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Stage manager Katie Jackson: ‘Ignore rumours of ‘difficult’ actors – most are a joy to work with’

Ria Jones in Sunset Boulevard at Leicester Curve. Photo: Manuel Harlan The character of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, played by Ria Jones, above, is famously diva-esque – but most supposedly 'difficult' performers do not live up to Desmond's reputation, says Katie Jackson. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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I have noticed a curious reaction from colleagues of mine, when they find out that I am about to start working with an actor who is considered a ‘name’.

“Oh, that’s got X in it, hasn’t it? Mmm, I’ve heard he’s ‘difficult’.” Strangely, our industry mates seem to derive great pleasure from warning us off people we’re about to work with, especially before we’ve actually met them.

Every time I have been about to start a new rehearsal process with a ‘name’, my colleagues seem to flock from all around to tell me horror stories of this person’s terrible behaviour. “You’re working with that actor? Well, good luck. Apparently he’s got a terrible temper,” or: “She never learns her lines properly, and then takes it out on everyone else, I’ve heard,” or: “He’s famous for treating stage management like slaves.”

Without asking for it, you are being given a prejudicial view of someone you might be spending six months with. It’s not an ideal starting point when heading to the meet-and-greet.

Then, funnily enough, when you do meet the actor in question and they are nothing but courteous and welcoming, you report back to your friends, who reply with: “Just you wait. He’ll turn against you soon enough.”

‘Almost without fail, I have found these so-called terrors of the industry to be nothing but professional, kind and generous people’

It seems curious to me how vehemently people seem to want to think badly of actors who, frequently, they have never worked with themselves.

I have worked with some established and talented people in my career. Many of them have been described to me as being terrible to work with before the start of that project. And almost without fail, I have found these so-called terrors of the industry, these titans of ill treatment, to be nothing but professional, kind and generous people. There is a reason they are successful, and much of it is because they are a pleasure to work with.

On occasion, established performers can be short-tempered and lose their patience, especially the older-generation ‘names’. But if you had been working in the industry for more than 40 years, you would expect a certain level of professionalism too – and might well feel entitled to display irritation when things fall short of that mark.

I find myself agreeing with their upset, and apologising on behalf of whatever or whoever was responsible while whole-heartedly assuring them I’m aware that the excuse for the situation is, indeed, not good enough.

More often than not, when a venerable actor does show annoyance, they quickly calm down and apologise more than others would be expected to, in fear that they might end up developing a reputation for being unpleasant to work with. It saddens me that anyone would feel nervous about expressing frustration in a way that nearly anyone else would be permitted to.

Therefore, the more people tell me terrible things about ‘names’ I’m about to work with, the more I look forward to meeting them. They are almost certain to be a delight.

Katie Jackson is a freelance stage manager. Read more of her columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/katie-jackson

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