Theatre Quotes

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

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In the theatre, the actor is in total control. The director wasn't in the house last night, the designer wasn't there, the author's dead. It's just us and the audience.

Ian McKellen The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

It hath evermore been the notorious badge of prostituted Strumpets and the lewdest Harlots, to ramble abroad to Plays, to Playhouses; whither no honest, chaste or sober Girls or Women, but only branded Whores and infamous Adulteresses, did usually resort in ancient times.

William Prynne

It is a great help for a man to be in love with himself. For an actor, however, it is absolutely essential.

Robert Morley Friendly Advice by Jon Winokur
Acting, Directing, General

It is not theatre that is indispensable, but something quite different. To cross the frontiers between you and me.

Jerzy Grotowski

It is the characteristic of the most stringent censorships that they give credibility to the opinions they attack.

Acting, Playwriting

It is the writer's job to make the play interesting. It is the actor's job to make the performance truthful.

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

It is very hard to cast a number of plays adequately from the same company of actors without several parts being miscast.

John Gielgud The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

It is widely acknowledged to be the toughest job to get any two acting teachers to agree about anything.

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

It isn't what I do, but how I do it. It isn't what I say but how I say it - and how I look when I do and say it.

Mae West

It's hard enough for me to write what I want to write without me trying to write what you say they want me to write which I don't want to write.

Tennessee Williams The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

It's no use to go and take courses in playwriting any more than it's much use taking courses in acting. Better play to a bad matinee in Hull - it will teach you much more than a year of careful instruction. Come to think of it, I never did play to a good matinee in Hull . . .

Noel Coward

It's not enough to have talent, you have to have a talent for your talent.

Stella Adler

It's one of the tragic ironies of the theatre that only one man in it can count on steady work -- the night watchman.

Tallulah Bankhead Tallulah: My Autobiography

January, month of empty pockets! Let us endure this evil month, anxious as a theatrical producer's forehead.

Sidonie Gabrielle


Know your lines and don't bump into the furniture.

Spencer Tracy Friendly Advice by Jon Winokur

Lead the audience by the nose to the thought.

Laurence Olivier Friendly Advice by Jon Winokur

Lighting design is ultimately not about numbers and calculations. It is about feelings and spontaneous reactions. Although the designer can calculate how 'big and bright' a fixture will be at any distance, from the manufacturer's data sheet, eventually he must just instinctively 'know', how a specific fixture will perform at any distance. This comes from both practice and experience.

Bill Williams Lighting Mechanics, by Bill Williams

Lighting is not about function. It's much more about the mood and the emotion that the playwright and the director are trying to create. Our job is to support their poetic direction.

Jules Fisher It Happened On Broadway

Lighting paperwork is a living thing, continually evolving throughout the production process until opening night.

Anne E. McMills The Assistant Light Designer's Toolkit

Lights are to drama what music is to the lyrics of a song. The greatest part of my success in the theatre I attribute to my feeling for colors, translated into effects of light.

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

Like the Bible, Stanislavsky's basic texts on acting can be quoted to any purpose.

Lee Strasberg The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips
Critics, Playwriting

Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don't like - then cultivate it. That's the only part of your work that's individual and worth keeping.

Jean Cocteau

Musical Theatre

Look, I'm over 40, I'm single, and I work in musical theater - you do the math!

Nathan Lane

Many years ago I remember a famous actress explaining to me with perfect seriousness that before making an entrance she always stood aside to allow God to go on first. I can also remember that on that particular occasion He gave a singularly uninspired performance.

Noel Coward

Most directors work from inside out and from the outside in. They concentrate not only on the life of the characters but also on the play's structrual or external elements, including its central conflict, function, event, architecture, and suspense.

Michael Bloom Thinking Like a Director: A Practical Handbook

Most giving is 80% emotion and 20 % rational. And the best way to get to someone's emotions is to tell a story.


Most playwrights go wrong on the fifth word. When you start a play and you type 'Act one, scene one,' your writing is every bit as good as Arthur Miller or Eugene O'Neill or anyone. It's that fifth word where amateurs start to go wrong.

Meredith Willson
Acting, Shakespeare

Much of the day I have busied myself making notes on the small parts in Shakespeare, often nameless, which are rewarding to the actor if only he'll not dismiss them as beneath his dignity. If I can work it up into a talk I might call it, 'Only a cough and a spit ' ---the phrase so often used by actors to explain away a lack of opportunity.

Alec Guinness My Name Escapes Me, 1996

My playground was the theatre. I'd sit and watch my mother pretend for a living. As a young girl, that's pretty seductive.

Gwyneth Paltrow

Never get caught acting.

Lillian Gish Friendly Advice by Jon Winokur

Never not dare to hang yourself. That's the only way you grow in your profession. You must continually attempt things that you think are beyond you, or you get into a complete rut.

Charles Laughton Wikipedia (under Bette Davis)

Next to a tenor, a wardrobe woman is the touchiest thing in show business. [Birdie, in All About Eve]

Joseph Mankiewicz The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

No one makes you write plays; the world could sort of get along without me turning out a play every year, so I do this because I enjoy it enormously. It gives me great pleasure, and working in the theatre is, I think its own reward.

Terrence McNally

No theater could sanely flourish until there was an umbilical connection between what was happening on the stage and what was happening in the world.

Kenneth Tynan

Nobody "becomes" a character. You can't act unless you are who you are.

Marlon Brando Friendly Advice by Jon Winokur

Of course, the age-old tradition that a star must appear even if he or she is practically dying is an excellent one, but it can be carried too far. I one played a performance of The Knight of the Burning Pestle with a temperature of 103 and gave sixteen members of the company mumps, thereby closing the play and throwing everybody out of work. There may be a moral lurking somewhere in this, but I cannot for the life of me discover what it is.

Noel Coward

Oftentimes the quality of the light tells the story: the time of day, the weather, whether sun is streaming through the window. It can also help you appreciate what the actor is feeling, what the playwright wants you to feel. Any engineer can put a spot on someone.

Jules Fisher It Happened On Broadway

On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting;/ 'Twas only that when he was off he was acting.

Oliver Goldsmith

Once after Barefoot In the Park had been playing for about a week I went back to see it, watching the audience, which was just falling over laughing except for one guy sitting the aisle. I was transfixed. I said to myself, there seems to be no way to get to him. No one else would I watch except this one man. My wife joined me about 20 minutes later and asked me how it was going, and I said, terrible. I really meant it. There was no way to get to this man. It destroyed me.

Neil Simon Playwrights, Lyricists, Composers On Theater

Once in awhile, there's stuff that makes me say, That's what theatre's about. It has to be a human event on the stage, and that doesn't happen very often.

Uta Hagen


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