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Basics of Backstage etiquette

Discussion in 'General Advice' started by Ken Summerall Jr, Mar 4, 2019.

  1. Ken Summerall Jr

    Ken Summerall Jr Member

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    I help manage a 1000 seat theatre in a very small, rural school district. I have found that because the district has no formal theatre education program that most of the students and teachers that enter the theatre have no clue as to how they should handle themselves when in the theatre. I have thought about putting together a small brochure, pamphlet, or something to educate them on proper theatre etiquette as it pertains to performers and tech folks. I also want to include some interesting facts and traditions in the theatre, such as "Why do we have a ghost light?", "Why do we say 'break a leg'", Why don't we say H****t in the theatre?" along with more practical things like why we don't stand in the wings, drink coffee on the stage, etc.

    I have looked around and not found a book or website with these basics. I would love some help in the form of:
    1. Any suggestions for where to find this information
    or 2. Your own thoughts and anecdotes about these things!

    Any help is appreciated!
    Thanks
     
  2. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Hamlet? Hamlet? Turn around three times!
     
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  3. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    Have I been misinformed my entire life? I've always thought you don't say Mackers (Macbeth) in a theatre.
     
  4. SS Minnow

    SS Minnow Member

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    You could start with Upstage, Downstage, Stage Right and Stage Left....
     
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  5. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    I'll dig around at home. I used to have my "Welcome to Technical Theatre" primer that I used at Summer camp. I usually had 3 day to prep kids, that had never done anything in or on a stage, to completely run a 15 act talent show. It was a blast and I learned that you really can expect a lot from kids and they can really surprise you.

    Oh and Yeah, It's Mac@#th that you don't say.
    The origin, according to some, is that "The Scottish Play" was written specifically for King James VI&I as he claimed kinship to MacDuff, who killed the Thane of Glamis.< BTW My Wife is a direct descendant of MacDuff, which would mean she was related to James the VI&I and I'm a direct descendant of Edward DeVere, whom many think may have actually written Shakespeare's plays... but I digress> James was a HUGE fan of the Occult, in addition to having had the King James version of the Bible written for him he was rumored to have had many tomes of Occult lore compiled for himself as well. Shakespeare, wanting to enamor the king to himself, allegedly asked some real witches for some spells as 'research' Unfortunately he used the actual spells in the original production, revealing the 'Magic' and the Witches cursed the play saying that it would be haunted by strife should the name be uttered. There are thousands of anecdotes about various productions that have suffered cast injuries, fires, deaths, etc. so the legend has grown up that you simply don't say the name of the play instead you say "The Scottish Play". There are many ways to remove the bad luck of uttering the name of the play, one of which is to go outside the stage door, spin around 3 times then spit at the ground. Another is to walk around the theatre 3 times then knock 3 times on the stage door and ask to be let back in.

    Don't whistle backstage. Besides being obnoxious this is thought to hearken back to the earliest days of rigged stages when many of the riggers were ex-Navy men. Rigging commands were often whistled aloft while aboard ship and the thought was that if you whistled the wrong thing someone might think it was a cue and drop a sandbag on your head.

    Why do we say "Break-a-leg"? No body knows. if they say, "This is the real reason" they are full of it. No one knows. There are a million stories from, "If you 'broke the plane of the Leg <masking> in vaudeville you made it on-stage and therefore got paid even if you didn't get to do your whole act or if the SM pulled you back." to " Taking so many bows, with your leg properly extended forward, you fell forward, exhausted, and broke your leg. Nobody knows.

    Why do we call it a greenroom? Just 'cause.

    Why is it Upstage and Downstage? Everyone should know this. It goes back to the days of earlier theatre when seating was all on a flat plan and to enable all the audience to see the action onstage the stage was Raked or tilted up at the back of the house. therefore when you walked to the back of the stage you were literally walking UP stage. This is also where the term "Upstaging" comes from though it originally meant planting yourself further upstage from an area of action in order to tract more attention from the star.
     
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  6. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    No running. Be quiet. Keep your hands to yourself.
    That's really all anyone need to know.
     
  7. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    And never, ever wear high heals to a work call. Regardless of gender.

    This might get banned....
     
