Professionalism. What is a Professional? What is it to be a Professional? I could give a dictionary quote but why bother. From a personal standpoint, I have always found people and organisations that carp on about how professional they are, seldom are and that is demonstrated by the behaviour, or rather, the lack of it.
A person who is fairly well educated, whether privately or via the State system, very rarely carps on about how well educated they are. The above is demonstrated on their part in their manner, behaviour and the way they present themselves. For me this is the key to the questions I posed above. Behaviour. This will tell you far more than anything about whether a person is professional or not. Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Sir Richard Branson are just a few of the examples I like to quote because with each, their behaviour demonstrates their professionalism. They never say ‘I am a Professional’. Their actions and behaviour tells you that in their own unique way.
The point was brought home to me (and not for the first time,) when I was invited to take on the technician’s chores for another production of a stage play I have performed in a number of times over the past few years, the first time being back in 2008. It was something of a relief to get an email entitled ‘Bat Signal’ from the director, as he needed someone to take on the technician’s chores for this production. I was ‘resting’ had just done my Legal Skills Training, was looking over the assignment questions so it was a welcome respite so I replied ‘Yes’ to the offer, asked when I would be needed (which was the next day,) and so prepared myself accordingly.
Next day, a warm, sunny Saturday morning, I was outside the rehearsal venue at 10am sharp, met director and the technician at hand and went through with them, what would be required of me. So far so good.
We were twenty minutes into rehearsal time when we were still waiting for people to turn up. Now I have been guilty of this as well as anyone but there comes a time when one realises that the only person one is hurting in the long run is one’s self. It is bad enough that critical time is lost (as in this case the room was booked for two hours in which much work needed to be done,) but when one person (who was cast in the role I had done previously,) was still missing at 10:45, I was promptly recast in the part, the technician was going nowhere and we started rehearsals unabated.
The above is not what I had expected – The director himself had not expected it either! He had invested money in getting this production off the ground at a time when we are going through the worse economic recession since 1929. Coupled with the fact the Governmental Axe has been swung right through the entire Arts Budget, his annoyance and loss of patience was more than understandable. Okay, I have worked for him a number of times before, consider him a friend which is why I was there promptly on time etc. But that is not the point here. The point is that friend or no friend, he was and is an employer. My Employer in this case! I am hired to do a job and I should be there on time. Okay in London the transport system to could have been slowed down by road works on bus routes or tube stations closed or entire tube lines suspended due to much needed maintenance work. These things happen and there is no getting past them. Should these things happen, call in and let people know you are going to be late and why. But just don’t turn up as this one actor did. We never did find out why he chose not to turn up. Was there an accident? Bereavement? Or, could it be that he got up, the sun was shining and he decided he couldn’t be bother to attend rehearsals but instead would hang out with his lady on Parliament Hill? Who knows? And who cares? It doesn’t matter why you don’t show up. You didn’t show up so you are fired and depending on who you piss off in this business, you will probably not work again and that is no joke. There is reason the phrase ‘You will never work in this town again’ is coined and that is because there are many careers that have ended prematurely because the word went out by those more powerful that this person for whatever reason is trouble. Whether that was true or not doesn’t matter. That fact someone thinks that, is enough end a career. And if one finds that hard to believe, then I suggest you watch a film called ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’, a story that is as true now as it was back when it made. If the director was Sir Peter Hall, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Mike Leigh, would this actor have behaved so shabbily towards his director? I do hope not but the likely answer would be that he wouldn’t have if he was that lucky to be cast in a production of any of the luminaries listed above. That being the case, why do it to a director whose name is on the rise? Stupidity, a lack of commitment on his part, and/or a total lack of Professionalism (as demonstrated by his behaviour,) are good indicators in answering this question. There is no clear cut answer and again in the Business I am involved in, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t show up, behave with a total lack of regard, you lessen your chances of a successful career. It is bad enough that the deck is stacked against you when you embark on this most uncertain of careers but to deliberately sabotage your own career (and possibly that of others,) for no good reason (in my opinion,) whether due to laziness, ego, whatever is a non-starter.
