Actors, Mind Your Manners - It Pays!

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Actors, Mind Your Manners.
It pays! Thank You, and Stuff Like That Writing about manners in the professional world of acting requires a fine delicacy, a trait I am not overly endowed with.
How does one point to the treatment / mistreatment of fellow actors, directors, producers, agents, managers, coaches, teachers, costume designers, cameramen -- well, you get the idea -how does one talk about bad manners without falling into the trap of being bad-mannered? Every example cited here has been taken from real life.
And every example relates directly to the actor in his professional world, not in his personal relationships.
"No experience necessary but professionalism is a must.
" This statement was the last sentence in an Internet ad for actors in an independent film.
For professionalism, please read "manners," because--bottom line--that is what professionalism is: MANNERS.
Manners seem to have become passe today.
But they certainly make life a bit more pleasant.
Even more importantly, they give you an edge in being cast, being taken on as an agent's client, or even just plain being treated well.
If the makeup artist likes you, your makeup will be applied better.
She will like you if you have treated her politely.
Of course "warm" is even better than "polite" but warmth may be a bit hard to generate.
That is, warmth dips into your personality pool.
Good manners can remain intellectual.
In other words, warmth toward fellow workers requires effort.
Good manners are just a matter of common sense and a commitment to being polite.
Good manners give you an advantage.
Warmth gives you a much better advantage.
But let's settle for manners.
Maybe with practice, manners will gradually drift into warmth.
And maybe, if the acting gods smile, maybe warmth will expand into "CHARM.
" From being a graceless oaf to a charming actor in three words? Magic! Manners>warmth>charm! You stand a better chance of becoming a signed client if you treat the agent politely.
Fellow cast members will recommend you to a director when someone unexpectedly backs out of a project--if you have treated that cast members politely.
Manners/warmth/charm are devoutly to be wished and worked for if for no other reason than the fact that it pays off by helping you to get auditions and roles.
There are of course cold robotic manners or effusive overly-personal manners or just the right touch of genuine manners (sounds something like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, right?) There is even "no manners at all," which too often describes many actors.
Start watching actors as they interact with their cast members and the technical people.
if you want to discover good or bad manners, count the number of times a "Thank you" is left unsaid.
Observe the omitted "I'm sorry.
" Or, heaven forbid, watch one actor struggling with something and count the number of people who did not say, "Can I help you with that?" Enough general chit-chat.
Down to specifics: MANNERS: One on One.
Dressing rooms may be crowded.
Quite often your space is allocated by the stage manager.
Respect that space.
Do not overflow.
Don't wear perfume.
Some people are allergic.
Do not smoke.
Do not borrow anything unless absolutely necessary.
If you receive flowers, ask if anyone would mind if you left them in the dressing room to share with the rest of the cast.
Same with cookies, etc.
Eating supper in the dressing room? Best not to.
Coffee? Watch out for spills.
Shoes? Push them under the counter top so no one trips.
And keep the noise down, especially if you play music.
Turn down the volume.
If someone has a fast change and there is no wardrobe mistress or dresser, if you are not busy, offer to help.
I remember a play where the leading lady exited and had to reenter soaking wet a minute later.
She asked someone to turn on the shower early so the water would be warm.
The person who was asked refused.
Another actress volunteered and turned on that water faithfully throughout the run of the show.
There was no thank you for that gesture.
So which actress displayed the worst manners? The one who refused to help when asked or the one who didn't say "Thank you"? There is a story about a husband reminding his famous opera singer wife that "Prima Donna" means not only "First Lady" but also "Lady first.
" That is, behave well (like a "lady") rather than pull a "diva" act.
"Behave well" simply refers to "manners.
" [Male readers: same applies to your gender even though the prima donna story is primarily aimed at women.
] I remember seeing someone struggle with a back zipper.
No one volunteered to help.
I remember someone who needed a prop instantly every night on a fast exit and reenter.
No one volunteered to hold the prop immediately off stage so the actor would not have to dash to the prop table.
All miniature, maybe even trivial displays of lack of manners, thoughtlessness, discourtesy.
But these tiny slings and arrows (which are the equivalent of professional bad manners) start to add up.
We have to harden ourselves and unfortunately it is difficult to harden only part of the Self without hardening all of it.
And hardening means goodbye to sensitivity and insight and goodbye to sensitivity and insight means goodbye to a nuanced and insightful performance.
What started as the result of hardening the heart against bad manners ends up hardening the Self that creates.
There is nothing quite so lovely as a thank you note or postcard thank you.
To whom? Fellow cast members for a wonderful run of a show on closing night.
Agents for an interview.
Even an email answer to a manager when he has written a short note in response to your request for an interview.
"Thank you, thank you, good luck, It was so nice, You have been a joy to work with"--such tiny words, mini-sentences--carrying good will.
And think you not that good will doesn't count in our profession! "Scatter ye rosebuds of thank ye, please, and a few good deeds" to mangle Robert Herrick's charming poem.
("Gather ye rosebud while ye may...
") Manners, courtesy, politeness, kindness, thoughtfulness, charm--to be crass--will get you roles.
Even if you dismiss manners as insignificant, then adopt them just because they will help you get (and keep) jobs.
Even if you prefer to dismiss the idea that these gestures make people feel good and help turn the jungle we work in into something slightly resembling a garden, nevertheless learn professional manners because they help smooth the way to success.
