WAG is very busy preparing our cast and crew for our holiday production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. As theatre lovers and supporters of community threatre, we thought it would be a good time to showcase this AWESOME list:
The Actor’s Guide to Backstage Etiquette
(written by Chris Polo and originally published here:
When a crew member tells you to do something, it’s for one reason: the good of the show. If you have a problem with what you’re told to do, do it anyway and complain later.
Why it’s important: Sometimes the reasons for the requests aren’t obvious. If crew tells you they need to call you eight pages before your cue, it may be because they’re all so busy with some other crucial backstage moment during the time leading up to your entrance that no one is free to call you any later than that. It’s either come up 8 pages early or don’t get cued. If they ask you to keep a prop with your costume and be responsible for it, it may be because they have no room for it or because they’re busy when you make you entrance. One of my favorite personal stories (which we recounted in the early days of our web site) illustrating the “you just never know” principle occurred during a production of Rumors, when the stage manager told the actress playing Cookie, who had just donned an apron in preparation for an entrance, “Hold very still and don’t look down.” Being a well-trained actress, she did as she was told. The stage manager did something which the actress couldn’t see and then told her to make her entrance. It wasn’t until intermission that the actress discovered that her apron, which had been hanging on a hook on the wall, had become the roost of a small bat. It was clinging to the front of the apron when the actress put it on, and the stage manager had taken a towel, plucked the bat from the front of the apron, and then quickly run off and disposed of it outside. Never question what the crew tells you to do in performance; just trust that it’s for your own good and all will be well.
If your theater doesn’t have a monitor or loudspeaker in the green room, you may feel totally in the dark about how the performance is going. It’s very tempting to creep backstage and keep tabs on things from the wings. Resist the temptation.
Why it’s important: Backstage space in most theaters is pretty cramped, and the last thing the crew needs is to have to work around an extra body. Things can happen pretty quickly backstage, and you could find yourself causing a disaster by blocking someone’s view when a visual cue is needed, or being in the way during a quick entrance or exit. Stay in the green room and out of the way.
You’ve got an early cue with a lot of time to hang out in the wings before your entrance, and it looks like the gal manning stage left isn’t doing anything, so why not strike up a little conversation about how the show’s going while you wait? Resist the urge. You’ll have plenty of time to talk at the cast party.
Why it’s important: A whispered conversation going on in the wings can be very annoying to the actors on stage, and in some small theaters can even be heard in the house. Not only that, but a lot of what the crew is doing is waiting for a cue, just like you. If you distract them with conversation, they may miss a cue, just as you would if someone were trying to hold a conversation with you while you were trying to act on stage. If you have something that you must communicate to a crew member because it affects your performance or the show, then do so, but make sure you’re not interrupting something else that may be going on. If your crew uses headsets, always make the assumption that they’re listening to something when you approach them and you won’t go wrong.
It can be nerve-wracking to hang out in the green room until you’re called, so you pace. You might be back in the storage area, or in the dressing room, or having a quick smoke outside the backstage entrance. Whatever the case, you’re never in the same place two nights running. Don’t do it. Find some place where you’re comfortable spending time until you’re called, and then stick to that spot for the run of the show.
Why it’s important: The crew can’t call you if they can’t find you. And while you may know perfectly well where you are, they don’t. If the actors on stage skip ten pages, you’re going to be needed on stage sooner than you thought, so don’t count on going somewhere and making sure you’re back “in time for your cue.” If you need to be someplace away from others so you can run lines, make sure the crew knows that and be there when they come to get you. If you must use the restroom, tell someone else in the green room who will be there until you get back. This rule also applies to arriving in the wings before you’re cued. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen crew frantically trying to track down a missing actor who is subsequently found nonchalantly waiting in the wings on the opposite side of the stage. This is one habit that can backfire on you, because the one time you decide to wait until you’re cued, the crew figures you’re already in place and doesn’t bother to call you.
What harm can come from picking up the starter pistol that’s being used as the murder weapon and twirling it around your finger like Jesse James, or from shoving a prop to one side so you can perch on the end of the prop table, or from sitting in that comfy armchair that won’t be used until Act II? Plenty. The rule is “don’t touch.”
