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Careers Clinic: ‘Do I give up on a ‘busy’ collaborator?’

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’ve been working with an actor friend developing a fringe show. He’s musical theatre-trained, I come from a comedy background and, without wanting to boast, we’re both good at what we do so the show was shaping up well. A few months ago, my friend auditioned for one of the big musicals of the moment and got a lead part. I was genuinely delighted for him and I still am.

The problem is that since rehearsals started six weeks ago, and even more so now that the show has launched (to great reviews), I hardly hear from him at all. The most I have had is the odd ‘like’ or retweet when I post something positive about the show online and a one-line text saying he still wants to work on our show when he’s free, but doesn’t know when that will be.

He’s always been a good friend and I have never doubted his sincerity before, but should I now be concerned, jealous or just give up and start writing a solo show instead?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE: A few years ago, a close friend was the lead in one of the big London shows that summer. Similarly to your own situation, our relationship went from chatting on the phone or meeting for coffee most days to spending June, July and August seeing my mate’s face on posters all over town, in Sunday supplements and, frequently, on prime-time TV but only keeping in contact via an occasional quick text.
On September 1 my phone rang. It was my friend inviting me for lunch. “Are you sure you have time?” I asked. “All the time in the world. The run’s over, the next show gets in at midday and I’m packing my stuff into a supermarket bag because I’m being chucked out of the star dressing room at 11.”

That pattern of suddenly being on a tight press, rehearsal and show schedule, that hardly leaves you time to breathe, and then, just as suddenly, being unemployed again is one that every performer with regular experience of appearing in big productions will recognise.

It can be a shock to the system the first time round, not only for the performers involved but also for friends and family. As a friend who is also a fellow actor, you ask if you sound concerned or just jealous? If you are like most of us performers the honest answer is probably a bit of both.

To address the concern element first, let me reassure you that, while sudden fame can turn some people’s heads, unless there has been some prior falling out you haven’t told me about, it is likely that your friend genuinely hasn’t got time for more than a quick text, especially in the first few weeks of the run. If you don’t want to fall out in the future, being understanding and giving them a bit of space is the best way forward.

As for the ego element, “giving them space” doesn’t mean getting the hump and ignoring them altogether. By all means continue to send them encouraging messages and generally support them. Just don’t expect instant responses or assume that if you don’t hear back immediately the support isn’t appreciated.

The nature of our business is that sometimes people who we work on joint projects with may have to take time out when an opportunity to move their career forward comes up (or just helps them pay the rent). Unless we can honestly say we wouldn’t prioritise the same
way if the roles were reversed, we can’t really blame them. Ideally, it is good to have some personal projects of our own to immerse ourselves in until the day comes – as it surely will – when our co-creator is free to commit to working jointly again.

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

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