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Careers Clinic: How do I leave a hit show?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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A few years ago, with all of our acting careers moving slowly, I and two other drama graduates formed a sketch comedy group.

We started to gig regularly and took shows up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe two years in a row. Reviews and audience feedback were both good. It was lovely to receive regular stage time and, latterly, a little bit of cash. For me, the group was always a ‘side hustle’ to my main acting work. As I understood it, that was how the other two people saw it too.

In the past year they have both become more focused on comedy careers. As a result, I decided a while ago to leave the group as acting is still more important to me. Obviously, I held back until after the fringe as I didn’t want to distract from us doing a good show.

I thought the lull after would be a much better time but we have just heard that a producer who saw us wants to develop our show for broadcast. My two partners are ecstatic. I’m kicking myself for saying nothing but now how do I find the right time to drop the bomb?

There never is a ‘right’ time for these kind of conversations, so all you can really do is find the least worst time. There are still no guarantees that this will make the response any more pleasant, but the most important starting point seems to me to be that you have made a definite decision to go.

It is important to commit to that choice in advance of talking otherwise it is easy to be swayed for no other reason than keeping the peace. You should also reflect on the fact that you are perfectly entitled to make bold career decisions even if they don’t fit with the plans of others.

You originally entered into this trio on the mutually agreed basis that comedy was a stopgap while you were all building your acting careers. The fact that the goalposts have changed as far as the other members are concerned, and even that you have ‘gone along’ with things up until now, doesn’t morally oblige you to stay if your own preferred career choice lies elsewhere.

My understanding is that there isn’t any written contract involved so far, or even any regular discussions to see whether you are all on the same page. If the producer is serious about developing this show there should definitely should be some form of written agreement to be thrashed out soon.

For this reason alone, no matter how reluctant you feel, it is best to raise the issue of your leaving now rather than once negotiations start or, even worse, after you sign something. At least if your partners know where they stand they deal with the producer on that basis, and the latter can decide if they are still interested in a two-person version of the show or a replacement member. If the basic concept of the show is good, don’t be too disappointed if your participation turns out to be not quite as indispensable as you fear.

Alternatively, don’t be either flattered or guilt-tripped by the ‘we just can’t do this without you’ card. If you stay on that basis and don’t really want to, things will probably fall apart in an even more acrimonious way further down the line as many comedy and music groupings have learned the hard way.

Once you have made it clear you are going, you then create the best forum for a (hopefully) cordial discussion about how both sides can move on in a way that honours what you have achieved together so far and gives all of you the best chance to make your new paths successful in the future.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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