Gossip: I have used this as a general term to include the insidious habits of whinging, complaining and backbiting.
I am a recovering gossip. Gossip to me, is like what meth is to meth addicts: damn good. As a teenager I was particularly bad. In striving to be “cool” I was ready and willing at any moment to find fault in people and would happily join forces with whichever side would have me. I could gossip about anything and anyone. It was my vice and I knew it well.
It was somewhere in my early 20’s that I started to see my habit for what it was: insidious and immature. It was not helpful as an actor, or as a person, and ever since I have been determined to shake this nagging habit.
Gossip is particularly bad for actors because it’s contagious. It spreads it’s cunning negativity through a cast of actors quicker than a bad review. And the morale of a cast is imperative to the success of a production. Once the gossiping vortex takes hold, it takes actors of all ages and backgrounds along for the ride.
The problem with gossip is that it doesn’t actually help anything. If your director has no vision, they still remain visionless regardless of your complaining about them. If another actor keeps forgetting their lines, no bitching is going to give them a better memory. If your scene partner is uninspired or down right bad, talking about it day and night, isn’t going to save the scene. Conversely, focusing on the problem typically aggravates it further.
If you have a genuine problem with a director, cast member, or any other person involved in a production, speak up. Speak plainly and directly and try to resolve the problem. If the problem is then resolved, splendid. If not, well there’s no point discussing it further. To clarify, that doesn’t mean going and telling your director that the other actor is bad; most problems with another actor’s performance can only be resolved by you. By that I mean doubling down and being more open, giving and brave in the scene you’re working on them with. Inspire them with your work. Engage with them, don’t withdraw.
As an addict, I understand. If you don’t like something there is nothing better than complaining about it. There is nothing more comforting than sitting in the green room coddled by a fellow actor’s gossip and bathing in hatred, frustration and whining, voraciously dissecting your director, scene partner, or costume designer, who never fixes your damn buttons. It feels fantastic. But like all delicious goodies, too many, and they start to take their toll.
Gossiping, along with its cousins; complaining, whinging, passive aggression and a few others I’m sure you’ve experienced along the way, are all infectious. They bring a weight to the rehearsal room and to performance. They are the easy emotions. The ones we all feel, but would be better off not indulging.
As the new year dawns on us I thought it would be a good time to write this confessional piece and in so doing, reinstate my resolution to leave behind this unhelpful vice. And hopefully encourage others to do so as well. To admit we have been sinners and to strive to be more optimistic and positive in the future.
It is never hard to find fault in another. To look at an actor and see how their voice is lacking, or how they never get their lines right, or how they keep cutting you off too early, or too late, or how they’re bringing down the scene, or how they have an annoying voice, or talk too much or fill in the blank (I’m sure you can). It is somewhat harder to see the good in others.
I have found that being less harsh on others has unshackled my own acting. How you see others is how you see yourself. I used to be critical of other actor’s work and so in turn would feel their critical eye whilst I performed. Ever since letting go of my own judgements I have been more confident, open and comfortable on stage.
A rehearsal room is a place for you to work. To be your best and to strive to tell a story with commitment and honesty. Collaboration relies on support, openness, and trust and these are all broken by the childish act of gossiping. Remember always that your reputation as an actor is as important as your ability. If that reputation is one of complaining and negatively you soon will have no one to complain about.
A few handy hints in working through your addiction in the new year:
There is a difference between critique and gossip, and I don’t want to you to get the impression that you lose your critical eye. That is what makes you a great artist.
However, here is how it works in the process of producing a play, film or television program: you think something negative of something someone is doing – you don’t talk about it with anyone in the production. Go home to a house mate or better still write a journal entry about it.
Remain critical and challenge yourself to why you didn’t like a particular choice. What would you have done different? There is no need to discuss it or get annoyed at it.
How to wean yourself off the good stuff… Try and spend time with people who are naturally positive. Those who see the best in others and don’t have your same addiction. If you keep finding yourself drifting into those circles, just try and move away or lightly steer the conversation in another direction.
If they are complaining about others, they are complaining about you. Have you ever left a conversation with someone after they’ve just ripped apart another actor and wondered what they say about you. Truth is that they probably are talking about you, so maybe just avoid them.