t really understand the pain that the character is going through, maybe the play isn’t for you.

Because an audition shows so very little. Some people audition well and then get surly and passive aggressive once they are locked into a script they have no affinity for. I’m one of those guys. People hear me sing, watch me act and look at my gorgeous mug and decide to cast me. They have no idea that once we get down to it, if I disagree with the agenda of the piece, I’m gonna do *just barely enough* to get by.

It’s disgusting on my behalf, and I am broadcasting this information not as a macho challenge, but as a wholehearted apology. I could name names, but it isn’t worth it. If you worked with me and got shit from me, 90% of the time it’s because I entered into the thing without any respect for the material. The other 10% of the time, you were probably a talentless idiot and I couldn’t make anything out of the script, but that’s very rare.

There aren’t bad scripts, there are just scripts that are trying to do things that any given person doesn’t want to see or doesn’t care about. Nervous Boy, which I talked about here, was extremely elegant to me, many of my friends hated it. None of us are wrong. But you know what they did right? They got Mac, who cared a lot about the character and the script. If they had Al Pacino in that role, the play wouldn’t have worked. Because Mac is a better actor? No, because Mac had something to bring to the character that Al Pacino wouldn’t – an understanding and a bone deep agreement with the playwright.

It won’t hurt my feelings. Seriously. I’m basically a writer/producer now, and the thought of trying to drag an actor like me through a process which the actor-me had no respect for the ideas in the show… it’s terrifying.

It would literally keep me from sleeping. I am not exaggerating here, it would make me wake up in the middle of the night screaming. Of this, I am absolutely sure.

So, my advice to all you actors out there who are just making your way… don’t do it. There will be other shows. Do *only* the shows that you feel you can add something to. Turn down the shows you don’t respect. And if I’m directing, producing or writing, believe me, I would 1,000 times out of a thousand, rather have you not there then have you there giving me just enough to barely get by.