Imagine this: youíve rehearsed for weeks,
and are ready to present your theatrical masterpiece to an adoring
public that is sure to shower you with accolades. You and your fellow
actors have your lines down pat; your laugh lines will bring down
the house, and your dramatic scenes will earn you a ten-hanky rating.
The cast is working like a well-oiled machine: not a line dropped,
not a move out of place, and trust and camaraderie flow like water.
Thereís just one little hitch.
You have no crew. Nobodyís running lights,
so youíre doomed to deliver your lines in the dark. Thereís no
props mistress to make sure the cups and saucers are set, and
nothing to pour into them even if there were. No one to help you
backstage with that quick change between the first two scenes.
No stage manager to make sure you make your entrance on time.
No set, because no one designed and built it. No one to pull the
Actors (particularly those who donít take
their turn backstage) often make the mistake of thinking that
the show is all about them, and that the crew is somehow playing
a lesser role and, by extension, deserve less respect for their
effort. As the above scenario illustrates, nothing could be farther
from the truth. Putting on a show is a team effort; while the
actors have the showier part, the fact of the matter is that without
a crew, theyíve got no show. Treating your crew members well,
listening to what they need from you and doing as they ask can
very well make the difference between a good show and a great
show. Following are a few tips to help you make their jobs easier.
Do whatever the crew tells you without arguing, especially in
When a crew member tells you to do something,
itís for one reason: the good of the show. If you have a problem
with what youíre told to do, do it anyway and complain later.
Why itís important: Sometimes
the reasons for the requests arenít obvious. If crew tells you
they need to call you eight pages before your cue, it may be because
theyíre 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. Itís either come up 8 pages early or
donít 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 theyíre 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
donít look down." Being a well-trained actress, she did as
she was told. The stage manager did something which the actress
couldnít see and then told her to make her entrance. It wasnít
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 itís for your
own good and all will be well.
Donít hang out in the wings watching the show.
If your theater doesnít have a monitor
or loudspeaker in the green room, you may feel totally in the
dark about how the performance is going. Itís very tempting to
creep backstage and keep tabs on things from the wings. Resist
Why itís 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 someoneís 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.
Donít talk with anyone backstage unless it is essential to the
Youíve 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 isnít doing anything, so why not
strike up a little conversation about how the showís going while
you wait? Resist the urge. Youíll have plenty of time to talk
at the cast party.
Why itís 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 youíre not interrupting
something else that may be going on. If your crew uses headsets,
always make the assumption that theyíre listening to something
when you approach them and you wonít go wrong.
Stay put until youíre called for your cue.
It can be nerve-wracking to hang out in
the green room until youíre 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,
youíre never in the same place two nights running. Donít do it.
Find some place where youíre comfortable spending time until youíre
called, and then stick to that spot for the run of the show.
Why itís important: The
crew canít call you if they canít find you. And while you may
know perfectly well where you are, they donít. If the actors on
stage skip ten pages, youíre going to be needed on stage sooner
than you thought, so donít count on going somewhere and making
sure youíre 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 youíre cued. I canít count the number of times Iíve
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 youíre cued,
the crew figures youíre already in place and doesnít bother to
Donít play with or move the props, and donít sit on the furniture
What harm can come from picking up the
starter pistol thatís 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 wonít be used until Act
II? Plenty. The rule is "donít touch."
Why itís important:
Props should only be handled in the context of the performance
Ė youíd 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 wonít be in anyoneís way,
but when the crew goes looking for it in the dark, it may not
be so obvious that itís 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.
Donít just lay it down somewhere, promising to put it back later;
itís easy to forget both that you had it and where you put it,
and thereís bound to be a panicky search for it the next evening.
Never sit on furniture thatís stored backstage Ė many pieces are
borrowed, or may have been mended just well enough to last through
the run. Your group doesnít want to have to explain why thereís
makeup smeared on the upholstery, or be forced to rustle up a
replacement if a chair leg is broken beyond repair.
Check your props before each performance, including any that
are set for you to use onstage
Since crew is supposed to set the props,
you should trust them to do their jobs, right? They donít need
any back-up, do they? Well, yeah, they do.
Why itís important: If
something that you need to use on stage isnít set, you can lay
all the blame you want on whoever fell down on the job, but ultimately
youíre 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 arenít there, blame yourself as well as the
crew member who didn't set them, because you should have double-checked.
Donít peek through the curtains at the audience
If your Aunt Marge is supposed to be out
in the house tonight, whoís going to notice if you sneak a quick
peek through the curtains to see where sheís sitting? Everybody
else in the audience, thatís who. And especially the director
of the next production, whoís going to make special note of that
unprofessional bozo who just stuck his nose through the curtain.
Why itís important: This
goes along with not hanging out in the wings Ė if youíre on stage,
youíre 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 youíre branding your whole theater group
In rehearsal, be nice to the bookholder
The way to ask for a cue when you drop
a line is "Line, please." Not "Oh (expletive
deleted), whatís the (expletive deleted) line?!?,"
or "LINE, dammit!!!!," or "Ooooh, I know this one,
itís right on the tip of my tongue, oh shoot, it starts withÖ,
umÖ, oh, GIVE it to me!" This is called taking out
your frustrations on the bookholder, and itís a no-no.
Why itís important: Your
bookholder deserves common courtesy. You know that youíre upset
because you canít get the lines, and while the bookholder may
know that, too, itís still hard for them to get through an evening
where theyíre receiving orders from someone who sounds like theyíre
spitting tacks every time they talk to them. This approach also
runs counter to what youíre 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: Donít 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 donít get over it,
you may actually find yourself inadvertently looking for the bookholder
out in the house if you drop a line in performance.
Hold your temper until you get to the green room
You blew a cue or a crucial prop wasnít
set, and the critic is in the house tonight. You come off stage
ready to explode as soon as youíre out of sight of the audience.
Keep a lid on it. Backstage is not the place to tell the world
how you feel.
Why itís important:
First of all, you run the risk of being heard, because youíre
upset and probably not too cognizant of how loud you really are.
In addition, an angry outburst is a distraction to the crew Ė
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.
Comments on this article:
Ed. Note: Excellent point.
Wonderful article! It wouldn't hurt,
tho, to mention that all of the above rules apply to the crew
as well. I've been on both sides of the headset, and have nearly
run down actors with a piece of scenery because they were in
the way, AND, I've nearly missed entrances because of crew members
gathering and chatting in front of the only stage left entrance
Keep up the good work!
Stage Coach Players
Excellent article, I've printed it to give
to my crew and cast in our current show. Another reason to listen
carefully and do exactly what the crew says is "SAFETY"! When
we were running "Damn Yankees", I told the actor doing the devil
to stand in a particular place at a particular time, because
a large flashpot in from of him would go off to cover his exit.
You guessed it, he stood on top of the flashpot one night and
got all the hair singed off his leg up to mid-thigh! From that
day on, he always does exactly as I tell him!
Greg Weigold, TD
Chapin Community Theatre