Congratulations! You got the call – you booked a show! After about 3 minutes of pride, excitement and relief, the emotions of confusion, regret and nervousness probably start to set in. “Is this the right choice right now?” Questions like “What if something better comes along?” or “This conflicts with my [fill in your own important occasion]!” are all assaulting thoughts that take you out of the warm fuzzy feelings and put you in a state of worry. Sometimes these feelings can be pushed aside, especially if you are super excited or thankful for the role. Other times, these thoughts are completely justified. I want to remind everyone: it is perfectly acceptable to say no to a job for any reason. The following are some of the questions I work through before accepting a show and some tips for bowing out gracefully if you decide that to turn down a show is the right choice.
1. “Will this show or role enhance my career?”
While playing ensemble member #3 at a local community theatre without much national exposure might be a fun experience and allow you to live and work around home, it might not be propelling your career forward. If you are pursuing aspirations of Broadway, each show and role should, ideally, be pushing you one step closer to that goal.
2. “Is it worth it to miss this special event?”
There are moments in life that you will never get back. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t fight harder to get a day off from a show I was doing in order to be involved in one of my best friends’ weddings. Being in this business, you have to be prepared to miss weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, births, holidays, etc. But if there is a special event that you would regret missing during the rehearsals or run of a show you’ve been offered, be honest with the casting team. The majority of people in the industry understand that our careers are only one aspect of our lives as people, and some events are not worth missing – don’t be afraid to ask!
3. “Will I be missing better opportunities?”
The answer to this is always “maybe,” because most of the time we don’t know what could be coming up next – especially those who live in a major market. My NYC people – we know that summer and Christmas shows are easy to take because casting in the city slows down during these months. It is much harder to take a show in the early spring and early fall when there are hundreds of auditions you might miss out on. This also goes back to the “enhancing my career” question. If you believe that the auditions you would be missing might lead to a bigger opportunity than the show you have been offered gives you, take time to think long and hard about those consequences.
4. “Will I be taking a pay cut? If so, will I still be able to pay my bills?”
I have taken many a show because I simply needed the money. I have also turned down shows because I was making more money as a nanny in NYC than the show offered. We all have to pay our bills and no one should judge you for making a move that is financially responsible. If you are taking a pay cut for a show that enhances your career and is an amazing opportunity, make sure that you are financially prepared (ie. savings set aside, possibly subletting your apartment, maybe a job you can do from the road, etc.). The last thing you want to do while expanding yourself artistically is worry about money.
5. “Am I physically and emotionally ready for this role right now?”
I think this is the most important question. Right after I did CATS, my body was in bad condition; I had some very serious knee problems that I hadn’t been able to fix while doing the show. Before I was done with the contract, I was offered another round of CATS and a Christmas show that I accepted (because, at the time, I was having a blast). As the date for the second contract drew closer, I knew I had to call my producer and explain why I needed to be let go from the contract: my knees simply couldn’t handle it at the time – physically, I wasn’t ready. I believe emotional health should be treated with the same respect. In order to justify it to yourself, just say, “now is not the time.” You are not banning yourself from ever doing the show or role, but are honest in that it would not be healthy for you to take on this physical or emotional stress RIGHT NOW.
In terms of turning down a show, I have found that being honest with the producer/artistic director/agent/etc. is always the best policy. There are times when getting in front of a certain director or team is more important than worrying about IF you book the show. I believe it is better to put yourself in the running and deal with the consequences IF you get an offer. Who knows – the director might not want you for this project but could give you a call out of the blue someday based on the earlier audition.
Remember, you don’t have to explain your reasoning to anyone if you don’t want to – your personal life is your personal life. Be respectful of the producer’s time and give appropriate notice, but only divulge details that you believe are necessary. If you have already signed a contract that you want to nullify, read to see if there are any clauses regarding this kind of situation.
Don’t burn bridges. If you are turning down a contract in order to pursue a “better” opportunity, be honest but not rude. Make sure the company feels valued and paint yourself in the best light possible. The world of theatre is too small to have a bad interaction with anyone – especially in casting. Be strong, be secure in your career, be open to every opportunity, and be prepared to say no.