Use sharp brains rather than a sharp tongue.
MANNERS ONE on ONE: Watch What You Say and Whom You Say It To! I was at a callback with a first rate theatre company doing a Chekhov, I think.
We were all sitting in a huge elegant room.
I heard an older gentleman read three or four different scenes with different partners.
When called on to read yet another scene, he exploded.
"I've read four times.
By now, you ought to know if I can act the role or not.
This is enough" and out he stalked.
So guess who did not get cast, even though he was by far the best actor up for the role.
Yes, the producers were amiss for using this actor as a "reader" for the other actors at the callback.
But, and this is a huge BUT, what did the actor gain by blowing up? What did he lose? Weigh the consequences of what you lose by losing your temper (whether justified or not).
Use some professional savvy.
Use manners to get what you want.
It may be snaky, self-serving behavior, but is fit-throwing really more admirable? Temper has no place anywhere in professional relationships.
Bite your tongue before you snap! I am not convinced that rudeness ever makes us feel better, but I am convinced that rudeness or throwing a fit do not gain you anything except a bad reputation.
I cannot think of a professional situation where rudeness and a self-satisfying explosion helped get a desired goal.
If the monitor at an open call is rude, what have you gained by snapping back at her? Remember she may have an open line to the producer.
An "attitude" guarantees that you won't be cast, that you are creating an indelible impression and a permanent reputation of being difficult to work with.
That is one of the main reasons directors cast the same people over and over and over.
They know how difficult or how agreeable that particular actor is.
Being pleasant (having good manners) heads many a director's requirement list before he will cast someone.
In short: Letting off steam gains nothing and loses much.
And you end up scalding yourself.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE A DIFFICULT DIRECTOR? Answer: Carefully.
Like a grumpy rattlesnake.
Smile and smile.
Yes and Yes.
Thank you and thank you.
Here, your job is to do anything (from coffee toadying to curtseying) in order to have the freedom to present the character as you think it is written.
Just don't let them know that's what you're doing! If the director doesn't have a clue about a vision of the play, or a clue about blocking, or a clue about interpretation, or a clue -- period, be pleasant and keep quiet.
Your job is to act, not to instruct.
Your job is to help make things run as smoothly as possible, not to snitch to the producers (who may already know or who may also not have a clue) about a clueless director.
Last resort if a director is hopeless, early on in the production--the earlier, the safer--suddenly develop serious family problems which require your full attention and back out of the play gracefully, if your contract permits any kind of backing out.
Everyone may know you are exaggerating your family problems a wee bit, but no place, no where, never ever tell anyone in the cast, crew or production team, or within ten blocks of the cast, crew, or production team, your real reason for pulling out.
Just remember the director is Zeus on Olympus, even if your particular Zeus is a cottonhead and his Olympus is a strawstack.
Do not light a match near straw.
A cautious reminder, there is just the smallest atom of a chance that the director does know what he is doing and that you, the actor, may not be able to see it.
There is just the smallest atom of a chance that you, the actor, are not quite the gift to stage and screen that you, the actor, think you are.
A soupcon--the merest hint--of humility never hurt and often helps.
MANNERS: ONE ON MANY 1.
Be on time: Be on time to what? Everything.
Rehearsals, performances, appointments, classes, coaching sessions, conferences, auditions, interviews, meetings with costume designers.
Some people take pride in their lateness, wearing it like a banner that announces they are so important that it doesn't matter whom they keep waiting.
Lateness is sometimes a subtle, sometimes a blatant, but always an insult.
2.
Learn your lines.
A book could be written on that subject alone.
Just learn them.
It is your duty to yourself, to the director, to the audience and most of all, to the other actors in the scene (stage, film or TV).
Again, not learning lines belongs in the arena of bad professional manners.
It is thoughtless.
And it wastes time and money.
Twelve shots because you have forgotten your lines costs producers money and create additional and unnecessary tension.
I heard of a TV scene that had to be shot 200 times because the actor simply couldn't hit his mark correctly! 3.
Discuss.
Don't "diss.
" Do not argue with the director.
Even if you win the argument you have lost--meaning, that director will probably never cast you again.
Keep discussions private, not in full view of crew or cast.
4.
Do not give advice about a line reading, an interpretation, or anything to do with the casts' performance.
That is not your business.
That belongs between actors and director.
That is far into the territory of rudeness.
It reeks of smugness.
It is a subtle form of arrogance.
("I know how to read lines better than you do!").
And that's called "bad manners.
" 5.
Temper.
Yes, temper again.
Nothing makes for an uglier work atmosphere.
I cannot stress too strongly the absolute necessity to control your temper.
Actors are notorious for quick mouths and delicate egos.
Get rid of one and strengthen the other.
Being caustic, sarcastic, yielding to a clever put-down--these may make you feel king of the mountain, but in our profession it won't take long before that mountain contains only one person and that person will be unemployed most of the time.
Even in New York where there are thousands of actors, it is still a small world.
Your reputation for manners--or lack of--travels fast, even in the largest centers of the business.
You make the choice: good or bad reputation.
And remember most of that reputation depends on TEMPER and temper is the aorta in the world of professional manners.
Dip into the honey jar, not the vinegar bottle.
PS: If you want to read a scathing attack on bad manners read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
Or rent the DVD.
(Be sure to say "thank you" to the video clerk.
)
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