To Be (in a potentially Bad Play), or Not To Be (in a potentially Bad Play)

Hi, this is my first post here!

I’m an aspiring actor with some great roles and plays racking up on my resume. I’ve been in theater all my life, I adore it. It’s who I am. My experience is mainly community and semi/professional work so far, just waiting to work up the nerve (and the savings) to pursue it more seriously, which I intend on doing soon.

I’ve got a big problem to solve, and I must solve it fast: To stay in a potentially terrible production, or drop out.

I’ve just been cast in a great play, with a great part, good director. The hiccup: the cast is DREADFUL. I went to our first read-thru and felt physically uncomfortable from start to finish. Lack of talent, bad English accents, limited turnout at auditions leading to people being cast poorly. The list goes on. To put it bluntly, I was extremely disappointed after it was over and I felt - for the first time ever - that perhaps I shouldn’t be a part of this potential disaster.

I met the director for drinks and spilled my guts. I told him how I felt in the nicest way possible and he was very understanding. He said he believes in will come together but has given me a 3-week window within which to decide. He said if I still feel like leaving, I can quit, no hard feelings. I want to believe him.

I also don’t want to be a diva, but I have never felt this way before and I don’t want to spend all my time and energy working on a play I’ll be ashamed of. I know that everything is a learning experience and every role teaches you something, but on the other hand I don’t want to develop a reputation for doing crap shows.
In my last play (as my friends --and some reviewers --mentioned), I “carried the show”. I didn’t mean to, I just did my best and I guess it showed. But it was exhausting. I don’t want to be the one who “stands out” all the time – I want to be surrounded by talented folks who make the entire performance worth seeing.

Anyway…what should I do?

Been there, done that. Don’t waste your time, just quit now.

Stay with it. If you want a career, you can’t bail when you think the rest of the cast isn’t up to your level (and, if you do, you’ll get the reputation of being a prima donna). Imagine what the story will be: Starfish 90 thinks he’s better than anyone else.

Be a professional: do the best job your capable of and don’t put down your fellow actors. Hell, you could even talk to the director to suggest tips to improve others’ performances.

If the show’s a disaster, critics may notice you and single you out as being better than the rest. Just about any actor you can name has been in terrible work, but the successful ones do their best and eventually find success. Jack Nicholson, just to pick one example, was in many terrible films. But eventually he found a breakthrough.

There is no advantage in quitting, and plenty of potential dangers to your hopes for a career.

I’ll echo RealityChuck. If you have a choice between being in a good show or a bad one, choose the good show. But unless you’re already insanely successful, a bad show is better than no show. This is especially true if, as you say, the director is good: He’s going to put on other good shows, and when he does, he’s going to remember that you stuck with him.

Chronos reminded me of another point. Directors talk to each other. If you bail on the show, he’ll tell other directors that you quit on him. That will be remembered, and will hurt your chances for other roles.

Work is work.

As a former amateur thespian, I echo the majority. And the “carrying the show” aspect is a decided plus, not a negative. Just work hard, do your best and everything else will take care of itself.

There are very few bad ways to build your portfolio.

Stay. If you want to be a professional or semi-professional having “great play, with a great part, good director” puts more points on the board than “potential disaster” takes off.

Besides, if the director IS great, maybe he can pull the cast together by opening night.

Oh, another point: You say it’s a great role, and a great show. And that means that that’s what it’s going to show up as in your resume. If other directors see “played Brutus in Julius Caesar with the North Side Community Players”, they may or may not know that NSCP’s production of Julius Caesar sucked… But they will know that you had the lead in a Shakespeare play.

If it is actually your intent to pursue a professional career, do not quit this show. Furthermore, do not tell anyone else that you even considered quitting, and go to the director and apologize for spilling your guts and pledge your loyalty to the show. Then do it, and when it’s over, learn a lesson.