  8. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    I think an introductory speech is needed. Maybe try to plan everyone have an introducrioi. The historical bits are nice but try to instill a respect for the craft. And point out the unique hazards of a stage, the unguarded stage edge or pit being a prime hazard people unfamiliar with stages should be made aware of.

    I accept the reason a green room is green was because of lime light, which was greenish, and trying to get performers eyes use to the shift. But YMMV
     
  9. jtweigandt

    jtweigandt Well-Known Member

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    I am onstage acting and singing sometimes, offstage sometimes, am local MacGuyver, make it work guy... I call that title the Howdowe.. How do we do this or that?

    That being said, when I design set, do lights or direct, I make sure I tell actors.. What you folks do up there on stage is fine..... as long as you remember.. it's all about Tech :)
     
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  10. Jay Ashworth

    Jay Ashworth Well-Known Member

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    Some of this material is covered in the Lawrence Stern book, which anyone who works on a stage should get and read, even if stage manager isn't what they do.

    If it's not, an edition 2 or 3 back is just as good and much cheaper; if you're doing it for real, get the current one; it's still a third the price of the Donavan rigging book. :)
     
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  11. Ancient Engineer

    Ancient Engineer Well-Known Member

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    Fortunately for me I am too old and bitter to believe in magic, luck, ghosts, superstition, or fables.

    However... safety, terminology, attitudes, and locations are super duper important items for the empty minds to be filled with.

    I'd much rather see the neophyte engaged initially with the ability to navigate the space safely before riddling them with stories of ghosts, magic, luck, faeries, and chance.
     
  12. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Sorry, I looked through old papers and I don't have the text of my old, "This is a stage, here's how to behave" paper. Happy to do some brain mining to see what I can remember.
     
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  13. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    Be on time. Always. 10 minutes before call time is on time. When you are late, everybody else is now doing your job.
     
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  14. Ancient Engineer

    Ancient Engineer Well-Known Member

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    To be early is to be on-time.
    If you arrive on-time you are late.
    To be late is to be left.

    <famous band> European tour '94 Crew Handbook: the entire contents of page one.

    29 stops (one cancellation) and I was never left...
     
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  15. macsound

    macsound Well-Known Member

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    I find that especially in a school environment, there are many people who don't have actual background in a subject are still very able to teach about it.
    Usually I'm able to find someone who is good at public speaking or organizing groups, make sure the 10 minutes is on the schedule for a show or event's first day and get them to include all the tech in the general spiel about what is going on and who is doing what.
    Very rarely do people show up at a new venue and know what is happening, so there's usually a time and place that the importants can be added into.
     
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  16. egilson1

    egilson1 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Listen to the stage manager and get on stage when they tell you to. No one has time for your rock star BS. None of the techs backstage care if you’re David Bowie or the milkman. When you act like a jerk, they are completely unimpressed with the infantile display that you might think comes with your dubious status. They were there hours before you building the stage, and they will be there hours after you leave tearing it down. They should get your salary, and you should get theirs.


    ~ Henry Rollins,
     
  17. Ken Summerall Jr

    Ken Summerall Jr Member

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    Yep, I was having an old man moment and writing a little too quickly! Thanks for the gentle correction!!
     
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  18. Ken Summerall Jr

    Ken Summerall Jr Member

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    While I agree with you about magic, luck and ghosts, I have found that folks will engage with me more if can answer all of their questions with a little levity and humor. For example, when closing down the theatre for the night, setting the ghost light on stage always gets strange looks and questions. I could simply say that it is there for safety, but it's a lot more fun to tell them that it is there so that the ghosts have a light to perform by AND to keep me from falling off the stage when the lights are off!

    It is my desire that I can create something that will engage and entertain the people that work in our theatre, 99.9% of whom have absolutely no experience in theatre. The intent is not to perpetuate myths and superstitions but educate and illuminate!
     
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  19. dolphinmother

    dolphinmother Member

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    Google "Backstage Theater etiquette" and you'll get way more than you want.
     
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  20. Ken Summerall Jr

    Ken Summerall Jr Member

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    Believe me, I have done that and what you get are hundreds of thousands of pages dealing with AUDIENCE behavior. That is why I specifically asked about Backstage etiquette. I know what to do to educate my audiences but I want to compile information to help educate the students and teachers that use the space. 99.9% of whom have NO backstage experience.
     
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