Friday, July 25, 2008

Where have all the Cowboys Gone?

I woke up this morning to the sound of the phone ringing (never a good thing). My directors and most of the people who know me know that I'm not a morning person in the slightest, so before 9am is not the time to tell me something, especially something important, so when I do get a call from a director that early I know before I answer the phone that it can't be good news that I'm about to get.

Sure enough, it was another low-blow for Grinder. Yet another male actor quitting a show after initially making the commitment (and in this case coming out to rehearsals for a couple of weeks!).

It's been, quite frankly, an epidemic this summer, of men dropping out of roles after they have committed to them and rehearsals have begun, and men simply saying "no" to being in productions.

I've tried blaming myself for this in every way possible (just ask the world's greatest girlfriend). I have racked my brain to come up with every conceivable way in which my company may be so distasteful to the male gender as to prompt their exodus.

But I just pick the shows, I let the directors have a free hand in the casting - it's their choice who they would like in their shows. I may suggest people, of course, but they are the ones making the contacts, so I don't think it's me personally.

What else could it be? Okay, so we don't rehearse in air-conditioned comfort, but most rehearsals are at night. Our shows aren't all that huge, but I know that many actors really enjoy shows where the connection with the audience is more intimate and personal. We're not scary people here at Grinder, I don't allow intimidation, and I always encourage people to go out of their way to make newcomers feel welcome.

So I may have to concede to Jules on this one. Maybe, just maybe, it isn't all my fault.

But what else could it be? And why is it only the men?

Now yes, I do understand that people have careers and mortgages and their kid's braces to think about before they agree to take on a role. But if someone is smart enough to earn a living and support a family then you would think they would be able to figure out if they had the time to commit to a show before the agreed to the role, instead of two weeks into rehearsals.

And we have had a few bona fide medical emergencies this summer - you can't help those. I was told very early in my career that you shouldn't miss a single rehearsal (let alone drop out of a whole show - that was unthinkable) for anything less serious than a death in your immediate family. I've chosen to live by that advice as much as I can in my own work - I've been so sick at rehearsals that I've had to step outside to throw up, and I've missed more than a few funerals - but I can't in good conscience ask as much of my company members, because it does tend to scar you for life. So I do absolve the people who've lost their mothers, who have went under the knife, and I'll even throw in anyone who went into rehab or suffered a marital break-up (actual, not threatened) as having allowable excuses for leaving a show.

As for everyone else...

I'm angry at these men.

I'm confused.

I want to know why.

Why do they commit, and then back out? Few of these gentlemen are bad people, as far as I'm concerned - none of them are boors or jerks or lazy - most are the sort you'd be happy to have as your neighbour or dentist or best friend.

As much as I hate to suggest this, I think fear may be an element.

I think there's a certain amount of trepidation involved, but that's a completely natural, and healthy, part of any production - you don't want to be too cocky going into rehearsals or you'll fall flat on your face in performance. But for some reason the men this summer haven't been able to overcome their fear enough to see the projects through.

Again, I ask why? Why does the thought of memorizing some lines and getting onstage strike such fear into the hearts of men? As a friend pointed out to me, little girls get onstage all the time. I've seen some very petite little girls, and teens (traditional the most insecure age) make absolute fools of themselves onstage in front of thousands for the sake of their performance (be it theatre, music, or dance or whatever). Look at that kid who won "America's Got Talent" a while back - she performed for an audience of millions, and while she may have been afraid, she was able to overcome her fear and not just perform, but leave her audience in amazement. Why can't a grown man who earns $50K a year give 20 people an evening of laughter and joy at the Ennotville Library on a Friday night?

I doubt that any of the men who quit this summer would agree they did so out of fear. Fear is a near-impossible emotion to admit to, and there are a number of other factors in the decision to back out that could be plausibly blamed (I've heard some pretty plausible and implausible explanations over the years). In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a few men got their hackles up at my insinuation that fear is somehow motivating their decision to quit.

Frankly, I don't care. I have to admit, I am angry. When someone, anyone, quits a production, especially after rehearsals have already begun, they do irreparable harm to the show. They hurt everyone else who is involved, especially their fellow cast members. Yes, they do hurt me personally (some of these men have been my friends whom I have worked with on many other shows), but I'm willing to take those lumps, because it will even itself out over the course of many shows - I've had far more good times than bad here at Grinder, and it's getting better and better as the years roll on.

But I can't stand by and watch the ones left behind, suffering, scrambling to pull a devastated show back together. So many of the best women in Grinder have been left alone onstage this summer by the choices of their male counterparts. I have tried my best to help out, to find replacements, to even step onstage myself where I can, but the very fact that we have this problem in the first place must prompt me to action, so that we can reduce the chances of this happening in the future.

Next summer, there will be very few onstage opportunities for men. Out of seven shows, there will be only three parts, at the most, and one of those will be a 10 minute walk-on. Between now and then I'll be doing some serious scouring of my shows in Fergus and Elora this winter, stripping out as many of the male roles as I can. (There are very few places where cross-gendered casting is allowed or appropriate, but I think there's one show where we could get away with it, to hilarious effect) I do this so that I may allow the brave, dedicated, extremely talented women who love doing shows at Grinder Productions a chance to shine. On the rare occasions where we need a man onstage we'll try and find one, but if not, I'll happily step up to the plate, if the ladies will tolerate me.

Onwards and upwards. I'm off to find some men to fill some roles. Call me if you're interested.


megan said...

The thing I don't get is how they don't realise that quitting like that makes them look like schmucks and ultimately could have an effect on their career.

I have a situation once where I cast someone in a role because the first actor fell through (for legitamit reasons), and they agreed, and then, just didn't bother to show up to their first rehersal. When I called him to see what was up he said 'oh, yeah, i don't think i can do it after all'

Needless to say, that's the last time I, or anyone I know, cast him in something. Now, in that case, a phone call explaining the situation *before* the rehersal probably ould have stopped the reaction of 'never ever hire this person!', but still.

Stacey said...

You've voiced my frustrations completly Eric. Good idea for next summer, the lack of male roles, less stress for everyone.