Saying ‘NO’ in the entertainment Industry

Today I did something that I am hoping I won’t wake up to regret tomorrow. I said no. I said no to a casting which could potentially have landed me a $500 per day gig. There was nothing wrong with the casting description, I had already set aside time in my day to attend it. Instead I went and lay down in a park by myself, ignored my phone and soaked up the winter sunlight.

Believe me, I am in no financial position to be turning down a $500 gig. However, I am also day by day learning the importance of holding my own ground in this industry. Because as much as I love dancing, and the craziness of the entertainment industry, I am also learning that if you don’t say ‘no’ sometimes, no one else is going to say it for you, and that candle you have been burning at both ends will fade out sooner rather than later.

Today, every inch of my body was screaming at me to STOP. Instead of ignoring the cry for rest as I usually would, I made the decision to say No. The best part about this was, I wasn’t saying no at all, I was actually saying yes to myself.

Now, the last thing I want to do is sound like I am complaining. And I dare say that's why there aren't too many articles to this effect. Because we artists got into this business because of passion and a love for what we do, plain and simple. Anyone who says they pursued the arts or a career in the entertainment business to make money, probably experienced a rude awakening early on, and has either opted out and is pursuing a career in real estate or IT,  or has stuck it out and is surviving off caffeine, adrenaline, and the amazing feeling of doing what they love every day.

Let me zoom in on that last point. Just to be clear I get to do what I love (dancing) every day, and for the most part this pays me enough to have all my basic needs met. This makes me ridiculously happy and lucky. However, this amazing lifestyle certainly has its challenges. And one of the biggest ones is the challenge of saying ‘no’.

In an industry that is as competitive and cut throat as entertainment, saying no to one audition might mean saying no to career defining opportunity. You might actually be saying no to 5 other jobs. You never know. But you do know that there are hundreds more artists out there hungry for the very small amount of work available. And by not going to the casting/audition, you are 100% guaranteed to not get the work. Even if you do attend the audition you are in no way guaranteed to get the job. But lets face it, at the end of the day this is part of the deal you have signed up for. At the end of the day most people in the entertainment industry do not have the words ‘stability, security, or ‘regular income’ in their most used vocabularies.


We are used to the chase, the hustle, the bustle and the constant flux of the industry. Especially as a freelancer, security is like some far off imaginary land we can only envisage when we play the part of the office worker in a play. But, we don’t complain because we love it. And over time we have come to accept our love/ hate relationship with this side of the industry as part and parcel of the overall deal.

The part of the deal which we often forget is the deal we have with ourselves. In many cases we do not get sick pay, annual leave, or any kind of benefit associated with more regular working contracts. ‘The show must go on’, has been tattooed into our subconscious, so usually getting sick is simply not an option. How many stories have you heard of dancers and artists performing ridiculous jobs even with serious injury or illness? Maybe we just love the drama of it? Or maybe it’s time to engage the power of our ‘no’.

Get offered to do a gig for free? Because it's good for exposure? Because it may give you a good career boosting opportunity? The secret to this scenario is, the answer can most definitely be ‘NO’. Maybe you are at a point in your career when you are happy to accept ‘free work’, or if you see genuine benefit in it, then of course, go for your life. But there comes a time when we need to break through this ruse of the entertainment industry and call it on its BS. If you are a working professional you should be paid for your time, the same as everyone else. If you are given a gig that sits a bit wonky with your personal morals and ethics, you are within all of your rights to say ‘NO’. Even if saying ‘no’ means breaking a contract, if it means saying yes to your personal ethics and safety then that is the contract to stick to. If you feel like you haven’t slept in weeks, you are sick, or have an injury, again you are within your rights as a person to say ‘no.’

The blurry line between person and product can send the industry into a dark place. Artists are people, performers are people, promoters, DJS, actors, singers, fire twirlers are all people. Because the ‘product’ is the talent and branding of each artist, the danger is to treat the person as a product. The issue is that a product doesn’t have emotions, get hungry, get tired, want time alone etc. A person does. If you are in the position of being treated like a product rather than a person, again, you are within your rights to say no.

Saying no in this industry is scary. It is seen as a weakness, it's a taboo. If you say no, it means ‘you are not cut out for this business.’ I disagree. This business needs some re shaping. If we want to really create a healthy arts scene, artists need to be able to survive. This goes beyond breaking the stereotype of the starving artist, it's about respect, and expectations. The more of us who say ‘no’ to unacceptable treatment, the less these situations will occur.

Hold onto your own worth in this business, and hold onto your ‘no.’ Work with people who treat you well, and stay strong in the face of manipulation, bullying and coercion. I understand that business is business, but if you feel that saying yes to a job is putting you out of rapport with yourself, it’s time to say yes to yourself first.



~ Genevieve Rogan ~.

~ Photography - David Bonnell ~