When to Butt Heads and How to Live with It

shutterstock_374219959Seeing as acting is ultimately a highly collaborative venture, it is important to maintain good working partnerships. No one likes a diva, or working with someone who sucks all the time and energy up with their personal concerns, rather than working for the good of the whole. But there are times (especially with non-union work) when the need for self-advocacy outweighs the advantages of bending over backwards to please others.


The uncomfortable thing is, sometimes standing up for yourself means other people feel inconvenienced. They might get mad at you. They might even dislike you. If you are anything like me, this fills you with unholy horror. But it is something with which you must learn to make peace. Navigating these social negotiations can be stressful, so here are some steps to take before you burn any bridges.


Assess Your Stance.

You have to pick and choose your fights, so before you dive into the front lines, make sure your position is worth defending. Does it serve your character? Will it help you do your job to the best of your abilities? What are you defending, and what do you really stand to lose? Make sure your motivations are for the good of the project and your team, rather than driven by ego and insecurities. If it’s something you can address on your own, compromise fairly, or work out with a trusted colleague, it might not be worth butting heads over, especially if the opposing party has direct influence over future casting. But if the conflict is truly endangering artistic integrity, armor up. 


Go Through Proper Channels.

While you might be tempted to address problems yourself in the moment (I know I always am), the communication hierarchy exists for a reason. Keep your conduct clean–structure is your friend here. The more people information gets filtered through, the muddier the outcome. 


Keep Your Cool.

If you end up having to fight for something yourself, keep a level head. Be patient and measured in your words and try to keep accusations and emotion out of your language as much as possible. It’s very hard to fight with someone who won’t engage, and what you want is a dialogue, not an argument. 


Know When to Break the Rules.

There are times, such as when you are put in situations that are unsafe, when protocol might go out the window. You have to know where your personal boundaries are. If it comes to keeping yourself safe, all bets are off. Dig in and stick to your guns. Unfortunately, sometimes you are the only one who will protect you. If people get butthurt, fine. You can live with people not liking you. Your career will survive.


Review and Learn.

I was recently in a production where I was given a wig that was beautifully crafted, but extremely ill-suited to the character I played and unsafe for the amount of combat and physical activity I had to perform (it fell off, and apart, multiple times in preview). The director completely agreed with me. I lost the personal support (and probably reliable alterations) of the costume designer over the matter. In hindsight, I wish I had brought my initial concerns directly and only to my stage manager, instead of allowing myself to be drawn into discussion with the costume designer. But this was also a case where I was struggling to make my voice heard in a chaotic process, and in the moment I felt I had to advocate for myself or get lost in the shuffle. I learned that in certain cases, I can live with not being liked. And I will do better next time. 


The biggest thing to remember is far more important than being able to live with the displeasure of others, is being able to live with yourself. No one else is in it for the long haul with you. So before you risk an artistic relationship over artistic differences, decide whether you can better stand to lose the goodwill of the other party, or your respect for your own ability to stand up for yourself in that particular matter. That will guide you.

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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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