Okay, I’ve got to open with my bias here: I have a deep struggle with diva actors. To me, there is almost never a time when I will choose an extremely talented diva with poor behavior over a slightly less talented actor with some humility and a good attitude. I want an actor who can take direction, who is a team-player, who can communicate like an adult, and who respects the people around them.
To me, it seems like no one takes more abuse from the diva actors than the production team.
Now, I’m not saying that there is never a legitimate reason to take issue with a technician. Were they verbally abusive? Did they make you feel uncomfortable? Is their design potentially causing safety/health issues? Okay, sure. That’s cause for further discussion. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about petulant, entitled, or unkind behavior that earns you an icky reputation in the theatre.
Some things to remember:
Not every person you work with is going to be your favorite.
You can’t vibe with every director and their vision. You may not be thrilled with every costume put on your body. You may prefer stage managers who are a little less hands-on. The lighting design may not be what you’d have picked. You may think the set design is amateur. But ultimately, you are a member of a cast in a show that is multifaceted. In the same way that the lighting designer shouldn’t give you acting critiques or talk about your pitchy high notes, you shouldn’t be actively critiquing the craft of people around you either.
Are you the best actor they’ve ever worked with?
I’m asking seriously. Are you absolutely irreplaceable? Is your work worlds above those around you? Are you positive that everyone on the production team views you as the most capable and competent performer? Because in the same way that you may be thinking, “Sheila from The Rocky Horror Show is the BEST props designer I know. She would never behave like this!”, someone may be just as unimpressed with you. We are all artists whose work is subjective; your least favorite designer may be someone else’s top choice. And your own work may be lauded by one company and shrugged at by another.
All components of the craft are valuable and worthy of respect.
One of my favorite things about theatre is its inclusion of all kinds of people and skill sets. As a teacher, I often tell students that if they can tell me what they’re good at, I can find a place for it in the theatre. Sound, lighting, props, costumes, set, wigs, dramaturgy, stage management, performance, music composition, run crew, assistant directing, makeup, special effects, the list goes on and on…
And I try to stress to my students–children, by the way–that no one’s job is more important than someone else’s. We are all part of creating one unified event together.
I expect that adults should know that. But I also expect that adults should tip their servers and return their grocery carts to the designated location; that they should respect each person in an industry for not only their work, but also for their humanity.
But wait wait wait, okay–
Let’s say you’re thinking, “Okay yes, that’s ideal. But I have bad days too sometimes! I’ve had some valid traumatic experiences with crew members that have left me ready for battle! I take pride in my work, and I want this show to be excellent! My responses relate to a diagnosis that I am working on in therapy, and I can’t get it right every time! I am not perfect!”
Totally, totally, totally. I hear you. We are all coming from different places. We are not without fault. We all have our own backstory and things to work on. So if it turns out, you’re an accidental diva? You’ve gotten overwhelmed and stormed out, you spoke too sharply to someone who wasn’t at fault, you were perfection-driven and tried to micromanage someone else’s job…okay. Things happen. Here are some tips for managing those moments.
What to do on Day One…
Be communicative and upfront if you know you have specific (reasonable) needs. Examples:
- -“I need a few minutes to warm up away from the group before run-thrus. I can come before call to make sure I have time.”
- -“I’m really uncomfortable in skin-tight clothing. I’m hoping that doesn’t affect your costume design for my character. If so, I’m happy to work through it with you.”
- -“I get overwhelmed sometimes, and may occasionally need a moment to myself. Can we work out a signal in case that happens?”
What to do in a moment of impending diva-ness…
Breathe. Check in. Assess. Remember that you are in a professional environment and that your behavior / attitude affects your hireability, reputation, and relationships with those involved. Can this moment be unpacked later, when you’re less riled up? Can you bite your tongue, process your feelings, and come back to the moment? Can you excuse yourself to the restroom and come back when you’re feeling more settled? (That being said, I have 100% broken down in tears in professional spaces in front of others. I get it…but, ya know, I’d rather avoid it when possible.)
What to do when you have time to reflect…
Take a moment to recognize all the things on your own plate that bring you stress. Now think through the people on your team that you’re struggling with. Remind yourself of all of the people, projects, and tasks that you know they regularly deal with. Now assume there’s much more than you know. Now also remember that they have full lives outside of this production, and that you don’t know the intricacies of their daily life. Cut them the amount of slack you would hope one would cut you.
What to do if you mess up…
Process, apologize, be humble, and adjust.
Conclusion: don’t be a jerk just to be a jerk. If not for others, for your own career.