[From the Trenches] Boundary Setting for the Mama Actor
Are you clear about your mama actor boundaries?
If there’s one thing I talk to my kids about a lot it’s boundaries. I’m constantly telling the big guy, “Your sister is setting a boundary when she does that. That means she’s telling you not to do it.”
All. day. long.
It got me thinking about my own boundaries in my acting career. Am I clear with my mama actor boundaries? How do I even know? Is this another thing my toddler is teaching me? I guess it’s a fair exchange–I’ll teach you how to walk and talk and poo in the toilet, and you teach me how to set boundaries.
For example, last week I submitted to an unpaid project on Actor’s Access. I don’t usually do unpaid work, but sometimes there can be benefits–a great role that will give me good, fresh footage for my reel, for example. When I got called in to audition, I re-evaluated, “Do I want to do this? Is this within the area of yes or within the area of no?” I decided the only way to know was to go in and meet the creative team.
As I’m sitting in the waiting area, I hear them ask the actor in the room before me, “We’re having callbacks tomorrow, are you available to come in?” Shit, I think. I’m scheduled to volunteer in my son’s classroom tomorrow, a shift that I’ve already rescheduled twice now. Plus, I don’t really want to come to a callback for an unpaid short film. Ding, ding, ding–boundary alert, boundary alert! Approaching the limit where yes is turning into no!
So it’s my turn, I go into the room, and I have a great time–smart redirection, fun people, fun material. We get to the end of my audition, and sure enough the director asks, “We’re having callbacks tomorrow, are you available to come in?”
What did I learn from the toddler again? Speak up. Set a boundary.
Me: You know, I’ve had a great time today, and I’m totally available for your rehearsal and shoot dates. If there’s something else I can show you today that would help you make a casting decision, I’m happy to do that, but honestly, I’m volunteering in my son’s classroom tomorrow (yes, I went there with the mom truth and everything), and I’m just not available for a callback.
Producer: Oh, wow. What grade? My daughter is in kindergarten so I totally get it. The callback is just our selfish desire to keep working with actors, it’s totally fine, don’t worry about it.
Huh, look at that. Setting boundaries isn’t as hard as I thought. It’s crucially important as a mama actor to recognize a boundary–the limit that indicates where a yes becomes a no–and be able to defend it and speak up for it.
Sometimes boundaries shift and that’s okay too. If it had been a callback for a recurring on a Netflix series you can bet I’d be speed-dialing my list of sitters, because that would have fallen into the area of yes.
I spent about half a second wondering what they really thought of my boundary-setting before I checked my own nonsense. The producer may have been bullshitting me. He may have secretly respected that I spoke up. He may have not really cared either way. Who knows? (Update: I booked the gig, so I guess we do know.)
The point is, it doesn’t matter. We seek artistic truth and authenticity in our work, why not in our business? When your outside matches your inside that’s a state of integrity. Thank you, baby girl, for another lesson in adult-ing, toddler-style. It sure does grow you up, this parenting gig, doesn’t it?
What do you think, mama? When have you had to set a boundary in our industry as a result of a parenting “thing”? How did it go? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below, or in the TMA Facebook group.
From the Trenches is a series of stories, insights, and lessons straight from the audition rooms of Los Angeles to give you an honest, behind-the-scenes look at the day-to-day minutae of life as a working mama actor.