Occasionally, in this game of freelancer versus the gods of theatre, you will find yourself in the simultaneously blessed and cursed position of having to choose between job offers.
So, you’re coming to the end of your current job, or you’ve been having a rest period and you start to get the fear. The ‘where-is-my-next-paycheck-coming-from’ fear. So you do what we all do. You over-apply for jobs.
Covering letters are written and rewritten, your CV is dusted off and updated. If you’re feeling brave, you may even reformat it altogether. You hit ‘submit application’ so many times that you start to get RSI in your index finger. And you wait.
For a week or so, you sit and try not to think about how several of the application deadlines have now closed and you have yet to be offered an interview. The first day of rehearsals rolls around for projects that you never heard back from and you have to concede that maybe, in fact, they did pick someone else for the job.
But then, finally, an offer comes through. A production has chosen you to be part of the team. It’s a good feeling, and you can start to relax. However, before you know it, another production has chosen you as well. You’ve accidentally succeeded in convincing more than one interviewer that you’re the best person for the job. How do you proceed?
Unfortunately there is no good way to do it. It is a difficult situation, in which you have to turn someone down while making them still want to work with you in the future. In theatre, it is nigh on impossible to burn only one bridge at a time. In an industry where every bridge leads to another, a small flame can cut off several potential paths.
There are some hard and fast rules that people live by that are generally respected in the industry as ‘fair’. There’s the classic first-come-first-served rationale, in which the company whose email arrives in your inbox the quickest is the job you take.
The second option is longevity of contracts in comparison. If a job is three weeks-worth of work and another is three months, no one is realistically going to blame you for choosing the latter.
The third option is which job is going to do the best for you and your career right now. Is the job with a producer or director you’ve always wanted to work with? Is it the next step up in scale of show? Is it a step up in position?
This is the trickiest option, because it’s one that only you know the answer to. Being a freelancer in theatre is all about being ready to gamble with your career and stick by your gut decisions. And if your gut is saying, “go this way”, no one can tell you you’re wrong.
Katie Jackson is a freelance stage manager. Read more of her columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/katie-jackson