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Dear West End Producer: ‘What happens if during rehearsals it turns out an actor cannot do the role?’

West End Producer
Photo: Matt Crockett
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When an actor is given a job, it is presumed they’ll be able to do everything that the role requires. If, however, early on in rehearsals it becomes evident that the actor cannot talk without dribbling or walk without getting an erection, then the creative team holds what is known as an ‘emergency actor crisis’ meeting.

The ‘emergency actor crisis’ meeting takes place in a local pub – when the director, producer and musical director’s young boyfriend all get drunk and curse each other for casting the wrong actor.

They then discuss options, and pray that another, better actor is free to save the play. Their first decision however is whether to recast the role or not – or to give the original actor longer to prove they’re up to the job – but the more rehearsal time that is wasted on the craptor (crap actor), the less time another actor has to rehearse.

There are also other things to consider. For example – the actor may be an ‘above the title’ celebrity – and consequently one of the main selling points of the production. This makes the whole thing much more complicated. The ‘name’ cannot suddenly be taken off promotional material and pulled from the show without any explanation.

In such a situation a press release will be issued stating that the artist has had to withdraw due to ‘personal reasons’ – which basically means the director and producer sacked them because they had less talent than Dean Gaffney.

An actor being asked to leave happens more often than you might think. And often it’s due to reasons other than them just not being up to the job.

Sometimes it can be that a more well-known actor feels threatened by them and tells the producer to sack them or they’ll leave themselves. Obviously the producer will always follow the request of the ‘star’ – which can be incredibly frustrating – particularly when the celeb has the talent of a damp scab.

Recasting and rehearsing another actor also presents problems of its own – it can be costly (what with auditioning, buying the original actor out of their contract and providing sympathy cake for the rest of the company), and there’s no guarantee that the new actor is going to be any better, but by then it’s too late. And bringing another actor into a company can upset the dynamic of a cast – causing tantrums, tears and an afternoon off for mourning purposes.

Sometimes, it’s simply not possible to recast – smaller companies may not be able to afford a new actor, and are forced to carry on with the craptor. In this case a director has to resort to clever tactics to hide the bad actor by cutting their lines, giving them a better costume and making everyone else upstage them.

Besides, as Sir Larry once uttered: “You can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter, cover it in smoke, and hope that the audience won’t notice, dear.”

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

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