An Actor’s Least Favorite Question

“Oh my goodness, the show was so wonderful! You are so talented!”

“Thank you so much!” you reply, slightly shy at the outpouring of compliments from this family member/friend/stranger/superfan, but ultimately feeling the glow of pride in a job well done.

“Really, your voice is incredible,” they continue, further elevating your spirits.

“I love this music, so it makes it a real pleasure!” you share, feeling grateful that people are so excited about what you just did on stage.

“So what’s next for you? Any shows coming up?”

And just like that, the glow fades.

Because I don’t have any shows coming up. I do not know what is next. I am completely unemployed in every sense of the word, and you unfortunately just accidentally reminded me of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I know you only ask this because you care and are genuinely interested in where my career will take me next. I know you want to support me and see me succeed. And for that, I am truly appreciative and grateful. As real life gypsies, we actors need a lot of love and a fan club to remind us in the hard times that what we are doing is worthwhile, and that we are good enough to succeed. So thank you for that, from the bottom of my heart.

But when you ask me what is next, and what is coming up, I immediately get defensive. Not because of you, but because of my own insecurities. If I don’t have a job coming up and I say so, I see the disappointment fleetingly cross your face before you cover it up with a smile and awkwardly spout out, “Oh, well I’m sure something will come up!” And then I’m forced to go home and stress out about how I don’t have a job and inevitably spiral into that classic “what the hell am I doing with my life am I really good enough why is everyone else working but me” depression. If I DO have something coming up, it’s usually some form of this answer: “Yes! I’m doing a new musical written by the people who wrote (insert show that theatre lovers would totally know, but this person only knows Wicked and Phantom so it means nothing), and we are doing it at (insert name of amazing regional theatre that they’ve never heard of). I’m very excited.” Everyone leaves confused, and you leave frustrated that you can’t just say, “Yes, I’m going to be the lead in the new Star Wars film.”

You learn to deal with these feelings very quickly, as an actor’s greatest skill is bouncing back. You learn to deal with rejection in the form of silence, and rejection in the form of press releases informing you that someone else got the part you were dying for. It’s like a louder, more public version of the posting of the high school drama club cast list for “Anything Goes” when you lost the part of Reno Sweeney to your own cousin. (She deserved it and was brilliant, BTW.) But when you’re forced to look someone in the face and admit to what feels like your own failure, it can wear on you quicker than any other form of rejection. It is you rejecting yourself.

If you still don’t understand what exactly is so wrong about expressing interest in the career of an actor that you adore and love, imagine this. You are forced to find a new job every 2-3 months. You never stop sitting down for interviews, your resumé is just a long list of the past jobs you have held, and to make things crazier, you are always competing with your friends for these jobs. Sometimes you’re too short. Sometimes you’re too blonde. Sometimes you’re too pretty, which should feel great but is really just rejection rolled up in a compliment, and essentially just a backhanded insult stating that you are unable to transform yourself into a different person, or as we like to call it, “act.” You wouldn’t want to constantly prove yourself and your career worth to anyone who asks, right?

As I don’t like to complain about things without offering possible solutions, here are some things you could say and do instead:

1. Don’t ask! Just state your interest in me and my career with something like, “What a wonderful job you did in the show tonight! I can’t wait to see what is next for you.” I will follow it with an enthusiastic “thank you” and walk away smiling.

2. If you’re dying to ask questions, ask where I trained and if I went to college, or what my favorite role has been to play. Ask how long we rehearsed for the show you just saw. Ask what my favorite song is to sing. Ask if I like dogs. Ask if I will take a picture with you. Ask me if I’m single cause you have a cute son to set me up with (I’m not, sorry!). Ask me if I prefer skim or 1%. Ask ANYTHING but, “So what’s next?”

3. If you do ask the dreaded question, take the hint when I say, “I’m getting married!” or, “I’m writing a blog and loving it,” or “I’m going to take a bath! My knees hurt from all that dancing I just did.” Don’t press me. A few months ago, a fellow actor actually asked the question, wasn’t satisfied with my responses, and so he further specified, “No, I mean like theatre. What show is coming up for you?” And I was humiliated into saying “NOTHING.” Do not be this person. I do not like this person, and I now actively go out of my way to avoid this person.

4. Use the Internets! Follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or Google me every so often if you are really curious and want to follow my career that closely. I appreciate that kind of support immensely, and social media makes us all feel like we have our own fan clubs, which is really exciting. But don’t ask me the terrible question online. Then I will simply delete your comment, or perhaps respond with a link to this blog.

