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Strategies for Dealing With a Difficult Scene Partner

Unfortunately, even if you book your dream job, there will still be those scene partners that are just…the worst. In a highly collaborative field like acting, a difficult scene partner has the potential to affect you as well. But how do you protect the integrity of your work in a situation where you have limited control? If you find yourself in this position, here are some things to keep in mind.

Identify what the difficulty is.

Knowing exactly what the issue is will help determine your best strategy. Is it a clash of personalities, or difficulty communicating? Do you have different training or approaches to the work? Ask yourself if there is any mileage to be gained in reframing your interpretation of their work.

If you simply butt heads or disagree, see if you can find something of value in what they are contributing. Try communicating your needs to your scene partner without judgment and without falling into the trap of directing another actor. See if you have any common ground artistically and start there. If it becomes clear that direct communication is going to be ineffective, it might be time to get creative.

Can you resolve it yourself?

If your scene partner is endangering you physically or professionally, and you have been unable to resolve it through direct communication, you may need to get other parties involved.

If it has to go this way, make sure you know who your appropriate contact is. In a live performance production, this might be a question for the stage manager. On a film set, you may want to check in with the second assistant director and have them refer you to human resources, etc, as needed. Knowing the proper chain of command will help lend structure to messy situations and keep you protected professionally.

You’re on your own.

Now what? If the issue is just that your scene partner just has a tough personality, or is, you know…bad at acting, you might be on your own. The first thing to do is gain some perspective and remind yourself what is and is not your responsibility. Then make sure the work you are bringing to the table is still your best. Advocate for your artistic needs to the director and creative team, if you are in a position to do so. If they are not met, do your best to remain flexible and positive.

Remember, ultimately you can only control your own actions. Don’t let the stress of the situation drag you down. Hopefully, the people you are working with will remember the kind of work you’re putting in, and your professionalism will serve your future career. Working without a good connection with your scene partner can be lonely and frustrating, but challenge yourself to find other ways to bring your best work to the table. Draw strength and inspiration from other castmates. Treat it like you’re preparing a monologue if you have to. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s still a job, and no one else’s work can define you.

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