I almost had a performance this weekend.
I was recently contacted by a director friend of mine. She needed a last-minute replacement for a history theatre piece that was going up at a New Jersey museum. It was a super-short rehearsal period and a two weekend run; those weekends were Labor Day and this current weekend, the start of Rosh Hashanah, which means I’d have been off from work for the performances. It would have been tricky, given that I’m moving to Brooklyn soon as well, but it was do-able, and I said yes. I had about an hour to study the script before I got another email from my friend; because it was so last-minute, the producer had taken it upon himself to hire a replacement without notifying her, and the role had already been filled.
Easy come, easy go.
It’s a strange thing. The acting life is so chaotic, that we desperately want to believe that there’s finally some order once we land the job. A role is offered, it’s accepted, it’s rehearsed, it’s performed. But it doesn’t always work that way. Over the course of an actor’s life, he’s inevitably offered something that, for whatever reason, never actually happens.
There was the time in graduate school, when I was offered the role of Snug in A Midsummer Night’s Dream by a director who proceeded to panic when he learned I was working as sound designer on another show going up several weeks earlier. We used to multitask like this all the time when I was an undergraduate, but alas, his college experience must have been different than mine…
There was the time a major role was offered to another actor in a significant off-Broadway production, when I’d workshopped the role through three readings of the script (and been promised the role in front of the whole cast during one of them). We all have a story like this; that I share this with so many doesn’t do much to lessen the sting.
There was the time I was offered a major role in a classical production by a director who refused to hold a rehearsal, book rehearsal space, or a performance venue, until he already had the cast locked in place – because he was convinced somebody would withdraw from the production and screw him over. Note to those not in the theatrical profession: this is precisely how you get people to withdraw from the production and screw you over. It wasn’t me who did the withdrawing – but that show never happened. Pretty sure the entire company fell apart too.
Then there was the show I was cast in that I was told would be performing “around the holidays.” This time, I’m the one who withdrew – when, once cast, I was informed that “around the holidays’ meant that we would be performing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with no pay. (Ah, non-Equity.)
I also withdrew from yet another company's production of Midsummer when a different company, with whom I had a long-standing relationship, got their act together, finalized their plans, and offered me a role about an hour after I’d accepted Theseus. The members of that first company relocated to California some time thereafter; I have no idea if they took any hard feelings with them.
In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter – no one of these roles would have altered the trajectory of my career to any great degree. But in a world as insane as this, and in a profession that can be as chaotic and as cutthroat as this, we hope that we can try and deal fairly with our collaborators, and that they’ll deal fairly with us in turn. Lost roles can shatter our faith that this is possible – especially when we’re the ones responsible for losing them.
Everything’s fine in this case – I only had the role for an hour, after all, my friend acted in good faith with me, and I’m honestly a bit too busy to have done the project anyway. But still, there’s a part of me that wonders if that museum in New Jersey knows exactly what they missed.