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Where to Draw the Line: Setting Professional Boundaries

Actors are conditioned to say yes. Classes, coaches, directors, industry attitude, scarcity mindset…all these things and more reinforce the idea that an actor’s meal ticket is inextricably linked to how easy they are to work with. While recent years have yielded some growth in this area, unfortunately, the prevailing notion that actors should always say yes if they want work continues to lead to burnout, crossed boundaries and occasionally unsafe practices. What, as an actor, can you do to keep yourself safe? How do you know when and where to set professional boundaries? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Give yourself permission. The first step to being able to set a professional boundary is believing that you have the right to set them. For actors who have spent much of their career being conditioned to suck it up and avoid rocking the boat, this can be incredibly difficult. It requires patience and practice. Ultimately, you have to come to the decision that you are in charge of your career and you are allowed to decide what that career looks like.

But once you’ve decided to start setting professional boundaries, how do you know when to set them? If you’re struggling to decide whether it’s “worth it,” here are some questions to ask yourself.

Do I feel unsafe? If you are being asked to do something that does not feel physically safe, it is absolutely time to set a boundary. This is not only an obligation to your own health and welfare, it helps establish a workplace environment where the physical safety of all parties is respected. Requesting safety measures is not being difficult, and it is your right to refuse to do anything that will put you in harm’s way.

Is my mental health compromised? Unless you have specifically disclosed mental health needs, you are the only one who knows what your specific triggers or mental health needs are. Mental health is absolutely a valid concern. You are allowed to state your access needs and request appropriate accommodations. You are allowed to say no to projects entirely if they are going to adversely affect your mental health. It doesn’t mean you are any less of an actor or a professional. If you are being asked to do something that will disrupt your mental health in a way that goes beyond the nerves or discomfort that may arise with emotionally challenging work, boundaries may need to be set. You get to make the call where that line is for you.

Do I have moral or religious objections to the content? Not every project is the one for you. Even if you are physically and mentally capable of doing the work, if the content violates your moral or religious views, you are well within your rights to decline that project. If something comes up mid-project that was not previously discussed, it might be time to renegotiate. Doing something that is morally repugnant to you just because you are an actor and you have been asked to do it does not make you a “better” actor, and it will not serve you in the long run.

Ultimately, it’s up to you. There will be many many times in your career when you will have to make decisions about what boundaries to set for yourself. You get to decide what is a hard line for you. Setting boundaries does not have to be contentious or stressful–it is all part of being a responsible professional actor and it will get easier the more you do it. Be patient with yourself, and allow yourself to learn how to be your own best advocate.

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