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5 Things Not to Do Backstage

5 Things Not to Do Backstage

It takes more than just memorizing dialogue to effectively prepare for a stage production. Most actors worry about what to do onstage, in front of the audience -- but a good actor also needs to be aware of how to behave properly behind the curtains. With stage crew scurrying about, actors preparing for their next roles, and stage managers double-checking with crew to ensure production’s running smoothly, the backstage scene can be quite chaotic. When actors don’t practice backstage manners — for example, if they rehearse their lines too loudly, or stand in the wrong spot — they can slow things down behind the scenes, potentially jeopardizing the entire production. Here are five things that actors should never do backstage.

1. Don’t Lose Your Prop

When a crewmember passes a prop or costume over to an actor, it becomes that actor’s responsibility to hang onto the item. If you lose a prop, and can’t locate it before going on stage, you can potentially cause the show to come to a standstill. If an actor has to set a prop down for whatever reason — say, to fix a piece of his costume — he should keep it close by, so he can find it easily. Remember, once the prop passes over to you, it’s your responsibility to keep track of it!

2. Don’t Be Loud

One of the golden rules of standing backstage during a production is that you shouldn’t talk or recite lines — at least not loudly enough for anyone to hear you. Actors may ask questions, or provide feedback about the show to one another quickly. They can go over their lines quietly (or better yet, silently), but reciting lines loudly or engaging in frivolous and off-topic conversations can be incredibly distracting.

3. Don’t Stand in the Way

Actors should only stand in officially designated areas marked by the crew. If you stand in an unmarked area, or hang out in the wings to watch the production, you can block crewmembers carrying props or scenery — or cause general confusion among other actors and staff. The backstage scene is usually pretty cramped, so actors milling about or standing in the wrong spots may lead to accidental collisions.

4. Don’t Argue With the Crew

If a manager or crew member tells an actor to do something — stand here, stand there, prepare for makeup six pages before your cue, hold this prop — they’re doing so for a specific and valid reason. Crew and stage managers are specifically tasked with ensuring that everything runs efficiently and effectively backstage. So, if a manager gives you a specific direction, listen and do as you’re told — or potentially risk slowing down the show. Ignoring directions, or carrying them out half-heartedly, won’t fly in a professional theater setting. And if you have a genuine gripe with someone, wait until after the show to sort it out in a mature fashion.

5. Don’t Ignore Superstitions

Not all actors are superstitious, but certain superstitions are alive and strong in the theater world, and it’s important to be respectful of tradition. Recognizing theater superstitions is more about backstage etiquette than avoiding a stroke of bad luck. The backstage scene is not only a cramped space — it’s a shared space, too. It’s very likely that some of your fellow actors and crewmembers are superstitious; so out of respect, and to ensure that no one loses their focus, all actors backstage should recognize commonly held superstitions. Never say, “good luck” — use the phrase “break a leg!” Most theaters have a “ghost light,” which helps to guide the first and last person on stage — that light should always be left on. And never, ever, mention “Macbeth” or recite any dialogue from that play. It might seem silly to hang on to these superstitions, but by respecting them, an actor can help to keep the entire cast and crew on task.  

Stage productions are all about teamwork; all of the actors, crew members, artists, and technicians need to work together to create a polished and enjoyable show for the audience. The more obvious element of an actor’s job takes place on the stage, but understanding how to behave backstage — where to stand, how to take directions from the crew, or what to do with props — is also critical to keeping the show running smoothly. To guarantee that a production will flow successfully, it’s essential that actors know what to do (and what not to do) both on and off the stage.