Theatre - The Dos and Don'ts for the New Performer

Theatre Dos & Don’ts For The New Performer

Theater Etiquette can separate the amateurs from the pros

Most blunders in Theater Etiquette are made simply because actors are not sure what is expected of them. This article will take you from rehearsals to the closing night party and give you the dos, the don’ts and the whys.

Come prepared: Learn your lines, have your script and a pencil to write down blocking. Arrive early enough to warm up & get focused prior to call time. Cover mistakes and stay in character. Listen closely and follow directions pleasantly. Avoid walking between the Director and the stage when a rehearsal is in progress.

Tech week is called ‘Hell week’ because the Rehearsals are 12 hour days and often tedious. Hang in there while the crew fine-tunes cues and equipment! It can be exhausting, so YOU can HELP the process by paying attention, staying quiet and being ready & available to jump from scene to scene. The tech crew typically arrives before everyone else and leaves after everyone else. They work crazy-hard AND they make you look and sound great! SO, Give them your focus AND the respect they deserve while they are doing their jobs.

Never change anything about your costume. Don’t add or remove anything. Everyone in a production has a specific job and it is the costume designer’s job to put you in something that works for the show. If you have suggestions or problems with a part of your costume, politely take them to the costumer or the director.

Keep the dressing room neat and clean. This is your second home. Keep it organized and you’ll avoid the stress & panic that comes from losing a piece of your costume amid the mess, right before you go on stage. Take care of your things and the costumer will love you.

Once the house is open, stay off the stage and out of the theater, especially in costume. Avoid peeking thru the curtains. Don’t mingle with a waiting audience; it will spoil the surprise.

When you step off the stage…..vanish. Walk quietly backstage. Avoid noise in the dressing room and talking or even whispering in the wings. Once in awhile, an actor’s mic may accidentally get left on back stage, in which case, the audience hears everything you say & do. For example, we were doing a musical and one actor made his exit and ran to the bathroom. He didn’t realize that his mic was still on, SO, the audience heard: tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, flush at full volume. Always assume there is a mic on somewhere and stay very quiet.

Don’t hang out in the wings to watch the show. Backstage areas can be tight and the crew and your fellow actors have to get to where they need to be. It’s also a safety issue, as sets are being moved on and off stage. Hang out in the dressing room or green room. Pay attention to the monitors so you know what’s happening. There is no excuse for missing a cue. Never miss an entrance! If you’re not going on-stage for a while, be respectful of those who are: stay out of the way of costume changes, don’t make noise backstage that prevents the other actors from hearing their cues, and stay out of the wings. Be aware and be respectful of others and the process. When waiting in the wings for an entrance, watch your sight lines. Make sure you cannot be seen. When walking behind the cyc or back curtain, walk slowly and as far away from the curtain as possible so that it does not wiggle & create a distraction on stage. When entering and exiting, try to avoid bumping into scenery & backdrops. Things break AND all the movement is distracting for the audience.

Pay attention to the stage manager. He or she will be telling you important things to keep the show running smoothly. When the stage manager gives a call, thank them. For example: They say “10 minutes to places !” you say: “Thank you 10!”. That’s so the stage manager knows that you heard the call and are ready to go.

Respect the props, sets, costumes, theatrical equipment, electronic equipment & the belongings of others. Never touch anyone else’s prop, even if you think it’s out of place. They may have moved it there on purpose. If you think something is out of place, just mention it to the stage manager. Always check your own props before curtain. Things happen, props get bumped or moved or broken. It’s also comforting to know that everything is where you expect it to be before the show begins. Remember, props belong to the theatre, not the actors. Treat them with respect. Return props to their designated place immediately after use. If you’d like to practice with a prop at home, DON’T. Find an alternate or make arrangements with the director or stage manager to come in and rehearse at some other time. It’s just too great a risk to have props leave the building. Avoid touching anything that is not yours unless you have permission.

Return microphones & other equipment to the designated crew member backstage. Do not put them down anywhere else, even for a minute.

Unless you’re doing improv, stick to the script. The authors and playwrights wrote the lines that way for a reason. It’s the actor’s job to bring the playwright’s words and the director’s vision to life.

Consume food & drinks in the Green Room. Nothing should be taken into the theatre, backstage or in the dressing room unless it is bottled water with a top on it. Things spill and ruin costumes and props or create a trip hazard. Consult the stage manager for the particular rules of that theatre. Never put food, drinks or any object on a piano, prop table or backstage.

At the end of a rehearsal, director’s typically give notes. Have something easily accessible to write your notes: paper & pen, I-pad etc. Accept all notes from the director graciously and say, “Thank you.” (Nothing else) Write down your notes and come back the next day having made the adjustments that were given. The Director should never need to give you the same note twice. Never disagree with the director in front of the cast and if you don’t understand the note or disagree, discuss it with the Director privately.

Here’s a biggy!! Never, ever, ever, ever ‘direct’ your fellow cast members. This offends them and is unprofessional. Notes are given by the Director and Stage manager only. If someone does offer you notes, say “Thank you but we should take that through the director.” Imagine how confusing it would be to get conflicting directions and suggestions from several different people. All changes to the production must go through the director.

Never talk when the director is talking! Do respond and follow directions Quickly to help create a professional atmosphere.