During my working life and not just in the world of showbiz, I have seen this same kind of behaviour. In a nine-to-five job depending on what you are doing, I can strangely enough understand this kind of behaviour, though I have never indulged in it myself for fear of being fired and losing my income. However, it has always amazed me how people can continue to get away with this kind of behaviour and still hold on to their job. One of the problems in a nine-to-five work environment, organisations tend to promote people based on favouritism, nepotism and people don’t move on up the ladder for the opposite reasons, they don’t fit in, they come in do their job, work hard but we don’t think we want them to move on from where they are. The latter I know only too well, which is why I moved on out and embarked on an acting career. I had had my fill of working all the hours God sends, working damn hard and not getting anywhere. If I have to work hard, work long hours for little financial reward, I would sooner be an actor and be doing all that. At least I can walk through my front door feeling justified that I am making a difference doing something I love doing. I may not make a great deal of money from it (thus far,) but at least I am doing something by choice. My choice. There is always one more way of doing something and that is your way and you have that right to at least try it once. Well I been exercising that right for a number of years now but with exercising that right, there comes a degree of responsibility. And that responsibility is to lead by example and back the person who hired you in the first place. After all there are plenty of people looking for the same opportunity and while many are called, few are chosen. In the story above, an actor received the calling, was chosen but didn’t realise what he was given was the chance to practice his art, enhancing his skills and abilities as an actor and perform before a theatre audience. What better training could one receive? He clearly didn’t appreciate the opportunity afforded him but he will clearly regret in time the fact he has upset one director who will clearly let his contacts know who this actor is and how unreliable he is.
Acting is not just a job, it is a lifestyle, an all-encompassing one at that. There is no point at which you can switch off from it when one is developing their career. Those who can are earning millions and can afford to find religion, be a U.N. Ambassador, so on and so forth. That is all well and good if you are in the A-List category. Until that happens (and it may not happen,) one has to market themselves, put their name out there and get to as many auditions as they possibly can. Look! I attend many auditions where I am hardly ever cast but to look at my CV/Resume, I have eight years work experience, simply because I don’t rely on my agents getting me work, I go out there and make my own contacts. I don’t go to the endless network parties that go on in London. I can’t afford the tickets, the alcohol prices (my money is better spent elsewhere,) but still I make my contacts and get to auditions, castings and more importantly I get to work and refine my skills.
The Show will go on. It always does. I will be making another journey to A Certain Library at the expense of another actor who has for reasons unknown, chose to throw away the opportunity he was given over so many others who I am sure were more than interested to take on that role. The reason they were not given that chance was the director knew someone who had proven himself time and time again in that role. That person was in the rehearsal room at the time so the role went to that person. And that person was me, who was only too happy to re-create that role once more. The director found a solution to his problem instantly. A track record in reliability and professionalism, demonstrated by proven behaviour will always open doors to a good actor. That is a good reputation that will get around in time. A bad reputation will spread faster than a Californian forest fire in a hot spell.
Those who have taken the time to read anything I have ever written will point out: ‘Hold on one minute Gennis! I have read stuff where you character assassinated people, when they have pissed you off, where they don’t even want to go on Facebook or out of their front door for that matter.’ How true but then I never said I was a Paragon of Virtue but I know when to draw a line in the sand and move on. Everything is for a time. In the past I had no recourse in dealing with the people I wrote about and felt justified in what I wrote and did. However, those people I work for and where there is mutual respect on both sides, you will find no one more generous in praise and appreciation than I. Bottom line, if I am treated well and with a degree of respect for my skills as an Actor, then no problem. If the opposite is true then I will still behave in a way that demonstrates my professionalism because bottom line if I am not allowing anyone to walk over me it is because I am setting an example from the word go before anyone even thinks they can walk all over me. I have paid my dues, continue to pay my dues and that in the long run is worth far more in terms of my person, integrity and good name. Recognise a good opportunity when it comes one’s way because opportunity knocks but once and when you fail to recognise it, then it is lost for all time.
Something to consider if one wishes to succeed.