There’s one important lesson I learned from being on road with the national tours of The Addams Family and Evita as well as the First Wives Club out-of-town tryout in Chicago — producers and directors choose actors as much on personality as they do talent. That’s because the cast and creative team will see each other day in and day out for weeks or months on end, so getting the right combination of attitudes and work ethic is crucial for not only a pleasant work environment but also the ultimate success of the show itself.
In The Addams Family tour, more than a third of the original Broadway production was thrown out and rewritten. There was one song in First Wives Club that was changed 7 times, and our finale had gone through 8 different versions by the time we opened. Change is a necessary part of the theater process and being able to handle those changes with grace and positivity is essential.
It’s easy to love the applause, to enjoy hitting that high note at center stage, and to relish in the delightful naughtiness of a villainous character. But having that same joy and professionalism when things go wrong or my voice is sore and scratchy or I’m cut from scene is not so easy. I can testify first hand how rehearsals and performances went much more smoothly when my attitude (and others’ as well) was positive, helpful, and energetic about the work at hand.
Years ago I played Gaston in Disney World’s Beauty and the Beast. One of the nicest compliments I ever received was from a dancer who played one of the Swooners who fawn over Gaston and follow him throughout the opening scene. She told me that she was most happy when my name was on the schedule with hers. You see, the dancers and singers had flip-flop schedules that were rarely the same, so while I got to see most of the cast during a week’s time, it was never quite the same configuration of people onstage from show to show.
To be honest, though, I wasn’t trying to win her favor or cozy up to others. I just came in, loved my job and the role I was performing, and enjoyed the cast I worked with. Without forcing anything I became the one she liked working with the most. It was incredibly humbling and I can certainly say it made me all the more happy to share my time with her onstage. And it’s joy like that which becomes infectious and will affect the rest of the cast in positive ways.
Conversely, I have been in shows where I felt non-existent and unknown to the rest of the cast, never invited out or knew what fun things were happening. I literally felt like an outsider.
The difference? Agenda.
When joy and gratefulness guide my day and the work I do with others, I am typically happier and less worried about the social aspects of work. By enjoying what I do and meeting the day and my cast with enthusiasm, I tend to get that in return. People know me and like me and want to be around me.
On the other hand, when I’m dismissive and hold back interaction or angling to win the favor of this person or that one, I tend to be very isolated and on the outskirts of social circles. Also, staying buried in my phone and focusing more on my likes and follows kept me from enjoyable one-on-one contact with those in my cast. There were even shows where I was disappointed and frustrated with the creatives or the process itself. I was constantly judging and critiquing my surroundings as well as others, and it left me alone and less fulfilled with the work.
As the old saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” So being the person everyone wants to work with starts with me and my own positive attitude. Happiness rarely walks alone and is a magnet for the best people and the best from people.