Theatre Etiquette - To Do Or Not To Do

 20 September 2018

Theatre actors often end up spending just as much time in the wings as they do on stage, and knowing how to act off stage can be just as important. Take a look at our theatre etiquette guide to find out how to behave professionally during a production.

Your job doesn't end when you come off stage. Image Credit: Race Furniture
Your job doesn't end when you come off stage. Image Credit: Race Furniture

Most people know how to behave in the theatre. They know to switch their mobiles off, and to keep noise to a minimum. They know not to move around too much or talk loudly. They know, in essence, what the etiquette of attending a performance in a theatre really is.

What about backstage though? Is there a certain set of rules for behind the curtain too? Do the actors and backstage staff need to understand a special kind of etiquette?

Yes, they do – and this etiquette is perhaps even more important backstage than it is in the stalls and circles. So if you find yourself performing or helping out with the technical aspect of the theatre, here are some things to bear in mind.

Be Quiet

When you are backstage in the theatre, you need to be completely quiet. It’s incredible how far sound can travel, especially when the only other noise is on stage, and when the building is an older one.

As soon as you leave the spotlight, don’t make a sound

So, as soon as you leave the spotlight, don’t make a sound. Creep. Whisper. And that rule persists even in your dressing room.

Stay Behind The Curtain

Once the house doors open, don’t go onto the stage unless it’s your scene, and don’t mingle with the audience, even if they are your friends and family. You can do that afterwards if you want to, but before the show you need to keep up the illusion - the magic of theatre. Plus you’ll have plenty of other things you should be doing instead.

Pay Attention To The Director

When the director is talking, giving notes or instructions, don’t talk. You need to listen to every word they say. Not only is it polite to listen, it’s important too – you need to know what you’re doing, after all.

It’s also good etiquette not to disagree with the director in front of the rest of the cast.

It’s also good etiquette not to disagree with the director in front of the rest of the cast. Say thank you for the notes, and keep your comments to yourself until you can find a quiet moment to discuss things. It will save everyone’s blushes and maintain a good air of camaraderie amongst the cast.

Notes

Speaking of notes, the director is the only person you should ever accept them from. Other actors may have your best interests at heart (or not), but they aren’t directing the show, so they don’t know what the director truly envisions.

Conversely, you should never give notes to another actor either. You may have a great idea about staging or how someone should say his or her lines, but if that’s the case make sure it goes through the director first.

Do Pick Up On Your Cues

Sometimes people forget their lines. It happens, even to the best of actors. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go on stage.

If you miss an entrance you’ll leave everyone else waiting for something to happen. That means the audience and the other cast members. It will make the entire production look amateur, which even if it is, should never be the case.

Go on stage and improvise until the lines come to you

So instead of simply missing your entrance, go on stage and improvise until the lines come to you (or until someone helps you out).

Don’t Touch Your Costume

The costume designer will have spoken to the director and they will have come up with their plan for what each cast member should wear. Therefore, leave your costume alone. Don’t add to it, definitely don’t take anything away from it. Just enjoy wearing it.

Of course, if it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t fit that’s another matter, but even when that’s the case don’t make any alterations yourself – let the director know what the issue is and go from there.

Leave Your Phone At Home

Leave your phone at home if you can, and if you can’t then at least turn it off during the performance.

Mobile phones (especially smartphones) are a major distraction and using one can mean that you easily miss your cue or come on at the wrong time, saying the wrong lines. It’s far more important to pay attention to what is happening on stage, even when you’re not on for another couple of scenes. Leave your phone at home if you can, and if you can’t then at least turn it off during the performance.

Don’t Get In The Way

If you are hanging out in the wings for any reason, make sure you’re not in the way of the rest of the cast. Make sure that the audience don’t notice – if you can see them, they can see you too!

The cast needs unimpeded access to get to and from the stage, and they don’t want to be bumping into or tripping over you. Just hang back or watch from the monitors instead.

Equally, it’s important to keep your dressing room tidy too, especially on a long run. It’s likely you’ll be sharing with others and it’s good etiquette to stay as neat as possible.

 

Emily Wilson is a freelance writer, specialising in the behind-the-curtain aspects of the performing arts. Image provided by Race Furniture.


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