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Actors Behaving Badly – The Backstage Experience

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Many an article has been written about audience etiquette when watching a theatre show, but never have I seen one about backstage etiquette. So, this is long overdue. 

But first, a little backstory on why I feel strongly about this. I was, for many years, a stage manager. I stopped because I could not handle the stress of the job. I have the utmost respect for stage managers and the amount of nonsense they are forced to put up with; actors who think that a stage manager is their personal butler, actors who dare to tell the scenographer or costume designer what to do, or actors who consistently refuse to pick up the stage manager’s phone calls when they miss a rehearsal and yet pick up the producer’s call on the very first ring.

Yes, if you haven’t guessed already, my issue is with actors. I’ve begun to notice a great disparity within the acting community when it comes to backstage behaviour. Stories of entitled behaviour, bullying, tardiness, and playing the fool. I’m willing to bet that most stage managers have lists of actors behaving badly, but ask them whether the actor concerned has had experience working backstage, the answer is almost always a resounding, ‘No.’

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every actor without backstage experience will behave badly. What I’m saying is that, more often than not, those who do behave badly do not have backstage experience. This is, if anything, a testimonial for the benefits of working backstage.

Working backstage is the greatest learning opportunity you can find in the performing arts industry. It teaches you about all the different roles which come together to make up a production and, if you are lucky, you get to learn from those you work with. The vast experience that goes into a production team becomes a culminated vat of knowledge for you to learn and draw from. But, of course, the onus is on you, to want to learn and understand. To understand the roles that go into making up a production. The cohesion that comes with a successful production team more often than not, comes from understanding.

And a crucial trait that comes with understanding the work and role of another; respect. Enough respect to not badger the director with questions about your hair and makeup during a technical rehearsal, enough respect to not ad-lib the writer’s lines as you see fit, enough respect to find your lighting rather than demand that the lighting designer give you a bigger brighter spotlight, enough respect to not direct your fellow actor, and enough respect to not make the production team’s job harder than it already is.

Working backstage will hone your instincts to stay out of the way, treat your costumes and props with respect, avoid dangerous behaviour, appreciate the roles of the people around you, and teach you compassion and empathy. And I know this sounds like common sense (and trust me, I wish it was) but you would be surprised – even horrified – at some offstage behaviour.

Theatre is known as the actor’s medium, but too many have used that as an excuse to behave badly. Everyone is replaceable. There’s a reason the word diva is reserved for those who appear on-stage, don’t be that person. Learn about, and from, the community you belong to.

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