No mobile phones, especially in the wings! The show deserves all of your attention. Put the phone away and save the texting and tweeting for after rehearsal or after the night’s show.

Whether it’s a rehearsal or production night, don’t miss a call time. There’s a very good reason that the director made a call for 6:00pm even if you don’t know what it is. And if you’re going to be late or miss a rehearsal, let the stage manager or director know as soon as possible so that they have plenty of time to make allowances. Be on time even after breaks, so that the rehearsal may resume promptly.

Always give your best! Whether it’s a 1pm matinee with an audience full of kids or an 8pm curtain in front of the critics, the audience paid to come see you become somebody else. Always give 100%! Leave your personal life challenges outside the theatre so you can focus on the job at hand…….you can always pick up your personal things again when you leave the building.

Be respectful of everyone you work with: the staff, the crew, the directors, the designers, the other actors, and yourself! Avoid gossip—unless you’re gossiping about all the great things people have done. The emotional wellbeing of the cast and crew are of utmost importance. The show will be much better if you work together as a team. SO, Your job as an actor is to make everyone look good. Support everyone. If you have any problems or concerns, go to the Director to discuss in private.

This is the time to celebrate a collaborative job well done. Focus on the positive, avoid complaints, thank everybody!

Be prepared, dedicated, dependable, positive, enthusiastic, supportive, self sufficient and always give 100% without complaint. If you do these things, you will make everyone’s job easier and more pleasant, you’ll be a stellar cast member……the Director’s Dream! AND….they will want to hire you over & over again!!

Theatre with Purpose

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Dear actors, as you probably know, this is the main reason you didn’t get the job. It is perhaps obvious, but it’s important to be compassionate towards your self in a business where rejection is the rule and getting the job is the exception. There is so much that you cannot control in the casting process. The competition is so fierce and the casting process is so subjective! Read more

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In this video, Kimberly Jentzen guides actors, Brianne La Flair and Roman Banfield, as they explore the acting tool: Listening. Some acting classes in Los Angeles focus entirely on this skill. Listening is paramount in acting, and understanding how to inspire the delivery of your lines through the process of listening to your scene partner is vital. Much of what we see in film and television acting incorporates the ability to listen, and then react naturally and instinctively. There are so many ways we listen, but the most important awareness the actor must have is to take note of what motivates the character to listen.

We are motivated to listen when there are consequences that matter deeply to us.

In every drama and comedy there is always something at stake; something that could be taken from the character or something the character needs that they are fighting to get. There may be news your character is waiting for, or actions, or results that will satisfy your character’s desires and what they are hoping to achieve in the scene.

To master listening, listen for what your character wants to hear or feel from the other character… Listen with a hunger to get something that is vital to your happiness or survival.

Characters have a range of desires. Some want attention, affection, satisfaction, approval, money, sex, power, control… any one of these could be the very objective played for your next audition or performance. Or, it could be order, that your character needs, or redemption, forgiveness, a meal, a friend, etc. It could be anything that is true to the script and the material you are working. Use your imagination and study the character. Eventually you will discover the character’s desire or need.

Every character wants something from their scene partner that is intrinsic; something that will help them reach their ideal life.

A chapter in my book, Acting with Impact: Power Tools to Ignite the Actor’s Performance, is dedicated to this power tool. I like to call the objective a “power tool” too, because it is one of the parameters that dictate the give and take with your scene partner. And actors, you know how important that is! And new actors, if you didn’t, hopefully you know now!

In the video I mention the performances from the film Sophies Choice, directed by Alan J. Pakula. Sophie, (Meryl Streep) is haunted by her past, which is revealed in the scene in which she opens up to Stingo (Peter MacNicol). Ashamed and still emotionally tortured by her memories, she bares the horrors of how she was sent to a concentration camp and how she survived. Sophie desperately wants forgiveness for her actions. In the scene, Stingo wants to take her pain away and to comfort and reassure her.

In the Oscar award-winning film, Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis, Forrest (Tom Hanks) wants love (the girl of his dreams), Jenny (Robin Wright). But Jenny wants to escape and find the peace she has never known which was stolen from her when she was a little girl. Mrs. Gump (Sally Field) wants her son Forrest, to have a normal life. Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) at the top of the film, wants to die and follow in his family’s footsteps as a true soldier who died for his country.

Each character cares deeply for their goal, regardless of how difficult it might be to get it.

A character’s objective doesn’t change unless a pivotal event happens that shapes the character’s decisions and actions. Take note, that in most films, each character’s objectives are very unique and different from the other. It’s important to choose a strong and active objective that is born out of and aligns with your character in the script. It also is advised to know how to break down a script and analyze it to discover the strongest and most active objective. And yes, I will be bringing you an introduction to script analysis soon! Please visit often!

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Nagle Jackson is the former Artistic Director the Tony award winning McCarter Theatre in Princeton and the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. He has directed regionally and on Broadway and is published playwright who’s work has been seen around the world. Jamie Horton was a principal actor at the Tony award winning Denver Center Theatre Company for over two decades. He is currently a professor of theatre at Dartmouth and will appear in Lincoln directed by Steven Spielberg. In this video they share their thoughts about the best and worst theatre actor habits with Artistic Director of the Creede Repertory Theatre, Maurice LaMee.

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