I love what I do. What I do is very hard, emotionally, mentally and physically. But I am also a person who does much more than what you see on stage. I volunteer with an animal rescue. I just got married. I love “Bachelor in Paradise.” I’m currently taking a stab at writing a television pilot. I love my nieces and nephews. I am a human with insecurities and feelings and so much love to give, both onstage and off.

THANK YOU for being a friend, a fan, a cheerleader. The support is what we love. Please don’t stop supporting us, but I beg you, please don’t ask me what is next.

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47 thoughts on “An Actor’s Least Favorite Question

  1. I just discovered your blog and I’m enjoying it. Reading this confirmed why at the dinner before the premier of my brother-in-law’s indie movie all his friends wanted to talk about my job. I’m an analyst at a government agency. I write reports on fairly arcane issues of government management issues. My *parents* don’t even read my work.

    Now I just make small talk with him by asking about my niece.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! One of the most insightful and informative replies from a media star I have ever seen. Makes you so human, so much like us when most people want to idolize you and fantasize about having your life. It is important for us all to know that success in never as simple, as easy and as long lasting as we all believe it is. Life is a constant striving to achieve what we feel we should. Thank you for your honesty.
    Charlie

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for writing this. I love everything you do on social media and I think you are insanely talented. If I were to be so lucky to meet you it is nice to know this information because as a fan the last thing I would want to do is make you feel uncomfortable or awkward. This is actually good to know if I were to meet anyone I am a fan of.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this. The stage door makes me a nervous wreck because I’m always afraid of my nerves getting the better of me and saying something I regret or that unintentionally offends some of my favorite people on the planet. I spend an exorbitant amount of time beforehand thinking of all the things I could say that would be kind and not offensive. Then I spend an equally exorbitant amount of time afterwards going over the entire conversation in my head, kicking myself and beating myself up about something I think could’ve been offensive or something I should’ve said instead of what I did say. Truth of the matter is, you incredibly talented performers turn me into a blubbering idiot who can’t form complete sentences. No joke…2-year-olds speak better than me in front of famous people.
    So, thank you for this. Perhaps next time I stage door a show I will memorize your dos and donts and I’ll get it right. I really would love to be coherent in front of Christian Borle one day, which would be a welcome change from the 3 previous times I’ve been in his presence and couldn’t form words at all. Seriously, I’m pretty sure if he remembers me at all it’s as the mute idiot fangirl. Maybe that should be on my tombstone one day.

    P.S. I think you’d be totally awesome as the lead in the new Star Wars movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Interview: Jennifer Laine Williams | Works by Women

  6. Given that you acknowledge that your fans are coming from a good place, you think that you would be a bit more understanding. At one point, you basically put them down if they don’t qualify as theater geeks. I get that you are insecure, but this just comes across like you are whining.

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    • I appreciate your response, however I stand by my article. If you read the comments on here and see all of be actors who shared it on Facebook, you will see that the vast majority of us feel this way, no matter how successful. As a fan, perhaps you should take this into consideration and remember that as fellow humans, we have a right to feelings that other people may not like.

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      • Dont deny the feelings. Just don’t get how it is the fans fault for daring to ask what is coming up. That is ultimately a supportive question. Better than nobody caring. .

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  7. As a military kid growing I was asked all the time “so do you like moving?”, “how do you cope?” and my favourite “do you like changing schools so much?”. And now i work as a freelancer web designer so I frequently get asked “what’s your next project?”. So, I agree wholeheartedly with your last point: SUPPORT US, because half time we don’t know what’s next.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. And so you answered the question beautifully in the penultimate paragraph and revealed that you are a generous human being with some depth.

    Otherwise, your petty complaining makes you sound cheap

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      • I think if you could actually be present you would say “I don’t know where my next job is coming from, it’s a bit scary this business, but in the meantime, . . . ” otherwise you just make people who are praising you feel uncomfortable with your own insecurities and that’s cheap.

