Recently I received an email from a friend, who I’ll call “Ms. X”:
“Hey Kerry – new blog post idea for you. How to deal with a Queen Diva when working on a production…
The last show I worked on had the BIGGEST Diva I have ever encountered in my life. I had heard about these people, but never actually met one. Dealing with this person has been nothing but one stress after another, and it had an impact on the entire production.
This person was an absolute nightmare to work with… they wanted to “fix” the director’s original blocking, gave their own “notes” to other actors backstage during the run, was completely disrespectful to their stage partner; not to mention making their own changes to costumes, hair and makeup.
I’m looking to learn from this experience so that should I encounter a person like this again, I will know better how to handle things.”
Wow… poor Ms. X! Queen Divas, unfortunately, are not an uncommon type to find in the theatre. Some people let the thrill of the stage go to their heads, and ruin the experience for everyone else.
Luckily, we have very few divas at Original Kids Theatre Company, and anyone who displays even the smallest hint of diva-ness gets knocked down pretty quickly! However, back in university, I did deal with one particularly lovely diva while assistant stage managing a show. I overheard this lovely lady saying, “I don’t know why anyone would want to be an assistant stage manager… they do all the work and get none of the glory!” Nice, eh?
So, how do you deal with a Queen Diva? Read on.
1. Lead by example.
Start by being a model of decorum. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Speak and act respectably to everyone involved in the production, from the other actors to the backstage crew to the costume and props teams to the ushers and front of house staff. Despite what people may think, nobody is “beneath” anyone else, especially in a community theatre production. Everyone is necessary to make a production happen!
When you lead by example, others will follow. This will also make the Queen Diva’s behavior stand out and be that much more obvious to everyone! Matt Casarino describes how to be a theatre diva; just do exactly the opposite of what he says!
2. If you feel up to it, speak to them about it.
This one takes some bravery. The next time the Queen Diva displays some heinous behavior, call them on it. Do not be a doormat. Everyone is in this show for a reason, and theatre is supposed to be fun — not stressful.
Has the Diva ever been in a show before? They may not know that what they’re doing is inappropriate. They may think they’re being helpful by giving another actor notes, when it’s actually inappropriate. Pull them aside and privately let them know that what they’re doing isn’t cool. Hopefully the Diva is receptive to your call-out.
Sometimes Divas know fully well what they’re doing. Remember that their behavior is all about them, and not about you. They’ll never admit it, but their behavior comes from a place of fear and uncertainty. They’re demanding a better costume because they’re afraid of looking ugly or frumpy onstage. They’re demanding to change the blocking so they’ll be better seen onstage. They’re giving other actors notes because they think they know best. But it’s all a show. It’s all to make themselves look better and to pump up their own flagging insecurity.
If you aren’t comfortable calling out the Diva, then it’s time to call in the big guns…
3. Speak to one of the “higher ups.”
There’s nothing wrong with pulling aside the stage manager, director or producer about the situation. They need to know these sort of things so they can be dealt with. Divas make everyone’s lives miserable, so they need to be dealt with. If you’re worried about seeming like a tattletale, address it in the form of a question or an “I” statement: “I’m wondering how I can deal with this situation before it becomes a bigger issue?” or “I’m feeling _____ because of this incident; how can it be solved?” Better to speak up sooner rather than later so the issue doesn’t snowball into something bigger.
Backstage.com has a great article about to deal with a diva. The author, Simi Horwitz, describes a couple of different ways to deal with a diva:
“How I handle a diva would depend on the situation and the demands they were making. A director has to be somewhat of a psychologist. I have worked with many passionate people who try to make their strong feelings understood, and it’s important to try to understand where they’re coming from and let them know their feelings are being acknowledged and respected. After listening to the diva, ultimately my decisions come down to discerning what’s best for the story. Keeping the focus on the story can diffuse diva energy that could otherwise suck the life out of everyone’s spirit.
“Communication skills are so crucial. A great director is one who can communicate effectively and thereby lead. I have high expectations that every cast and crew member operate professionally. If someone is particularly demanding, it impacts everyone’s experience, and it’s my job to pick up on that before hiring that person.
“I recall how a director handled a diva without pointing a finger at the offender. The director made a general comment about her “disappointment.” I admired the director’s subtle pressure on the actor to remain accountable to the group and not demand special treatment. It worked. The diva got the point, and her bad behavior did not happen again.”
4. Remove yourself from the situation.
Do not let this person’s behavior ruin your theatre experience. And do not quit the production! Simply remove yourself from the situation. Avoid the person as much as possible. If the Diva is trying to pull the attention toward him or herself, occupy yourself elsewhere. Leave the room if possible — go to the dressing room or green room or into the backstage area. If they try to corner you or boss you around, excuse yourself (politely!) and go chat up someone else. Do not allow them to bully you. If they try to give you notes or change your costume design, simply say “I’ll have to check with the director first before making any changes” and leave it at that.
So, Ms. X, I hope this helps! I wish you many diva-free productions in the future!
Have you ever dealt with a Queen Diva before? How did you (or would you) do so?
Share your thoughts in the comments!
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