Dear Professor Production
A Cast Question
I'm a stage manager and I have a cast member who wants to take off a weekend for a personal trip. We have an understudy who has not performed in a number of weeks and we would need to call an extra rehearsal in order to put the understudy on. This in turn would cost the company money. What should I do?
And the professor replies:
What?? An actor who wants to take a weekend off? What does he think this is anyway??
Well, I think this can be easily answered especially if this is an Equity situation. Contractually, the actor is entitled to time off if he has been in the show for the minimum amount of weeks needed for time off. Also, most Equity contracts allow for at least 10 hours of understudy and pick up rehearsals per week after opening at no cost to the company. (Check your Equity contract for exact details!) So, if this is your situation, call a rehearsal, get the understudy in the show, and bid farewell to the other actor for the weekend!
Now...if you are not lucky enough to be in an Equity company, this could get more complicated but would really boil down to a few basic human factors. One, the actor should have asked for the time off at least two weeks in advance. If that's not the case, then the management could easily say no without much room for the actor to complain. If the actor has given advance notice and you have an understudy, then your management should allow the time off, rehearsal, and extra cost if it wants to keep good company morale and show a good faith effort in taking care of its company.
Here's the good news: as a stage manager, you should not get involved in the decisions of the theatre management. The request for the time off should be submitted to management, and then you leave it up to them to make the final decision with the actor.
And here is the bad news: it is your job as the stage manager to make sure that the understudy is ready to go on at a moment's notice. What if the actor was in a car accident and didn’t just want to "take a weekend off"? What would happen to the show then?
Certainly you couldn't just tell the audience, "Sorry, but our understudy has not been in the show for a while, so we need to cancel." It is also an understudy's job to make sure to be ready to go on at a moment's notice. If an understudy is not coming to the show at night to watch, as well as rehearse on his or her own, that person should not be hired to be an understudy (another issue for management and not the stage manager).
Every situation will be a bit different. I hope we were able to help you out. And who said stage managing wasn't fun?
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