Annoying Scene Partners

Special Features   Annoying Scene Partners
Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of working with annoying scene partners, leaving the "biz" and coming back, and revisits some issues on AEA Eligiblity. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of working with annoying scene partners, leaving the "biz" and coming back, and revisits some issues on AEA Eligiblity. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Hi Blair,
I've just begun an intensive workshop for the summer and I'm learning a great deal.
My partner is a young guy who is very enthusiastic and eager to learn, which is cool. Thing is, from the start, he rejected scenes that I proposed so I went along with his. When we began rehearsing, he told me straightaway, "When we read through this, I don't want any inflections, any "acting," OK?" I always look at scene study as a great way to collaborate but this felt a LOT like pure direction. I knew I was going to be in this class with this guy for about six more weeks, so I didn't want to create friction and say anything hostile. As time went on, I realized that he is really a perfectionist and fears failure. (Personally, I don't *love* failure, but, hey, it happens.) So, it's very hard to get along.
Lately, I just grin and deal with it, though I did mention that I worried about our strong opinions (i.e. his inability to accept my input in the scene, but that flew over his head.) I just tell myself it's because he's 21 and two years into his study and career. I've been studying and performing since I was seven - twenty-one years.
I worry because this has happened to me once before and both times have been with men. How does one deal with over bearing scene partners without being offensive?
Thanks Blair!

Dear Vicki,
Nice to hear from you again.

Ahhhh, scene partners. It seems everything you never wanted to learn presents itself when working with a challenging partner. Fun issues like competition, power struggles, disappointments, all seem to rear their heads at once. But the thing to remember, is the word "partner." A scene partner is a partner--not the director, not the teacher, not the star of the scene. If your scene partner is trying to run the show, the best way for you to be a true partner is to stop the action and call them on it right then and there.

To do this, you have to be courageous enough to "create friction" and "say anything [that you fear seems] hostile." You don't have to be mean or blameful, but if you do not speak up, you will be eternally frustrated-- feeling victim to working with a bossy, controlling partner, instead of establishing your equality in the partnership and moving on from there. If your career and acting are supremely important to you, which I assume they are, do not sacrifice your vision in the name of being "nice." Otherwise you will continue to let controlling acting partners like this guy run the show. Furthermore, grinning and dealing with it takes a lot of energy--energy you could be using in your acting. In my opinion, it is MUCH nicer to be honest. Your honesty may actually have a powerful effect on someone else's life. In addition, it's likely that if you start speaking up and standing up for yourself, you will greatly improve your acting.

DO's and DON'T's:

DON'T throw blame his way, i.e.: "This isn't working because you are a perfectionist, you're controlling and your opinions are too strong. . . You're young and you need to grow up and change." DO share your experience, i.e.: "I am having a really hard time working with you right now. I feel like you are trying to control this scene and my input is not being heard." OR "I don't agree with you. The way I work is to allow myself to discover as I read, and yes, sometimes that means I end up "ACTING." It's the way I learn. So I am not going to put that restraint on myself for this run-through."

DO say things like: "I need to feel as though I am a part of this process. We need to find a better way to work together, because we have six weeks and I will not continue to work under circumstances in which I feel I am not heard and not free to create. This is a partnership."

Things may get heated for a little while -- your partner may get REALLY defensive, accuse you of wrong or nasty, or any number of things, but he cannot argue with your need to express your experience. By listening to each other, together you can use what each brings to find a solution to an artistic or interpersonal dilemma.

DO channel your frustration and your feelings into the work. How does the friction you are experiencing relate to the dynamic with the characters you are portraying? Can you find a connection? More likely than not, there is one to be discovered.

Please note that the task of changing your relationship to conflict, and shifting your concepts about what getting along really is, can be very challenging work.

Have a great rest of the summer, Vicki, and protect those toes from sidesteppers!

