Tips on Juggling Conflicts

shutterstock_1191907831For me, juggling schedule conflicts is easily the most stressful part of being an actor. Feeling like I’m letting people down causes me massive anxiety, and my sense of loyalty has often led me to make decisions that I now judge were at the cost of furthering my own career.

 

Here’s the thing. To survive as a professional actor, especially one who is active in both theatre and TV/film, conflicting projects are going to come up. Often. It’s just part of the deal. The tricky part is how to manage conflicts in a way that helps your career while avoiding burning professional bridges. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way. It’s something I’m still figuring out.

 

  1. Analyze Honestly. The first thing to do when a major conflict comes up is to assess it clearly. Try to divorce emotion from it as much as possible. This is so much easier said than done. Recently I was opening a theatre show I cared deeply about and happened to book a SAG commercial that filmed dress rehearsal and opening night. My first reaction was panic. I was working for a small theatre company that did not have understudies and the commercial was a four-hour drive out of state. The possibility of satisfying both commitments fully was extremely slim. Luckily I had the sense to realize I was unable to view this decision objectively and talked to an actor friend whose professional opinion I trust. She was able to help me lay out the bare bones of the situation: The disparity of pay being offered was vast. It was my first commercial with both this particular casting director and my new agent. This was not a project I could reasonably turn down.
  2. Identify Who Needs What. This is part of analyzing honestly. To be brutally honest, I was in a situation where the theatre production needed me. The commercial production wanted me but could easily replace me if I became an inconvenience. I couldn’t afford not to do the commercial, either professionally or financially. This meant I had to communicate very carefully on the film side of things and very compassionately on the theatre side.
  3. Communicate Clearly. The first thing I did was to contact all the parties. I asked my agent (respectfully and anticipating that I would not be able to get this information until later) if there was any way to find out if I was committed to both days of filming. I spoke to the director of my play and explained the situation fully and apologetically. I was lucky enough to be working with a consummate professional who, though of course stressed and disappointed, took the news with grace and with the understanding that the theatre was unable to match compensation in any way that would make turning down the commercial make sense. We brainstormed together, with the producer, and later with the cast, to come up with alternate plans for rehearsal and opening night. Opening night ended up being pushed back one day. This was extremely stressful for me. I was robbing my fellow actors of a performance and forcing the theatre through a logistical nightmare of refunding and rescheduling tickets, contacting press, etc. In the end, I had to accept that the only thing I could control was how I handled my own career. The theatre, the director, the crew, all had their own decisions to make. Once I accepted the commercial, the best I could do was be as honest and work as hard to minimize damage on the other end as possible.I will say that I was very fortunate to be met with the understanding I was. This will not always be the case. (And hasn’t always been for me in the past). So be ready to fight, clearly and respectfully, for your professional needs. Know your answer before you approach the conversation.
  4. Go the Extra Mile. While you will have to fight for yourself, sometimes ruthlessly, remember that you are dealing with real people on all sides. Compassion and effort go a long way. What can you do to help the party most affected by your conflict? Do what you can. Offer to come in extra days to help get an understudy up to speed, be there ready to talk to all parties involved personally. When appropriate (and be very careful and honest about when it is appropriate) offer to compensate the correct parties for the loss of the performance. For me, this meant driving to an out of state wardrobe fitting, speeding back for a tech rehearsal, and turning around to drive back for the first day of filming. It was what I could do to make sure I would be ready to jump back into opening a day late, as I was already missing a desperately needed dress rehearsal. I would not recommend this move to everyone. It meant that I was driving exhausted and filming on next to no sleep. It worked for me this time, but was not my smartest decision. Know your limits and do your best to protect yourself while making appropriate efforts to be there for both sides.

 

In a perfect world, all projects would pay enough for us to honor each commitment and turn down all conflicts. Theatre and film projects would understand each other and work together. Of course, that is simply not the case. Remember it’s a business. Keeping things honest and professional is about the best you can do. Accept that occasionally you won’t be able to do best by all parties. Sometimes your best efforts will result in burned bridges and lost work.  Just do your best to protect yourself and your career. Be strong and be kind.

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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 www.rachelfrawley.com

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