That Tall Blonde at the Callback — 5 Tips for Negotiating Conflicts
CONFLICTS — nothing else strikes fear in the heart of actors and directors alike. You are so excited to see a show come up for which you’ve been dying to audition! You check the dates against your calendar, and UGH. Too close to the show you’ve already accepted, or there is a performance on your cousin’s wedding date, or you have a business trip planned for tech week, or you JUST booked your dream vacation and you’d miss 2 weeks of rehearsal. So disheartening. You might scrap auditioning altogether. And this might be appropriate, if it were going to be a hardship on not just the production but on YOU as well. But should it be an automatic “no”? Could you actually try to see if the conflict might be workable? This might give you anxiety, but really it shouldn’t be so scary. Like with any job seeker in any industry, conflicts are simply an element of negotiation you have with the “hiring manager” aka the director. Here are some handy dandy tips to think through the next time you have a conflict dilemma.
1. Note the balance of power. This is first because it’s the most critical. How badly do you want this role? Do you want to jeopardize it in any way? If the answer is no, you’d do anything for this role, then CLEAR YOUR CONFLICTS. Yes, even the important ones. Can your trip be rescheduled? Can you miss your cousin’s wedding and send an extra nice gift instead? Realize that asking the team to accept major conflicts may rule you out entirely. If you ARE okay with the thought of letting this one pass you by, AND you feel like the artistic team is dying to have you, then you might have the upper hand. Take note of this and use it to your advantage if you need to.
2. Be honest with yourself. A lot of rehearsal conflicts make it that much harder to get up to speed in your role, in addition to making hard on the production staff and your fellow actors when you (and potentially others) are missing. Make sure to ask yourself if the conflicts are doable (only you know what will be too stressful for you). This is especially important with overlapping shows. Personally, I find it difficult to balance everything if I’m running one show on the weekends and rehearsing another during the week, so I actively avoid it. I also personally HATE the thought of missing a tech rehearsal, because I need those shows to get comfortable before an audience is on the scene. I want to make sure that quick change is doable and get everything in my “muscle memory” just as much as the production team needs me there to make sure I’m in proper light, or that I can be heard, or that a table moves off stage right without a hitch.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask. Regardless of who holds the power, it should NOT hurt to ask the powers that be if a conflict is reasonable. Just make sure to REALLY clearly state that the conflict is a potential one. I have a friend who recently asked at an audition about potentially having a lighter rehearsal schedule. She then was told she wouldn’t be called back because of her “conflicts”, and spent some stressful time trying to clarify that while a lighter schedule was ideal, it was not a deal breaker for her, and she did get back into the callback. Most teams will not (and should not) hold it against you if you ask about ANY kind of conflict, especially if you are willing to immediately clear it if it’s a deal breaker for them.
4. Make reasonable asks. Some conflicts are much worse than others. A whole week off early in the rehearsal process? Usually doable. Just one night off, but during tech week? Usually not doable. If you will miss a performance, or a tech week rehearsal, or more than a week of regular rehearsals, the team will likely have serious issues with this. BUT depending on how bad they need you, they may still be willing to negotiate, and you will not know until you ask! I know of several recent shows where there was a “fill in” for a day or weekend of shows because someone had a conflict (usually this works best for supporting roles and ensemble and may be tougher for a main lead role). When I did Les Mis, we were missing our Marius for several weeks of rehearsal, up pretty close to load-in. And yes, it is usually a guy that gets this special treatment. But that is no reason you shouldn’t ask if you are female. One of the reasons we are told we still have a wage gap is that women don’t negotiate as much. Don’t assume that you have no power and that they will just move on to the next woman on the list. ASK.
5. Negotiate with confidence. I work part-time at my “day job”. This is not because I applied for a part-time position. Once I had kids, I just simply insisted that I would work part-time in an industry where everyone else is full time. It eventually got me laid off at my last company, but I just found someone else willing to let me work the schedule I wanted. I had good skills and was highly productive, and I directly asked for what I needed. There is always risk for consequences, but if you don’t ask you’ll never know. Just simply state what needs to be done to enable you to do their show, and then it’s in their hands to take or leave. You could also “sweeten the pot” with concessions on your end as well. Remove other conflicts to leave only the one most important to you. Offer to be “off book” on an earlier date. Offer arrange extra rehearsals before or after the missed time. Offer to do extra time in the costume or scene shop to make up for the missed time. Even offer a replacement candidate if a performance will be missed (aka, Jan played this role last year, and she says she is willing to fill in for me on the 3rd Saturday!)
A final note for production teams. As shows are cast earlier and earlier, please keep in mind that conflicts are HARD for us to predict with 100% accuracy so far in advance. Especially for those of us who may occasionally be asked to travel by our careers (the ones that pay our bills and feed our families). I know why “no more conflicts after callbacks” rules exist, but some empathy and understanding when something unexpected does come up really is appreciated. Perhaps have two conflict deadlines — one when you cast the show, and a second (subject to approval) right before you start rehearsals? I’m often one who has zero conflicts, so if, as we get closer, I realize that there is a business dinner I will miss or something else important, it’s nice to be able to add this (again reasonable requests, like 1 or 2 nights early in the rehearsal process). If I’m treated like a human and not like an inconvenience, it goes a long way toward me wanting to work with your theatre again. DVC did a great job in this aspect for me last year. I got a callback for a dream role, and it conflicted with a rehearsal. DVC let me come late to rehearsal, and the other theatre agreed to let me go first at the callback so that I could be on my way as quickly as possible. So thankful for flexibility!
Final summary — may your next gig be conflict free. But if it’s not, and it’s something you really want to take a shot, knock ’em dead at your audition, and JUST ASK if your conflicts are doable.