When on stage or waiting in the wings, it’s business time. But what about backstage in the green room or dressing room? These areas occupy an uncertain space between the world of performing and simply existing as people. Everyone prepares for a show differently, but here are a few general guidelines for establishing a positive green room atmosphere.
For those who prefer their space when getting ready, let them have that space. It is not a personal affront if someone would rather run lines than discuss the latest Game of Thrones episode. If snapping selfies backstage is your jam, remember not everyone wants to be dragged into a group selfie or caught unawares on camera. Bottom line, let your fellow cast members have whatever privacy they desire, and do not push them to be more social than they wish.
Keep your space (relatively) clean
Okay, so very few actors maintain impeccably clean stations. Just make sure your mess of makeup and bobby pins stays relatively contained. Avoid intruding on others’ precious space and clean up after yourself for the sake of your stage manager. When the run is over, take particular care in packing everything up and leaving the area free of stains or garbage.
While you should focus first on accomplishing what you need to do, be open to helping your fellow artists. Especially if you play a smaller role, helping other actors run lines, fix their makeup, or calm their nerves is a great gesture.
Encourage group warm-ups
Personal warm-ups vary, but it is often helpful to have some kind of a group warm-up or coming together before the show. If no one else is volunteering, feel free to suggest something to help the company meet as a group. Do not force anyone who is not willing or does not have the time, but make it a policy to encourage group connection.
Be mindful of your conversations
Depending somewhat on the layout of your particular theatre, the green room/dressing room area is usually a relatively small space performers must share together. Some people need alone time to focus before a show, and others like to chat. If you are a talker, keep in mind what the others might not want to overhear. Maybe save that spicy story about the girl you met last night for another time. While most performers are fairly open, conversations should be kept to topics which will not make any of the cast/crew uncomfortable. Keep the space safe.
Deal with conflicts carefully
Backstage conflicts are tricky; on the one hand, you never want to let conflicts fester and grow resentment, but you also should avoid arguing it out right before the show. If you have an issue with a cast member, address it as soon as possible without disrupting any performances. Deal with problems privately rather than giving the whole cast and crew an extra show. If problems persist, do not be afraid to ask the stage manager or someone else you trust for help resolving the conflict.
If the audience can hear chatter from the green room or dressing room, you have a problem. And even if the actors are far enough from the stage that the audience is unlikely to hear them, still keep an eye on volume to avoid disturbing your fellow actors who may be running lines or having a quiet moment alone. Find a space off to the side for vocal warm-ups, and keep conversations at a reasonable volume.
Be inclusive and friendly
Leave middle school behind, and don’t form cliques backstage. Such behavior is just immature and unprofessional in an endeavor where everyone depends on everyone else. It is natural and healthy to form friendships, position your makeup station near your friends, and know who you can really trust, but never get so caught up in any friendship that you forget the rest of the cast/crew. Just treat everyone with kindness.
Performances can be incredibly stressful, but control your temper as much as possible. In such a collaborative art form, it can be quite demoralizing for the cast and crew to see even just one member losing their cool. One of my personal pet peeves is when actors insult the audience or otherwise give up on a performance. Even if the show is off to a rocky start, saying things such as, “This audience sucks” or “We might as well just go home” does nothing to help the cause. It is fine to acknowledge your frustrations, but be conscious and make sure you are not bringing everyone else down with you.
Leave baggage at the door
Theatre should be treated, first and foremost, as a professional endeavor. The precious moments before the curtain opens are not the time to air your dirty laundry. No matter how bad your day has been, try to take a deep breath and let it all go before entering the building. There will be plenty of time later to deal with personal worries; for now, just focus on the business at hand.
Every group is different, but the name of the game here is respect. Respect your castmates, respect the space, respect the show, respect yourself.
Photo: Interior Photos of AFD Theatre