Industry advice for getting on with your fellow company members and creating lasting bonds
Meeting new people in any context can be daunting. Unlike most professions, actors’ careers involve hundreds of first days at the proverbial office. Our job requires working closely – sometimes intimately – with colleagues we’ve only known for a few weeks. In a short time, we must foster a sense of safety and trust with our new company members – bonus if we can get along well enough to not want to murder each other by tech week!
Becoming best friends is never a guarantee, but there are things you can do to give your working relationships the best start. So, here are eight top tips for bonding with a new company:
1. Introduce yourself to everyone
Introductions can be scary. However, everyone is in the same boat. Even if some people have worked together before, everyone will have at least one person in the room that they don’t know.
Introducing yourself first gives you more agency over how you’re perceived, and helps you appear friendly and approachable. Actively seeking introductions also minimises the chance of missing anyone and realising halfway through rehearsals that you don’t actually know someone’s name.
If you find introductions difficult, focus on those you’ll be working closest with. For example, if you’re playing someone’s partner, or you’re working closely with another department, make a point of meeting them on the first day.
2. Be interested in other people
All successful relationships are a two-way street so, ask people about themselves: where do they live? What work have they done? What do they do outside of work?
If you struggle to think of what to ask, take a question they’ve asked you and ask it back. This stops the conversation from being a one-way interview and shows that you’re curious about the other person’s experiences and opinions.
3. Talk about non-acting topics
The one thing everyone has in common is work – so it’s an obvious topic of conversation. But also feel free to talk about other things as there’s more to us than our profession.
Do you need to have in-depth discussions about politics or theology with everyone? No. But talking about hobbies, family or holidays may form the basis of a stronger professional relationship – and more interesting conversations.
4. Focus on your own work and process
While getting on with everyone is important, we’re ultimately hired to do a job. We do that job best when we’re focused on ourselves – not judging or comparing ourselves to other people’s work.
Focusing on other people’s work can cause insecurity in your own process. Remember: you’ve been cast, and you deserve to be in the room. Constantly seeking reassurance from your castmates will soon become warring.
This can also lead to the ultimate rehearsal faux pas: directing other actors. Giving direction is not your job. You can respectfully ask questions through your director, but you should never tell another actor what to do. Even if it’s well meant, giving unsolicited advice is a sure-fire way to cause friction.
By focusing on your own process, you’ll do your best work, positively contribute to the production, and maintain your professionalism and positive working relationships.
5. Take time to socialise
You’ll likely have some sort of press night event, and your castmates may organise impromptu trips or meals out. Make time to join in with some of these social activities.
You don’t have to attend every event. Making time for yourself and your loved ones is important, too. But even walking with a castmate to buy lunch can help you feel more integrated with the company.
6. Keep the conversation positive
Negative talk can really affect company morale. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take steps to resolve legitimate concerns. Talking to your Equity dep and/or company manager, as well as your castmates, may be part of that process for you.
Similarly, if you’re having difficulties outside of work, feel free to share if you’re comfortable. Make sure you have support outside of the company and talk to your company manager about how they can help you if you need it.
If, however, you’re constantly complaining about the same things, think about whether there’s anything that you’re willing to do. If not, then vent about it outside of work. You’ll have a much better rapport with your castmates if you’re not putting a downer on everything.
7. Be respectful
Everyone deserves respect. Simple things like saying good morning to everyone and listening during work related discussions are easy ways to show respect to others – even if some people aren’t your cup of tea.
Changing the subject of a conversation when asked or refraining from topics that may trigger or offend can be respectful, too. You don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives, and a colleague may be upset by a joke that you find funny. Being mindful will prevent you from hurting others unnecessarily – while fostering a pleasant work environment.
8. Be yourself
Yes, it’s a cliché, and yes, you’ve heard it before, but it’s still true. Actors are often empathetic and astute, and your castmates will know if you’re putting on a new persona for the purpose of getting along with everyone.
If you’re outgoing and flamboyant, be outgoing and flamboyant. If you’re more measured and thoughtful, be measured and thoughtful. You’ve been cast not only for your talent, but also for your personality and energy and what that brings to the role – and the room. So, embrace and share this with your colleagues.
Bonding with your castmates can mean creating cordial working relationships or forming lifelong friendships. Whatever happens, these tips should help make integrating with your next company smoother and less daunting.
Michaela Bennison is an actor and writer, whose credits include ‘Into The Woods’ at The Royal Exchange, Manchester and ‘Lady of Jazz’ at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester and Wilton’s Music Hall.
Michaela runs a blog and YouTube channel, where she shares her thoughts about the theatre industry and offers advice to actors based on her experiences.
Headshot by John Clark.
Main image credit: Rawpixel / iStock