Dear Blair,
For my next audition I would like to sing, "Goodbye Old Girl," from Damn Yankees. I am not sure if you are familiar with this song. This song really shows my vocal abilities and I can sing it very clearly and powerfully. But this song does have low parts which I can do but am not sure if that is what directors are looking for-- and a 13-year-old singing like this, I mean I don't want to be to young for my voice. I am 5' 11" . I can sing higher but not so strongly.
Also I would really like to go professional or semi pro. I am a model at our local mall and enjoy that, which I do get paid for. I am wondering if you have any tips for me to get started with-- T.V or Broadway -- I would really appreciate them!
Van Thomas Malinowski

Hi Van,
As for "Goodbye Old Girl", what matters is that you like the song, connect with it, and feel comfortable singing it. Try not to consistently second guess what other people want. This will only drive you crazy in the end. . .can you see how?

Instead, focus on how YOU want to represent Van. It sounds like you like this song. If they like you, but not your song, most likely they will have you sing another song.

As for breaking into the biz, it sounds like it might be time for you to get an agent. I have gone over the process of getting an agent in two columns, dated Nov. 15-27 and Mar. 14-25. If you have more specific questions after reading these columns, feel free to write.

Dear Blair,
I read you for the first time today and I love it. My question is this. I graduated with a degree in theatre two years ago from a small university in Kentucky. At the time I was severely burned-out and wanted nothing to do with theatre. However, now I miss it terribly and feel I've made a mistake in getting out. I have no headshots, no resume, and very little experience. But I have the drive. I know musical theatre would be my best venue, based on past experience. How do you suggest I get back into theatre without making a fool of myself? Thanks so much for your time,
Clueless in Indiana

Dear Clueless,
Thanks so much for your kind words and sweet e-mail.

Theatre is a very easy thing to get burned-out on. But it seems the fire never really dies. The first thing I suggest is to stop thinking that you made a mistake for giving yourself a break.

The second is to trust yourself, and start, like any other artist, from square one. I am not sure what that square looks like for you. Maybe headshots are the first thing on your list, maybe not. Maybe you want to get in touch with some old contacts and friends from school and let them know you're back on the saddle. You may want to contact some good community or local theatres and inquire about upcoming auditions.

Look into classes. There is nothing like a good acting or musical theatre class to get your creative juices flowing. A safe, supportive atmosphere for creative growth can be a haven and career boost for any artist.

The third thing is, be willing to make a fool of yourself. If you can let go and really be willing to put yourself out there, you will learn so much and have a large advantage over many others who are too scared of taking big risks.

Whatever you decide--make a strategy out of it. Write a list of things to do and goal dates, taking you all the way into your dreams. Be specific, i.e.:

I will be in a show by August 15, 1997
I will have headshots by November 15, 1997
I will write or get in touch with all my contacts--3 people a week-- through September 15
I will subscribe to the local trade paper
I will be in a Broadway musical by January, 1999 . . .etc.
Be realistic with the amount of time you give yourself, but don't be afraid to dream big. I hope this helps, Clueless. Have a great career.

I was reviewing the casting notices and need to know about something: Does "Eligible Performer" mean a membership with AEA (Actor's Equity) is required to audition? I am interested in auditioning later this week, but I do not know if I am "eligible". I would appreciate any light you could shed on this matter.
Karmen K.

Hey, Karmen K.
Chances are, if you don't know whether or not you are "Eligible," you are not. "Eligible Performer" means that you are either a member of Equity, or you applied for Eligible status--which means that even though you are not a member of the union, you earned enough money working in theatre over one year to received a card enabling you to go to Equity auditions. However, due to recent hearings, "Equity Eligibility" is now being phased out, and people who got their Eligibility cards will soon no longer be admitted into AEA auditions. See Mark's question below for an example.

Take care, Karmen.

Sorry if you've answered this before, but. . . Could you explain to me the new rules about auditioning for an Equity call? I was Equity Eligible, which allowed me into Equity auditions, and my card just expired and Equity told me that I could not renew it because they are phasing out Eligibility.
If I go to an Equity call, do I even have a chance of being seen as a non member? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
NY City

Hey Mark,
Everyone always asks questions about Equity, so I don't mind answering them again. Unfortunately, your only current chances of being seen at an Equity-only call are if the auditioners are willing to see you, and this is not likely. It means you may have a LOT of waiting to do, because they would only see you after all the Equity people have been seen. It is risky to go to an Equity call as a non-union member, but if they are willing to see you, it can be worth it.

However, the good news is that producers are allowed to hold non-union auditions for Broadway shows now, and they can, if they choose, hold non-union auditions before union ones.
Good luck, Mark.

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