Six Steps to Get Your Way (Without Being a Diva)

Actors and performers attract a lot of stereotypes, and, despite our winsomely bleached smiles and inherent charm, not all of those stereotypes are positive. Today we are going to tackle one of the most enduring loaded labels ever to be muttered behind an actor’s back: DIVA.

While this term has many connotations, it likely inspires a very specific mental image in the listener. In a general sense, it is often thrown about to describe an actor who is unreasonably demanding, difficult to work with, and selfishly stubborn. Those accused of “divatude” might offer the classic defense that they are merely standing up for themselves.

But guess what?

These concepts are not mutually exclusive! You can assert your rights as an artist without making everyone in the industry hate you! It’s a win-win, and below are some ways to achieve such feats of existential balance.

1. Choose Your Battles. Some battles, be they of the directorial, wardrobe, or scene partner variety, simply are not worth fighting. If you put up a fuss about every little thing, you will lose credibility and people will resent you for wasting their time. Acting is about collaboration. We won’t always get our way. Save your energy for the times it really matters artistically.

2. Craft Your Approach. You really do catch more flies with honey. If you come to someone with anger, frustration, or self-righteousness, it puts them on the defensive and distracts from the issue you care about. Wait until you are calm. Be cheerful, patient and polite. Let them state their side, and learn to couch your requests effectively. Remember that your directors, cast mates, designers, and crew have just as much artistic pride and investment as you do. No one likes to be told how to do their jobs. This is the time to exercise diplomacy.

3. Look at the Big Picture. Sometimes the things you want for your character do not serve the production. First ask yourself if what you want is in service of your character, or you, the actor. If it is the former, keep going. Does it support your scene partners? Advance the plot? Does it serve the greater arc of the story? Will it help communicate that story to the audience? If whatever you want survives this vetting process, then you can be confident it deserves the time and attention of your colleagues.

4. Present Your Case. Don’t run in half-cocked. Have the answers to the above questions ready to be succinctly explained. Prepare your argument. If you don’t sound professional it doesn’t matter how right you are, no one is going to listen. Make sure your timing is appropriate! Some disagreements are better aired before or after rehearsal, but request time for that discussion. Don’t hassle people as they are getting in the car or trying to eat.

5. Know When to Bend the Rules. There are times in every actor’s life when rules must be broken. If you are doing it for the right reasons, if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, and if your professional experience backs up your stance, sometimes you will have to take matters in your own hands. Be careful. For example, I was once in a production where the costume designer, upset with other matters, would not listen to my concerns regarding my hair style and snapped at me to just do what our wig designer told me. Sensing this was not the time to point out that the original concept was no longer feasible, I went ahead, did my research, and made slight alterations that were practical for the show while, I thought, preserved the designer’s intent. Although I never mentioned this, I got the OK at final dress, no one noticed the changes, and a lot of back-and-forths were avoided. Sometimes we have to solve our own problems.

6. Know When to Fold ‘Em. Sometimes you are going to lose your battle even when you are in the right. Sometimes preserving a professional relationship will outweigh an artistic victory. In those cases, learn when to call it quits, and try deal with the outcome gracefully, while preserving your artistic integrity.

Being what the industry has dubbed a “diva” is another word for rudeness. It is lazy, unnecessary, and unjustified. As a tactic, it is weak and childish. Even if it feels satisfying in the moment, it ultimately won’t yield the desired results. We don’t need this in our lives. We are better than that. Don’t throw a tantrum—start a dialogue. Everyone will be better off for it.

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at