Theatre Quotes

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

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Acting

All the theories that acting is reacting to imaginary circumstances as though they are real, and directing is turning psychology into behavior, those are all stabs at something that can't be taught. All the great actors can't talk about what they do, and they don't want to begin to talk about it. They just do it.

Mike Nichols
Acting

Actors are the only honest hypocrites.

William Hazlitt
General, Playwriting

Drama - what literature does at night.

George Jean Nathan
Acting, Directing

The whole point about laughter is it's like mercury: you can't catch it, you can't catch what motivates it - that's why it's funny.

Mike Nichols
General

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

Voltaire
Acting, Directing, General, Playwriting

The only way to see the value of a play is to see it acted.

Voltaire
Acting

Actors ought to be larger than life. You come across quite enough ordinary, nondescript people in daily life and I don't see why you should be subjected to them on the stage too.

Donald Sinden
Backstage

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

Anonymous
Acting

You can't be funny unless you're tragic, and you can't be tragic unless you're funny.

Elaine Stritch
Directing, Shakespeare

The play loses a great deal of its meaning if it is robbed of a magic which springs, not from the glittering tip of a department-store wand, but from the earth, the stones, the very air of the wood; and a magic which is not merely pretty but dark and dangerous. [said of A Midsummer Night's Dream

Tyrone Guthrie
Playwriting

I see the playwright as a lay preacher peddling the ideas of his time in popular form.

August Strindberg
Acting

You cannot tell an audience a lie. They know it before you do; before it's out of your mouth, they know it's a lie.

Elaine Stritch
General

Theater is life, film is art, television is furniture.

Unknown
Playwriting

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

Audiences are not strangers to me. They're the best friends I've got in my life.

Elaine Stritch
Acting

You can throw away the privilege of acting, but that would be such a shame. The tribe has elected you to tell its story. You are the shaman/healer, that's what the storyteller is, and I think it's important for actors to appreciate that. Too often actors think it's all about them, when in reality it's all about the audience being able to recognize themselves in you.

Ben Kingsley
Acting

The secret of staying fresh in a show is to remember that the audience you're playing for that night has never seen it before.

Danny Kaye
Directing

The work of rehearsal is looking for meaning and then making it meaningful.

Peter Brook
Acting

These performers that go on about their technique and craft - oh, puleeze! How boring! I don't know what 'technique' means. But I do know what experience is.

Elaine Stritch
Acting, Costumes

The subjective actress thinks of clothes only as they apply to her; the objective actress thinks of them only as they affect others, as a tool for the job.

Edith Head
General

All the world's a stage. Some of us just have better seats.

Unknown
Acting

What is the main problem of the actor? It is to keep the audience awake, and not let them go to sleep, then wake up and go home feeling they've wasted their money.

Laurence Olivier
Directing, General

The purpose of theatre is... making an event in which a group of fragments are suddenly brought together... in a community which, by the natural laws that make every community, gradually breaks up... At certain moments this fragmented world comes together and for a certain time it can rediscover the marvel of organic life. The marvel of being one.

Peter Brook
Volunteers

Volunteers will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no volunteers.

Ken Wyman
Acting

Acting is not a state of being ... but a state of appearing to be. You can't be eight times a week without going stark staring mad. You've got to be in control.

Noel Coward
Acting

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
Acting

A cat actually thinks visibly. If you watch him jump on a shelf, the wish to jump and the action of jumping are one and the same thing... It's in exactly the same way that all Brook's exercises try to train the actor. The actor is trained to become so organically related within himself, he thinks completely with his body. He becomes one sensitive, responding whole... The whole of him is one.

John Heilpern
Fundraising

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

Unknown
General, Playwriting

Theater is so critical because it has always been able to release people from their isolation... The theater is a communal event, church. The playwright constructs a mass to be performed for a lot of people. She writes a prayer, which is just the longings of one heart.

Marsha Norman
Acting

Preparing a character is the opposite of building--it is a demolishing, removing brick by brick everything in the actor's muscles, ideas and inhibitions that stands between him and the part, until one day, with a great rush of air, the character invades his every pore.

Peter Brook
Fundraising

If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them.

Jeff Brooks
Playwriting

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
Backstage, Management

Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I'll understand.

Chinese Proverb
General

The world is a complicated place, and there's a lot of division between people. The performing arts tend to unify people in a way nothing else does.

David Rubenstein
Lighting, Set Design

When it's good design, you alone will know. When it's bad design - everyone will tell you!

Unknown
General

The theater, which is in no thing, but makes use of everything -- gestures, sounds, words, screams, light, darkness -- rediscovers itself at precisely the point where the mind requires a language to express its manifestations. To break through language in order to touch life is to create or recreate the theatre.

Antonin Artaud
Management, Volunteers

I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.

Charles Schwab
General

The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is close to the center of a nation's purpose -- and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization.

John F Kennedy
Musical Theatre

I know the world is filled with troubles and many injustices. But reality is as beautiful as it is ugly. I think it is just as important to sing about beautiful mornings as it is to talk about slums. I just couldn't write anything without hope in it.

Oscar Hammerstein
Playwriting

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

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