Ethics in Acting
by Baron Brown Meisner Senior Teacher, Tom Patton
Unless you’re living in a cave somewhere, it’s impossible not to know about the ethical scandals that are erupting all throughout the entertainment industry. Never, in the over thirty years I have been involved with the dramatic arts, has there ever been such an unearthing of behind-the-scenes inappropriateness as what we are witnessing today. Though it’s true that rumors of the proverbial “casting couch” are legendary, it is also true that this kind of ethical impropriety has never been so universally exposed and condemned. From talk-show hosts to actors, directors and producers, the ethics of sexual harassment has made the front page.
This is a good thing…
In an industry brimming over with the most interesting and attractive people on earth, the temptation for those in power to coerce the vulnerable who are pursuing their dreams is massive. Even so-called “consensual” favors that are offered to those in authority ultimately are granted by those who are unconscious of the intense manipulation that allows such behavior to happen. Those in the entertainment business who have the most influence over others must also be the most accountable for what they allow and what they reject.
There needs to be a code of ethics in art.
If you go to an average dictionary you will find the definition of “ethics” to be something like the following, “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.” In other words, it is a decision that one makes in their life concerning what is right and what is wrong. Some people like to debate the difference between ethics and morals as being important. It has been said that “ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong.” But regardless of which side of the debate you find yourself, I believe it is vital for our students to make up their mind as to what their ethics in acting will be.
Let me offer some thoughts to guide your thinking…
First and foremost, your value as an artist and as a human being should never be cheapened. You are not a beggar; you are an actor. The depth of your talent and hard-work should never be marginalized just to fulfill the fantasy of the powerful. You must be aware of your own vulnerability towards wanting success so that you never inadvertently exchange your own incalculable worth just to gain some passing work. Be aware that the way you conduct yourself, both in your training and in your auditioning, will either encourage or discourage others from attempting to harass you. Take a hard stand on not allowing anyone, not even yourself, to fall prey to procuring work from the favors you grant rather than the performance you give. Make up your mind today to be guided by such an unrelenting code of conduct that you never succumb to the temptation that says, “this is what you have to do to make it in this business.” Instead teach yourself to say, “I will conduct myself as a treasure to be discovered, not as rubbish to be rescued. I will let my work speak for itself.”