We live in a culture of yes. From Oprah to Tina Fey, our cultural heroes tell us to lean in, to say yes, to take advantage of every single opportunity that comes our way.
I'm here to tell you it's okay to say no.
In fact, sometimes I worry that we live in a culture of yes to such an extent that we don't know how to say no. We don't know how to handle being told no. Women in particular are brought up to be pleasers and to put everyone else's needs before their own.
"No is the kind of power the Good Witch yields," says Cheryl Strayed, author of the book Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things. (If you haven't read the latter, stop what you're doing and click on this link. Then order it on Amazon.com. All right, you may proceed.) She's talking about using no to create boundaries, to dictate what is and isn't acceptable in your life.
Sometimes that means saying no to an audition, callback or contract. You may think you don't have that luxury, but you do. Everyone does. If the thought of taking a job makes your insides tie in knots or causes you to lose sleep at night, that's a pretty good indication that you should turn it down. Here are some examples of when that might happen.
1. If you can't afford to do the show.
I had to turn down a show here in NY once because it only paid a stipend. (Technically, I turned down the callback.) My circumstances may be a bit different from yours: I have a daughter, and if my husband and I are both working, we have to pay someone to watch the baby. The stipend would not have covered the cost of child care while my husband was out working to pay our bills. I certainly can't lose money on a show. So I turned it down.
Some theatre jobs are so low-paying that you might not be able to make your bills without picking up a side job, which you will not have time to do. Make that assessment before you sign on the dotted line. Don't drive yourself crazy, and don't go broke. As a professional, you deserve to be paid. I'm all about showcase codes and getting seen and all that, but only if it works for you. Trust that another opportunity will come around.
2. If you don't want to leave town, or you have an important reason to stay.
I turned down an audition for The Addams Family tour because I had just gotten home from a different tour, and the thought of leaving again made me want to cry. My agent understood. I turned down an audition for a Fringe show because it interfered with a good friend's wedding. Be honest with yourself. If I hadn't been particularly close with the bride, maybe I would have auditioned. If it had been a lead role on The Addams Family, maybe I would have done things differently. But you always have that choice. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
3. If it's a part you've played, plus a combination of one of the above.
Few things are certain in this industry, but one thing we can all agree upon is that work begets work. So if it's a role you've played before, it does behoove you to do it at a different theatre because it could mean work in the future. But know that if you have the role on your resume, you're not building your career by doing it all over the United States. Now, there are many reasons to take a job that have nothing to do with building your resume. (Health insurance weeks come to mind!) And if it's a role you love, then live your life! I have a friend who's played The Engineer in just about every state in the country at this point. He's never been on Broadway though... maybe in part because he's never in town. However, he had a national commercial running last year, so he can afford to do whatever he wants. He is smart about his career. Be smart about yours. Remember, your present shapes your future.
For example, maybe you did three cruise ship contracts back to back to pay off some student loans. Terrific! But do you want to be known as someone who only does cruise ships? Of course not. So when that fourth contract comes your way-- without you even having to audition!-- you can turn it down. Don't be afraid to venture into new waters.
"If you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it," said W. Somerset Maugham, who's much wiser than I am. So don't settle. Set goals and create healthy boundaries. Think of the word 'no' as a glorious fence that surrounds your dreams. Remember, you're fierce and fabulous. If you weren't, you wouldn't be reading this blog.