How to NOT be a toxic performer

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Toxic PeopleThere is always drama in the drama department, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are a lot of books and articles about how to avoid toxic people. Today I want to share some thoughts on how to make sure you are not the toxic person people want to avoid. Each point is linked to the original article so you can expand your reading beyond just this post. It is important to remember that talent is not enough to succeed in this business. In order to thrive, you need to be someone others want to work with. Check-out the points below, reflect on how they do or do not relate to you, and have the courage to change if needed. Life is a journey, it is ok if you have made mistakes in the past, what matters most is if you make changes so that those mistakes never happen again.

  1. A Conscious Rethink says that toxic people are always comparing themselves to others. It is hard to not do that as a performer. What you need to remember is that in today’s marketplace, producers, record executives, casting directors, and agents are always looking for the next best thing. If you spend all of your time comparing yourself to others, you will not only become toxic in your relationships, you may be stifling your own creative growth. Instead, focus on yourself, your skills, strengthening your weaknesses, and maximizing your strengths.
  2. Life Buzz says that toxic people lack emotional self-control. What motivates many young people to become a performer is a desire to share intense emotional experiences with others. But it is important to try to save those intense emotions for the stage. If you are constantly turning the little things in your life into big dramatic moments full of intense emotions, you are going to quickly become someone people avoid. If you are feeling overly emotional, go create something. Write a poem, song, short story, novel, or a play. You could also start a journal and write about what you are feeling as a way to process your emotions and reflect on what is happening in your everyday life. Whatever you do, please do not use social media as your outlet. Deeply emotional posts may be appealing to others who are feeling deeply emotional, but for others, overly emotional posts may cause them to take a step back from you and create distance in your relationship.
  3. David Wolfe says to avoid “Fault-finders” – people who are constantly criticizing everyone and everything. It is normal for humans to think critically about situations and people, but it is often best to keep the majority of those thoughts to yourself unless you are trying to constructively seek change. Don’t be the person who never has a positive thing to say. Don’t be the person who is always looking for faults in others and pointing them out. If you are always criticizing others to your friends, your friends are going to start wondering what you actually think about them and what you are saying to others about them when they are not around. People do not want to be around others that constantly make them question whether or not they are going to be criticized.
  4. Psychology Today says that toxic people almost never apologize because they always think that when bad things happen it is someone else’s fault. In his book “How to win friends and influence people” Dale Carnegie says to “If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” We all make mistakes, when you do, be the better person and apologize.
  5. Kathy Caprino says that toxic people need constant validation. It makes sense that actors would feel this way. After all, you can’t get a job unless others like what you are doing. But there is a difference between seeking validation to make yourself feel good and seeking feedback to know if what you are doing is working for the scene or song you are working on. Instead of seeking comments that make you feel good, seek comments that help you grow.
  6. Higher Perspectives says that toxic people lack compassion. Dale Carnegie says that you should always “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” This is a good rule to follow. If a fellow performer is acting out, try to think what it would be like if you were in their shoes. You do not have to give into them or their needs, but by thinking about what they may be feeling or why they are acting the way they are, you are more likely to handle the situation with skill.
  7. Peg Streep says that toxic people treat others with contempt. In our field, these are the people who watch their fellow cast members on stage and make faces or roll their eyes when they do not like what they are seeing or hearing. First of all, remember that different people have different tastes. You are not going to always like everything you see, but it is very likely that others will like it. Instead of physically or verbally communicating your distaste for another’s work, focus on yourself. Think how you might do things differently and then think about how your observations can apply to what you are currently working on or future projects.
  8. John Boitnott says that toxic people are jealous of others’ success. It is really hard to not be jealous of others when you are a performer. We are all chasing big dreams and if someone else is getting there before you, it can be really hard to let that go. However, you have to remember that everyone’s path is different. If someone gets an opportunity that you were really hoping for, it is ok to be disappointed or feel down and out for a while. But take the high road and congratulate them knowing that this is their time to shine and yours is coming.
  9. Awareness Act says that toxic people often turn everything into a competition. There are many times in life when you will be competing against your friends for a gig. If you want to keep your friendships healthy, focus on yourself and remember that it is hard to change a director’s or producer’s vision. You may give the best audition on a given day, but if you do not fit the vision of those on the other side of the table, you are not getting the gig no matter what you do. It is ok to look at others and see if you could be doing something different, but do not be competitive with others in your day-to-day interactions.
  10. Do not be the hothead in the room, the people who act that way are toxic. Dr. Sari Cooper says if you have cycles of anger, remorse, shame, and provoked anger without understanding, you need to do some self-examination and figure out what is going on. Tensions often run high in performance situations, but blowing up is not going to help anything. In fact, it usually makes things worse. If you frequently notice your temperature rising, you may want to seek out help to find better ways to deal with frustrating situations.

Troll.pngFinally, do not be an internet troll. It is a form of bullying and it is a sure way to lose the respect of the community and stifle your career. Wikipedia says “In Internet slang, a troll (/trltrɒl/) is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive,[1] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroupforumchat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses[2] and normalizing tangential discussion,[3] whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.” There are a lot of theatre discussion rooms, blogs, and other forms of Internet content that take pride in attacking, insulting, and/or trying to anger others in our community. They sew discord solely for the purpose of building an audience for themselves and to make themselves feel better about their own shortcomings. Do not join them in their quest. They are toxic and most of the time bitter that they themselves have not achieved the type of success they envisioned when they were young. Instead, get yourself to a practice room, do the work, and go audition. When you read and listen to negativity you will begin to see the world through a negative lens. When you intently focus on the work and yourself, you will have a much better quality of life and will be more likely to reach your goals. To be sure, it is ok and healthy to disagree with things you see posted online. Intelligent and well thought out conversations are the way we grow as individuals and as a profession. Just make sure you are being a professional in your reactions and interactions when you post. If you are not sure how to do that, read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It is an old book, but it is full of advice that is as relevant today as it was when the book was written.

No one is perfect and it is unreasonable to think that you will ever be. However, by avoiding these behaviors, you are more likely to be a valued colleague. Be the person that everyone likes to be around and you will soon find yourself with plenty of options available to you.


Matt Edwards is an Associate Professor of Voice/Director of Musical Theatre at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA, and Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute. He is the author of “So You Want to Sing Rock ‘N Roll” and dozens of articles and book chapters on functional voice training for non-classical styles. For more information visit


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