Theatre Quotes

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

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The cast, staff, and crew of a live theater work together toward a common goal: a good performance. Thus, theater is necessarily a group effort. However, it is never a group effort of vague fellow committee members, but of associated autocrats--a playwright, a producer, a director, a stage manager, designers, and, above all, actors. Each accommodates the others, and may overlap others in function when necessary. But each autocrat assumes distinct responsibilities and accepts them completely.

Lawrence Stern Stage Management

The Civic Theater idea, as a distinctive issue, implies the conscious awakening of a people to self-government in the activities of its leisure. To this end, organization of the arts of the theater, participation by the people in these arts not mere spectatorship, a new resulting technique, leadership by means of a permanent staff of artists (not of merchants in art), elimination of private profit by endowment and public support, dedication in the service to the whole community: these are chief among its essentials, and these imply a new and nobler scope for the art of the theater itself. [1912]

Percy McKaye

The core challenge for us as arts managers is to deal with change: changing external environmental conditions, evolving styles and approaches to the arts by our artists, advancements iin how we present and distribute our art to our ever-changing audiences, and the shifting competition for resources and attention.

William J. Byrnes Management and the Arts (Fifth Edition)

The critics suppose that it is easy to write a play. They aren't aware that writing a good play is difficult and writing a bad one is twice as hard.

Anton Chekhov The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

William James
Acting, Backstage, Directing, General

The director is responsible for interpreting the playwright's work through the cast with the help of the staff. It is the director's artistic concept of the play that the cast, staff, and crew work to obtain.

Lawrence Stern Stage Management

The drama may be called that part of theatrical art which lends itself most readily to intellectual discussion: what is left is theater.

Robertson Davies


The dramatist's function is (1) to earn a living for his family and himself and (2) to try to entertain people for a few hours.

Lee Adams Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists on Theater

The first rule of stage lighting is...there aren't any.

Bill Williams Lighting Mechanics, by Bill Williams

The fun for me is knowing what the other person is saying and what my character would be thinking at that time. On the stage you get the chance to do all that, to analyze and build a part, to react, to contribute something no one else can--not the author, not even the director.

Barry Nelson It Happened On Broadway

The important talent is the talent to develop one's talent.

Howard Stein The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

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

The lighting designer will never stop learning. Every production or project will present new challenges, new obstacles, new human dynamics and new problems to solve. There can and should be many failures along the way. This is part of the artistic process. The lighting designer shouldn't hesitate to make as many mistakes as possible - just don't make the same mistake twice.

Bill Williams

The main difference between the art of the actor and all other arts is that every other [non-performing] artist may create whenever he is in the mood of inspiration. But the artist of the stage must be the master of his own inspiration, and must know how to call it forth at the hour announced on the posters of the theatre. This is the chief secret of our art.

Konstantin Stanislavsky The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

The mission of the playwright is to look in his heart and write, to write whatever concerns him at the moment; to write with passion and conviction. Of course the measure of the man will be the measure of the play.

Robert Anderson Theatre Arts Mar 58

The moment an actor walks on stage, an impression is made. The audience immediately gains crucial information, both about the production as a whole and the character. A costume is a transformation garment, one that assists an actor to beomce, for a time, someone else.

Kaoime Malloy The Art of Theatrical Design

The more acute the experience, the less articulate its expression.

Harold Pinter The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

The most important thing in acting is honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made.

George Burns Friendly Advice by Jon Winokur
Acting, Directing

The most important thing you can teach actors is to understand plays.

Stella Adler The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

The most precious things in speech are pauses.

Ralph Richardson The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

The novel is more of a whisper, whereas the stage is a shout.

Robert Holman

The number of people who will not go to a show they do not want to see is unlimited.

Oscar Hammerstein

The only way to deal with yourself as an actor is to follow the emotional truth of what you have to do under the imaginary circumstances. And as you develop you become confident. You come to believe in what you're doing and trust it because it's out of you.

Sanford Meisner
Acting, Directing, General, Playwriting

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


The performance is not an illusionist copy of reality, its imitation; nor is it a set of conventions, accepted as a kind of deliberate game, playing at a seperate theatrical reality... The actor does not play, does not imitate, or pretend. He is himself.

Ludwik Flaszen Flaszen Grotowski's Laboratory
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
Acting, Directing, General

The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster.

Oscar Wilde

The primary function of a theater is not to please itself, or even to please its audience. It is to serve talent.

Robert Brustein

The purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature. [Hamlet]

William Shakespeare The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips
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

The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good - in spite of all the people who say he is very good.

Robert Graves Robert Graves (1895 - 1985)

The Russian dramatist is one who, walking through a cemetery, does not see the flowers on the graves. The American dramatist . . . Does not see the graves under the flowers.

George Jean Nathan The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

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
Critics, Playwriting

The sheer complexity of writing a play always had dazzled me. In an effort to understand it, I became a critic.

Kenneth Tynan
Costumes, Lighting, Set Design

The sole aim of the arts of scene-designing, costuming, lighting, is to enhance the natural powers of the actor.

Robert Edmond Jones The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

The stage designer quickly learns that things are not always what they appear to be. A director who asks for 'more light' on an actor, probably doesn't mean that at all. Instead he really just wants 'to see the actor better'. The designer might chose to reduce the lighting contrast around the actor, or simply ask the actor to tip his head up a bit. Both solutions solve the problem without 'adding more light'. So the lighting designer also has to be a good listener, a careful interpreter and a skilled crafts person.

Bill Williams

The stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but is also the return of art to life.

Oscar Wilde
Directing, General, Playwriting

The stage play is a trial, not a deed of violence. The soul is opened, like the combination of a safe, by means of a word. You don't require an acetylene torch.

Jean Giradoux

The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost.

Arthur Miller
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


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