Theatre Quotes

Words to the Wise
Quotations from a wide range of theatrical perspectives

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But when I got to SMU and decided to take a playwriting class, I said this isn't a bad idea. If I write characters, they could be as dumb as me, and I don't have to be very smart.

Beth Henley

By whatever means it is accomplished, the prime business of a play is to arouse the passions of its audience so that by the route of passion may be opened up new relationships between a man and men, and between men and Man. Drama is akin to the other inventions of man in that it ought to help us to know more, and not merely to spend our feelings.

Arthur Miller

Casting is instrumental in helping you understand the play. If you cast it right, as soon as the actor steps on the stage, you get certain impressions that help you understand what the play is about.

Howard Kissel It Happened On Broadway

Charity in the theater begins and ends with those who have a play opening within a week of one's own.

Moss Hart
Critics, General

Coughing in the theater is not a respiratory ailment. It is a criticism.

Alan Jay Lerner

Definition of Stage Manager: The person who rarely gets credit when everything goes right.

Set Design

Designers play with scale and proportion, making the ordinary extraordinary by taking an object out of context and changing its scale in relation to the characters' size and appearance.

Peter Ruthven Hall

Directing takes such a big lump out of your life.

Alan Rickman

Don't let a single comic moment pass you by; then help the audience get the laughs. Give them permission to laugh by holding for laughter and by letting them know early on what they're in for. In the first few moments, the audience is gathering information, looking at the scenery and costumes. Create a comic moment as soon as you can.

James Carver Stage Directions Guide to Directing

Don't think you're funny. It'll never work if you think you're funny.

George Abbott Friendly Advice by Jon Winokur

Don't use your conscious past, use your creative imagination to create a past that belongs to your character. I don't want you to be stuck with your own life. It's too little.

Stella Adler Friendly Advice by Jon Winokur

Don't write stage directions. If it is not apparent what the character is trying to accomplish by saying the line, tell us how the character said it or whether or not she moved to the couch isn't going to aid the case.

David Mamet The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

Donors don't give to institutions. They invest in ideas and people in whom they believe.

G.T. Smith
General, Playwriting

Drama - what literature does at night.

George Jean Nathan

Drama assumes an order. If only so that it might have -- by disrupting that order -- a way of surprising.

Vaclav Havel

Drama is based on the Mistake. I think someone is my friend when he really is my enemy, that I am free to marry a woman when in fact she is my mother, that this person is a chambermaid when it is a young nobleman in disguise, that this well-dressed young man is rich when he is really a penniless adventurer, or that if I do this such and such a result will follow when in fact it results in something very different. All good drama has two movements, first the making of the mistake, then the discovery that it was a mistake.

W.H. Auden

Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.

Alfred Hitchcock

Drama should not present new stories but new relationships.

Frederick Hessel The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips
Set Design

Eugene Lee is a set designer who's famously said that he hates scenery. The reason it's such a joy to work with him is he's never designing the scenery, he's designing the room in which theater is going to take place. It makes for a much more vibrant conversation about what we're going to work on together. [Oskar Eustis , artistic director of the Public Theater, Boston]

Oskar Eustis

Every now and then, when you're on stage, you hear the best sound a player can hear. It's a sound you can't get in movies or in television. It is the sound of a wonderful, deep silence that means you've hit them where they live.

Shelley Winters

Every performer has moments of self doubt. The great ones, however,overcome every obstacle to reach their full artistic potential. It takes talent, to be sure, but it also takes a personality that simply will not settle for second best. That's what makes us respect the effort and admire the results.


Every writer is a frustrated actor who recites his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull.

Rod Serling
Set Design

Everything placed in the performance space, with the characters, creates a context for their story.
What is the shape of the space?
How do the shapes and colours within the space relate to the characters?
How do they 'frame' them?
What comments do the frames make about the characters and their worlds?

Peter Ruthven Hall

Failure in the theatre is more dramatic and uglier than in any other form of writing. It costs so much, you feel so guilty.

Lillian Hellman The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips
General, Playwriting

Farce is tragedy played at a thousand revolutions per minute.

John Mortimer

Festivals promote the improvement of theater. They give theater people the opportunity to meet, to present their dramatic skills and see what their fellow theater workers are doing (and how well). They offer opportunities for exchange of ideas, competition, and social contact. Participants get a chance to go on the road, to play in an unfamiliar environment. They have an opportunity to evaluate themselves by the reactions of judges and a new audience. Participants may also measure themselves by comparison to the other groups entered. Festivals often result in joyful, stimulating, exciting, and rewarding experiences.

Lawrence Stern Stage Management

First of all, I choose the great roles, and if none of these come, I choose the mediocre ones, and if they don't come, I choose the ones that pay the rent.

Michael Caine

For an actress to be a success she must have the face of Venus, the brains of Minerva, the grace of Terpsichore, the memory of Macaulay, the figure of Juno, and the hide of a rhinoceros.

Ethel Barrymore George Jean Nathan: The Theatre in the Fifties

Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.

Hank Russo

Acting, General

God comes to us in theater [in] the way we communicate with each other, whether it be a symphony orchestra, or a wonderful ballet, or a beautiful painting, or a play. It's a way of expressing our humanity.

Julie Harris Christian Science Monitor 15 May 79

Good actors are good because of the things they can tell us without talking. When they are talking they are the slaves of the dramatist. It is what they can show the audience when they are not talking that reveals the fine actor.

Cedric Hardwicke The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

Good drama must be drastic.

Friedrich Schlegel
General, Playwriting

Good plays drive bad playgoers crazy.

Brooks Atkinson Theatre Arts Aug 56

Good theater anywhere is good for theater everywhere.

Frank Schneeberger

Has anybody ever seen a dramatic critic in the daytime? Of course not. They come out after dark, up to no good.

P.G. Wodehouse New York Mirror, 27th May 1955
Acting, Shakespeare

Has anyone understood that the basic thing about Elizabethan theatre is that it was played in daylight? The actor saw the eyes of the audience.

Peter Hall The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

Have a very good reason for everything you do.

Laurence Olivier Friendly Advice by Jon Winokur

Having talent is like having blue eyes. You don't admire a man for the colour of his eyes. I admire a man for what he does with his talent.

Anthony Quinn Sunday Express, 1960

How do you teach someone that a theatre comes about first as an idea, from an individual who has a philosophy and a passion? That a theatre's idea is its heart and individual soul? That the person who creates it must have the desire not only to create work, but also to create the conditions in which that work can live--and in which others can do it as well? How do you teach someone to want to be a midwife as well as a mother.

Robert Kalfin The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

I am so used to seeing the sort of play which deals with one man and two women. They do not leave me with the feeling I have made a full theatrical meal they do not give me the experience of the multiplicity of life.

E.M. Forster


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