I’ve been doing theatre at the level you’re talking about for twenty years (ish), and I can tell you two things with absolute certainty:

  1. If you quit, and especially if it gets out that you quit because you thought the rest of the cast was not good enough, it will be remembered and talked about forever. Every person associated with this play will tell every person they know about it; you’ll become a story told over two shots of Fireball at every cast party for the next 10 years. Whether fair or not, you will not come out well in those stories. And this will matter because:

  2. Somebody involved is going to be a professional one day. It will not be anyone you expect. Somewhere down the line, you’re going to walk into a professional audition and you’re going to see a face you recognize - playing the piano or assisting the director or designing the lights or who knows. And that story of how you quit - by now twisted into something totally unrecognizable but still not flattering - will get told again. I kid you not - I have seen this sort of thing cost people jobs in real life.

Thank you all for the prompt responses.
I agree with all of you, and I think I knew the answer before I even asked. My friends were all giving me mixed messages and I really wanted a neutral territory in which to vent my concerns, anonymously.
Being perceived as a diva is much more terrifying than being in a crummy production.
For whatever it’s worth, the director actually seemed thankful that I told him how I felt. I’ve never presumed to tell a director my 2 cents, but seems to really care what I think.
You all posed strong points. You never know what’s going to happen.
I’m going to listen to the advice here, and swallow my impatience and pride and just get on with it.

I really appreciate all the advice. I’ll let you know how it goes!!:o

I answered “Run” because your question brought up flashbacks of the play I quit several years ago. I walked out in the middle of the third rehearsal (I waited until the break though, I’m not a total diva).

That situation, however, was quite different from what you’re describing. This was a play that was written, directed, and produced by the same man - who was terrible at all those things. Half the cast was good, and the other half was not, and one actor set off my creep-o-meter in a huge way. I had been told there was to be some smoking on stage, but not that the actor would be chain-smoking, including during rehearsals. The play, in addition to being awful, was too long, and the writer/director kept adding more scenes! (We were not given the opportunity to read the whole script prior to accepting the part, just the short scenes we auditioned with - the full horror of that script was only revealed at the table read.)

I wasn’t the first to quit, and I found out later I wasn’t the last. We were double cast, so I wasn’t leaving a hole in the production, but by opening night there wasn’t a full two casts, more like one and a third. I later ran into one of the actresses who had stayed, and she told me the experience was just as awful as I had feared it was going to be.

This was in Los Angeles, and I have had absolutely no repercussions from leaving that show. And I was spared the horrible reviews and the horrible experience, not to mention the waste of my time and the cost of the gas to drive to rehearsals.

So stay if you think the experience will be overall positive for you, and break a leg. :slight_smile:

Good call. A director who knows that you’re aware and sensible enough to perceive the problems, but also dedicated and professional enough to honor your commitment and try to make the show as good as it can be, is a director who’s on your side and owes you a debt of gratitude.

If the production collapses anyway, you’re off the hook without having bailed out. If it survives, even if it doesn’t improve, oh well, you’re not sacrificing other opportunities, and you’re all set to be the best thing in the show.

Don’t worry that this will somehow “typecast” you as a perpetual swan among turkeys—just keep on auditioning for good directors with good companies, and you’ll get your chance to move up. (If you have a shot at a really good company, consider auditioning for a smaller part than you might otherwise like, especially if you really “look the role” and/or can provide a special skill like singing/dancing/swordplay that it calls for.)

Meanwhile, in your current production, take note that being a swan among turkeys, especially if you’re a considerate and supportive swan, is a great way to build support and fandom among the very numerous turkey population.

For example, I myself am a mediocre amateur actor happily doing small parts in shows with rather struggling community theater groups which usually have some quite unsatisfactory acting in them somewhere (worse than mine, I mean). Sometimes some of these productions manage to nab the services of one or two local semi-pro actors who are not only really talented but very nice and down-to-earth.

When that happens, I and the rest of the mediocre-level actors who aren’t jerks are constantly talking about how talented those guys are and how great it is to get to work with them. We enthuse about them to our friends and to other people in community theater. We go to see every other show they appear in and discreetly brag to our companions about the show(s) that we were in with them.
If these guys had showed up for a few rehearsals after getting cast in those shows and then dropped out—with the clear implication not only that they’re not very reliable but that they literally didn’t think we were good enough to deserve even the basic integrity of fulfilling their casting commitment to our show—they probably would not have the local reputation and fans that they have today.