Backstage can be a strange place! Before, during, and after the show, actors skulk around with different levels of emotional intensity. Props crew members guard their table of artifacts with Smithsonian austerity. Costume and makeup heads assault you with powder and safety pins without warning. Filters are lost, and characters are dropped. Whether you are new to the stage, or just new to this particular group of people, you’ll find that each backstage has it own set of expectations. Some unwritten rules you’ll be expected to follow regardless of where you work.
Well, unwritten no longer shall they be! Here is an almost-comprehensive list of expectations of backstage behavior. If you can abide by these, you’ll get along just fine with your fellow actors. In no particular order:
Not even whispering! Some backstages are more acoustically susceptible than others to backstage noises drifting onstage or even into the house, distracting the actors or audience.
No touching props!
Is it your prop? Is it time to handle the prop? Will it break? Did a stage manager authorize you to handle the prop? If you can say no to any of these questions, then don’t touch! I don’t care how cool the sword is.
Don’t talk with an actor who is in character.
Some actors will work on getting in character before the curtain opens, and stay in character in between acts, through intermission, and until the audience leaves. This is their process. Do not disturb.
Stay out of the way!
Know the other actors’ entrances and exits so you can stay out of their way. Actors sometimes have to get from Point A to Point B in a short amount of time. Heaven forbid they also have a costume change. Avoid being part of the stress. Keep your distance. Better yet, if you don’t have to be onstage anytime soon, stay in the green room.
No eating or drinking in costume.
Any eating or drinking should be done before you get your costume on. There won’t be any time to clean stains and crumbs that should have been avoided in the first place. You can likely drink water, but try drinking it through a straw to protect your make-up and dribble-susceptible clothing.
Do not complain about an unresponsive audience.
Because of reasons I’ve mentioned here.
Be ready a couple minutes early for your entrance.
This prevents panic among other actors and stage managers wondering where you are. It also allows you the chance to listen to the action prior to your arrival. If there were any mistakes made or lines changed, these few minutes before your entrance can be spent planning any changes to your lines or blocking. Just make sure you are not blocking anybody’s exit.
Don’t invite any friends or family to come see you backstage.
They can see you after the performance (whether or not you remain in costume is up to the director or producer). Otherwise, they may get in the way or make your cast mates feel uncomfortable.
Control your temper.
Did you just live through an actor’s nightmare? That can be frustrating! Keep your emotions to yourself, though, until you are well out of actors’ and audience’s earshot.
Find opportunities to be an encourager.
It seems that sometimes, instead of being characterized by energy and excitement, backstage can be a place of despair and insecurities. It doesn’t have to be that way! You can single-handedly raise the morale and energy level of a performance by your uplifting words and demeanor. A kind word or a short hand-written note is a minimal investment of your time, but it can make a significant impact on another’s life.
Do you have any rules that I didn’t mention here? Share in the comments below!