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  9. long story short. i recognized your husband at the gym today and eavesdropped on part of his conversation with his friend. he told his friend u started a blog and really love it. so i am here and want to offer all the support i can ever give

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Life is an exploration of ones being. as in so many careers, it has its ups and downs. when you are flying high, you must beware of the sun. and when you are falling, the depth is endless. so live your life in each moment doing what you love, and loving what you do. no matter what, know that your friends and family are always here for you. lots of love, Kevin and Joanna

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  11. Thank god I never asked you that question! I usually just ask for autographs. The only question I ever asked you was If “Fly by Night” was recorded and since I am listening to it now it was obviously not a bad question. Though now I am kinda obsessing about the skim or 1 percent question!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I feel like if I ever met you, I wouldn’t have to ask those questions because you’re so open and honest here! You’re just so candid! So many people will filter what they say online because they don’t want to offend anybody. What I love about this blog is that it seems like you don’t water down your opinions because you know that you don’t have anything to prove to us! Reading this blog and following you on Twitter makes me feel like I’m getting to know the real Patti (though I would totally friend you on Facebook if I didn’t feel like that would be totally creepy, lol). Anyway, thanks again for your honesty!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Not an actor, but as a photographer in a market over saturated with “professionals” who can and will undersell – well… you get the idea. There’s a lot of work, but even more “workers” to go around. I always hate the dreaded “how’s business” question. I had to take a second job to make ends meet, how do you think it’s going?! And then they suggest dropping what I love, um… okay. Thanks. LOL

    All this to say – I feel you! And it’s good to know that this well meaning question isn’t really that great to ask! I will remember that in the future! Love your blog (and the work I’ve seen via youtube that you’ve done is pretty freaking awesome, too)!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. BRILLIANT.

    One of our non-actor trainers posted this on the internal MFF trainer education page as they really just never thought about this. And I had never said anything to them, because to me it was painfully obvious from personal experience.

    Thank you for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Reblogged this on More Has To Happen and commented:
    I know a few actors who are constantly working, but for the most part, even successful ones are wondering what their next gig will be. This blogger puts it very nicely.

    I’ll never forget, before I ever attempted screenwriting, I saw a production of “Exit the King” at a tiny theater and loved it. A few weeks later, I sat down for a beer with my ex. It was a large busy bar, and it took a few minutes for a waiter to see that we’d seated ourselves. He finally came around, and looked oddly familiar. My ex recognized him first: “It’s the king!” I was surprised at how abashed and annoyed he was. We eventually became good friends and still have a laugh about it now and then.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hi, I just wandered here and know nothing of your work so I cannot comment on it intelligently or at all. Still we have something in common, and that is an aversion to questions that pounce on our insecurities and are worded in a way that may have the opposite effect of what claims to be intended. As an artist and writer, my own least favorite comment starts off the same as yours: “You are SO talented. It must be wonderful to be able to do [insert a skill of your choice].” Why is that so off-putting? Because so often it is followed by, “You wouldn’t like me; I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler,” or similar words that convey immediate distancing. In the guise of being praised we have just been declared narrow-minded parochial people. As if we only choose friends who do what we do. As if we think ourselves so superior to those who do not do what we do. As if we couldn’t possibly recognize, admire, and applaud the skills they have. It suggests we are snobs when in fact we have just been rejected.

    Come visit whitecanoe11.wordpress.com, now in progress, and maybe we will find a common humanity, however different our skill sets.

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  17. Pingback: I’d Be More Than Happy To Tell You What’s Next | alexanderrsky

  18. Patti…I have discovered you purely online and never had the pleasure of seeing you work onstage. But from everything I have seen online tells me you could probably do just about anything you wanted to and have great fun with it! I wish you continued success in having that fun — no matter what it is you’re doing!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Amen. I really wish people had a better awareness of this. But I don’t know how that happens – other than trying to educate people as often and as gently as you can. Or perhaps there’s a whole market to be tapped with “post show” t-shirts that say “Ask me about [insert topic you would much rather be asked about here]”…

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Love you!! As do your nieces and nephews ! Remember Michael said “I like that she loves me for who I am.” We feel the same way about you, girlfriend.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I would also add that if an actor has something coming up you will hear about it in the 1st 3 sentences they utter…it NEVER fails.

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  22. Obsessed with this. I feel like this relates to many other questions. Like: Are you dating anyone? When are you getting married? Having baby? Or my personal favorite: Have you lost weight? No, actually I’ve gained but thanks for noticing that my weight is different.
    On that note: I’m a huge Patti fan, not just the actress or blogger but the person.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. As a fan of you as a performer, I’m always excited to hear about upcoming performances, because it means a casting director saw the same special qualities in you that I always do. But I’m also a HUGE fan of you as a person (trust me, definitely NOT the case with some of my favorite actors), so I’m also thrilled to hear about what you’re doing next that doesn’t involve performing (obviously since even your husband has noticed I comment a lot about your work with animals). I know that as much as you love performing, it’s your job, not your life. As long as you’re happy with what’s going on with you, I’m happy for you. And good luck with your writing!!

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