Why it’s important: Props should only be handled in the context of the performance – you’d be surprised how easy it can be to break or damage a prop that looked sturdy enough when you picked it up. Never move a prop — stage managers and prop masters have specific spots for certain props, making it easier to find things in dim backstage lighting. It may not look like a big deal to just shove that coal scuttle under the props table so it won’t be in anyone’s way, but when the crew goes looking for it in the dark, it may not be so obvious that it’s been pushed off to one side. If prop and set piece placement backstage is a safety hazard, talk to the stage manager about it and let him or her decide what to do about it. Likewise, if you inadvertently take a prop that should remain in the wings to the green room with you, try to get it back up into the wings as soon as possible, preferably by handing it off to a crew member who comes to the green room to call someone. Don’t just lay it down somewhere, promising to put it back later; it’s easy to forget both that you had it and where you put it, and there’s bound to be a panicky search for it the next evening. Never sit on furniture that’s stored backstage – many pieces are borrowed, or may have been mended just well enough to last through the run. Your group doesn’t want to have to explain why there’s makeup smeared on the upholstery, or be forced to rustle up a replacement if a chair leg is broken beyond repair.
Since crew is supposed to set the props, you should trust them to do their jobs, right? They don’t need any back-up, do they? Well, yeah, they do.
Why it’s important: If something that you need to use on stage isn’t set, you can lay all the blame you want on whoever fell down on the job, but ultimately you’re the one who looks like a fool in front of the audience. This is a self-preservation measure, as well as back-up for the crew. If your props aren’t there, blame yourself as well as the crew member who didn’t set them, because you should have double-checked.
If your Aunt Marge is supposed to be out in the house tonight, who’s going to notice if you sneak a quick peek through the curtains to see where she’s sitting? Everybody else in the audience, that’s who. And especially the director of the next production, who’s going to make special note of that unprofessional bozo who just stuck his nose through the curtain.
Why it’s important: This goes along with not hanging out in the wings – if you’re on stage, you’re in the way of the crew. Actors should set foot on stage before the curtain opens only to make a quick check of their props, and then they need to vamoose. Needless to say, looking out through the curtains is strictly amateursville. Ever see Laurence Olivier stick his nose through the curtains to check out the house? Of course not. Do it, and you’re branding your whole theater group as unprofessional.
The way to ask for a cue when you drop a line is “Line, please.” Not “Ooooh, I know this one, it’s right on the tip of my tongue, oh shoot, it starts with…, um…, oh, GIVE it to me!” This is called taking out your frustrations on the bookholder, and it’s a no-no.
Why it’s important: Your bookholder deserves common courtesy. You know that you’re upset because you can’t get the lines, and while the bookholder may know that, too, it’s still hard for them to get through an evening where they’re receiving orders from someone who sounds like they’re spitting tacks every time they talk to them. This approach also runs counter to what you’re trying to achieve as an actor, because whenever you let your own personal frustration show through, you drop character, which you then have to work at to get back into. And if you mumble and fuddle for 5 minutes before asking for a line, you slow down the pacing that you and the other cast members are trying to pick up. On a side note: Don’t get into the habit of looking at the bookholder when you ask for a cue. This also causes you to drop character and will be a very difficult habit to break as you get closer to opening. If you don’t get over it, you may actually find yourself inadvertently looking for the bookholder out in the house if you drop a line in performance.
You blew a cue or a crucial prop wasn’t set, and the critic is in the house tonight. You come off stage ready to explode as soon as you’re out of sight of the audience. Keep a lid on it. Backstage is not the place to tell the world how you feel.
Why it’s important: First of all, you run the risk of being heard, because you’re upset and probably not too cognizant of how loud you really are. In addition, an angry outburst is a distraction to the crew – you may compound the disaster by making them miss something else while they deal with you. Instead, use the time you take to get to the green room to cool down. If you must vent, do it there, but try not to get your fellow cast members too upset, especially the ones who have to go on after you.