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How to Handle An Unethical Director

Ways to Fight Back

“No, I won’t undress”

Previously, we wrote an article about why unethical behavior occurs and why we are left helpless and are not able to make any moves. Now we shall see the various methods we can employ to counter such unethical behavior, fight back against the evil foe known as our director and enjoy the play production much more.

Always maintain a safe distance.

So, what can you do about your unethical director?

Ask for Clarification

In any situation where you’re asked to do something that smells fishy,  always start by asking for confirmation. Say something like, ‘Did I understand you correctly? Is this what you want me to do?’ There are two reasons for this. One is the chance, however slim, that you misunderstood the request. But the more likely, and more politic, the outcome is that you give the director an opportunity to pause and reconsider. It is quite common in real-life situations where people giving unwise orders have changed their minds when they’ve heard those instructions repeated back to them by someone else. Your expression and your tone of voice can indicate that you find the request to be unsavory, maybe even a little shocking. The director can then say, ‘No, never mind, don’t do that.’ Avoiding any outright accusations gives him or her a chance to save face —and gets you off the hook.

Focus the Discussion on your Director’s Best Interests

Let’s say you give your director a chance to back down, but he doesn’t take it. Your task is then to get him thinking about how what he’s asking for could come back to bite him. One approach that often works is to say, ‘I don’t think you really want me to do this, because if this were to get out, it could make us (—meaning, of course ‘you’—‘look bad) and, in the age of social media, everything always gets out. At least, it’s safest to assume it will.’

Politely say No

Now is not the time to hurl forth a heated stream of righteous indignation your director’s way about what an immoral jerk he is. Nope. Instead, something like “Hmmm … I’m not comfortable doing that, because it’s unethical” is a better bet. Your director won’t like it, but can she really disagree?

Find a Compromise

If there’s a way to meet your directors’ objective without sliver-ing over to the dark side, your job is to find that way. You’ll keep your director off your back and your conscience clear, and that’s a win-win.

He has the right to direct you but not in all ways.

Suggest a Better Alternative

This isn’t always possible, but it’s worth a try. Think hard about what you and your director could do that would achieve the same end—say, making your play production look good to the audience—without violating any ethics (or laws). Maybe there’s a different (legal and generally accepted) method that would show your real results in a more favorable light or some other way to make your actual results look better on stage without misrepresenting them. If so, and if you propose it persuasively, you could end up a hero.

Find Another Job

This is the least attractive option, I’ll grant you, but if your values and the values of your director/play production are seriously out of whack, a separation is inevitable. Whether your director gets tired of hearing your “no” or you get tired of his (or her) sleazy ways, something, at some point, is gonna give.

File a Complaint

If things get really bad, you may want to have a chat with someone in higher or equal authority. If there is no one else, and you have good reason to believe your director’s boss is fine with the status quo, you might want to consider filing a complaint outside the play production (and consulting an attorney). Of course, a step this drastic can have major consequences, so make sure your ducks are in a row first. And that brings me to …

Staring is never a healthy habit. Make note if someone stares at you too often.


Let’s say your director remains firm in his opinion that creating a file after the fact to justify a disciplinary action is morally upright. Okay. Document the entire conversation and then place your notes in a nice safe place, because it’s not unheard of for actors to be held personally liable in lawsuits and that’s what I’d call adding insult to injury in a case like this. Later, you’ll want to have a heart to heart with yourself about whether you want to work in a place that has so little regard for your professional opinion and (perhaps) the law.

Start a Revolution

Are you one of those rare actors with real power? Congratulations! Maybe you’re in the perfect position to persuade other actors within your play production that an Ethics Committee would be a great idea.

But first, try to resolve the situation, for your play’s sake as well as your own. If nothing else, the effort could be useful later on in your career. There are lots of ethical dilemmas in the workplace, and not all of them are big or dramatic. And the higher up you go, the bigger the stakes. Good Luck!


If there’s one thing I’m willing to bet on, it’s myself ~ Beyoncé

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