Get our free email newsletter with just one click

The Green Room: What does the term ‘professionalism’ mean to you?

Bull at the Young Vic in 2015. So what makes for a professional – or otherwise – attitude in the rehearsal room? Photo: Tristram Kenton Bull at the Young Vic in 2015. So what makes for a professional – or otherwise – attitude in the rehearsal room? Photo: Tristram Kenton

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

John Pepper is 31 and has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National Theatre and in radio, television and film.

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally

Rosemary Crackers is 50 and has worked extensively in TV, film and theatre for nearly 30 years

Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked predominantly in regional theatres and is also a writer and street performer


RosemaryTurning up on time.

John Beat me to it!

Annie Yes. Be on time and shut up when the director’s talking. They’re the visionary and every actor has the right to hear their voice.

Rosemary Learning your lines. Not being drunk or high.

Beryl Work hard, do your job to the best of your abilities and keep doing so, particularly on a long run. Know your stuff.

John Loads of these. Turning up on time, learning your lines and so on, but I think it boils down to doing your job without being a hassle, while being easy to get on with.

Rosemary I don’t mind a bit of hassle.

John I always find it much easier when you don’t have someone who’s a pain in the arse.

Jon How do you both define ‘hassle’?

John Hmm, I’m not going to say ‘not agreeing with my ideas’…

Rosemary A bit of hassle – ie, a bit of an argument or a bit of a disagreement – is fine. But lateness, bad manners, bad attitude – that’s not fine.

Albert I hate the way the word ‘professional’ is used as a threat: “You must be professional.” All it means is that we are being paid. You hear it a lot in amateur groups who strut around saying that they are absolutely professional.

Jon That’s why it’s important to define what we mean by the word, behaviourally speaking.

Beryl Professionalism means being on time, being a good, responsible company member – don’t bring your personal shit into the room! It means having a positive attitude to the work.

Annie Yes, leave your baggage at the door please, thank you very much.

Rosemary Not talking during notes.

Jon Taking the notes, too, rather than wasting everyone’s time disputing them. I really notice people pushing back during notes sessions. Surely that’s something for rehearsals or to sort out with the director?

John Yeah, taking the damn note is a very good one.

Rosemary A bit of give and take is fine. I think everyone has a different process.

John True, the odd disagreement over something is part of the process.

Jon I think that’s so important about process. Respecting the fact that everyone’s process is different is probably number one for me.

Rosemary Jon, what do you mean by “pushing back”?

Jon Responding to a note with ‘What I’m doing there is X and I can’t do Y because Z’. It’s not a conversation to have in front of the entire company with time pressure.

John Yes, that happens so often. When receiving a note, I always go through two questions in my head: ‘Do I understand the note? Can I do something about it?’

Jon I have a similar one with moments that don’t work. ‘Can I sort it myself?/Can I sort it with a colleague?’, before taking it to the director. Take the note, then bend the director’s ear about it later if you have to.

Rosemary I can’t stand actors who turn a notes session into their personal one-on-one, and directors who indulge that.

John It’s bloody rude. Why is that not drummed out of people in drama school? It was at ours. Ninety percent of responses from a notes session should be ‘Yes, thank you.’

Rosemary It’s especially annoying if you are only in Act III and waiting patiently, and some arsehole monopolises the entire session and you don’t get your notes.

Jon Of course the other thing is people giving each other notes, covertly or otherwise.

John I always enjoy it when actors are given the same damn note, time after time. This happened to me recently and the actor’s response was always: “But it’s the biggest laugh of the show.” It wasn’t a comedy.

Albert Perhaps we should use words such as ‘courteous’, ‘hard-working’, ‘disciplined’? If ‘professional’ means anything, surely it must mean that?

Rosemary I think that actors who want to do wholly spontaneous things on stage that change other people’s processes, without discussing it first, are very unprofessional.

Jon Lateness drives me up the wall if it’s not persistently or consistently called out.

John I’ve worked with a director who cannot abide lateness. He’s been known to fire people over it.

Rosemary Who is that? I love him.

Jon But on other productions I’ve done, people would consistently turn up late to the point where it became their ‘joke’, their sitcom flaw. ‘Oh, look at me, late again, what am I like?’

Rosemary I can’t bear the lateness. It’s such bad manners. I would fire the late ones. I get in at least half an hour early.

John I like to do that too. Get a coffee, have a chat, etc. That for me is also part of the process.

Albert But often, being “very professional about it” can be used as a term that means lacking emotion. I’m not sure that’s something we would want to be, is it?

Beryl Professionalism is also about remembering that you are an artist in the company of other artists – whatever their field.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.