Life of

Q&A: When Do I Mind My Own Business Backstage

Hi, Aly,
I have enjoyed watching the videos and continue to learn from you.
One of my pet peeves is unnecessary noise backstage that the audience can hear. This includes noisy walking on the stage boards behind the curtain during a performance as well as talking and laughing. Do you recommend that I not say anything about noise to my fellow actors, lest it be interpreted as mean-spirited?
Perhaps I get as upset as I do because I feel responsible for front of house. As organizer of the front-of-house volunteers at two different theaters, I feel the weight of providing an audience with the best possible experience when they come to the theater. When I have shushed actors it has never been because I was envious of their talent and wanted to cut them down. However, it may not appear that way.
I value your opinion.
All best,
Kathie, Maryland

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Stay friendly. Shhhing people is always abrasive. If you are in the cast, saying something like, “Hey guys, not so loud.” or something with a friendly tone is almost always better received. Asking people to not talk at all is never going to happen for performers backstage. They can, however, keep it down. And ‘reminding’ is different than ‘telling.’ You shouldn’t give another performer a note, but if it is dangerous, or hazardous to the show (like, ‘zip up your fly,’ or ‘hey guys, not so loud.’) then remind away.

I always insist that instead of complaining, do something about it. So with creaky stage boards, get permission from the resident stage manager or tech director to put glow tape down on the boards that squeak. This way, the stage manager can tell people that they need to avoid standing on the glow tape backstage during a show because that is where the squeaks are.

You can also get permission to put curtains or fabric on the ceiling of the dressing room, as well as at the entrance, because thick fabric helps absorb sound. The less ‘wall’, the less sound bounces and travels. I strongly believe in keeping performers closer to the stage for that ‘whoops’ entrance, so don’t suggest that they move the performers further away into a new and different space (plus no one wants to spend the money on that).

Other than that, if you are working front of house, you need to talk to their stage manager. Don’t tell anyone what to do because this come across as mean-spirited. Ask the stage manager if the cast can lower their volume, and only if it is distracting to the performance.  Hearing them blend into the pre-show chatter is no big deal, but hearing them OVER the pre-show chatter is.  Any notes to the cast should never come from you. The only people backstage should be the cast, SM, current TECH (not staff), and director.
I hope this helps.


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