Episode 166: Theatre Etiquette 101
When teaching students who are brand-new to theatre, it’s important to discuss and apply the expectations of the drama classroom, and the theatrical world. Join drama educator Kerry Hishon as she shares her expertise on how to implement and instil theatre etiquette in your classroom, your rehearsal, backstage and during a strike. A cohesive theatrical community starts with the rules and codes of behaviour both onstage and off.
- DTA Course: Theatre Etiquette
Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, and Theatre educators everywhere.
I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.
Hello. Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening!
This is Episode 166.
You can find any links to this episode in the show notes which are at Theatrefolk.com/episode166.
Today, we are talking to a theatre person, Kerry Hishon, who is an absolute doll. I love Kerry.
Kerry has been writing blog posts for Theatrefolk all this year and I love her point of view. She’s also a Drama Teacher Academy instructor and, this month, we published her course on Theatre Etiquette which I’ll get into after the interview. The course on Theatre Etiquette, I’ll get into after the interview about Theatre Etiquette.
Ah! See how I did that? Well, we’ve got course, we’ve got interview. It’s all coming together. It’s all melding together. What is that? It’s not synergy. Oh, you know, a meld together kind of word that I can’t think of right now.
Anyway, theatre etiquette, what are the expectations of the drama classroom and the theatrical world? So much to talk about! Let’s get to it.
LINDSAY: I am here with Kerry Hishon.
LINDSAY: We are in London, Ontario today. We are talking about theatre etiquette. That’s the teaser. That’s the topic.
Kerry, how long have you been working? You’ve been working with youth theatre for a while now.
KERRY: Yeah, I first started working in youth theatre in about 2008 – the London Community Players Palace Theatre – and then, in 2010, I started working at Original Kids Theatre Company and I’ve been there ever since!
LINDSAY: When you talk about theatre etiquette, a lot of what you know just comes from the day to day of working with youth and what they do.
KERRY: Exactly, yeah.
One of my favorite parts of my job at Original Kids is I get to run the TAG program. It stands for The Actor Grows. It’s an introductory program for young actors who are brand new to the program and it teaches them a little bit about everything in the theatre – just little workshops for three months and it culminates with a showcase. But one of the biggest things we talk about is theatre etiquette because these kids have never done it before.
We want to tell them what they need to know, how they can succeed in the theatre, and really what they need to know just to get around and explain the terms and why we do the things we do. Basically, what I wanted to know when I was starting out in theatre, I want to share with my students and help make their lives a little easier.
LINDSAY: Right. Of course, when we’re talking theatre etiquette, we’re being very specific here. We’re talking about theatre etiquette that happens in the drama classroom. We’re talking about theatre etiquette that happens whether it’s a class show or whether it’s a drama club show or a bigger production. The rules are pretty much similar across the board about how we should behave.
Let’s start off with that word. Okay, Kerry, what is your definition of “etiquette”? What does that mean to you?
KERRY: Theatre etiquette – well, etiquette in general – go back, just start with etiquette.
LINDSAY: Okay, we go back.
KERRY: Basically, etiquette is how you behave in a certain setting.
If you are at the dinner table and you want the salt, you’re not going jump across the table and grab it from someone. You’re going to politely ask for it and wait for it to be passed to you.
With theatre etiquette, it’s basically how do you behave in the drama classroom or in a theatrical production in order to get along and be a good person in the theatrical world.
LINDSAY: I think theatre etiquette in the drama classroom is even more important than in general because the drama classroom is so different than any other classroom.
KERRY: Well, it really is because, in the drama classroom, your students are pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone. They’re exploring different characters who are very different from them. They may be exploring stories that they’re not familiar with. They’re trying to move their bodies in different ways.
And so, in that vein of thought, the drama classroom needs to be a safe place where they can express these things, they can try new things and not be afraid of making a mistake. Theatre etiquette goes into that, particularly in the drama classroom, coming up with ways to make the classroom a safe place and to help the students succeed and feel comfortable to express themselves and try new things.
LINDSAY: You know, it’s so funny because I talk to a lot of teachers and one of their problems – not problems but issues – is that an administrator or another teacher will come into their classroom and see them playing games and see kids running around and being loud and acting out. The first thought is, “This is chaos. This is not a well-run classroom. These students are running amok.”
The fact is that a drama classroom needs just as much structure than any of the other classes because, as you say, we need that safe space.
KERRY: Yeah, you basically need to know the rules so you can work within them in a different setting. Say you’re working with a character who isn’t like you or maybe is a villain or breaks the rules, you need to be able to explore that so you have to be able to go back and know how to behave yourself and in the classroom to be able to figure these things out.
LINDSAY: Do you prefer when you’re working with students that you come in and say, “Okay, here are some list of etiquette tips. Here are some rules that we are going to use in our space so that we can work to the best of our ability” or do you think it’s better for the students to come up with those guidelines?
KERRY: I think it needs to be a little bit of both. I think that it’s important for the students to be able to contribute to that because that way they can take ownership of the drama classroom. They know that this is their classroom. They’ve come up with their procedures or ways of doing things and they can really take ownership of that because they had a say in it.
Obviously, if they need help or they need a little bit of direction, of course, I can give them my experience and we can take that and help shape it into what will work for us and for this experience and this group of kids because, you know, this year’s group of kids is totally different from last year’s group of kids. There’s different backgrounds and issues and situations that we don’t know about and we figure that out through the process of creating that.
LINDSAY: With the safety in the drama classroom, you were just talking about how they were exploring characters. Sometimes, when they explore characters, something from their own life bubbles to the surface, doesn’t it? Whether it be an issue at home or an issue in the past that, by exploring this character, this real-life issue comes into play and I think that’s a really good reason to have etiquette – you know, for example, we don’t laugh at other people’s ideas.
KERRY: You can encourage other students to give positive feedback and provide support for those students, even if it’s a positive or negative experience. Say a kid has a really fantastic success. They were able to do something that they didn’t do before. We should be able to celebrate that and that should be encouraged and that’s something we can include in an etiquette plan for your classroom.
LINDSAY: Yeah, that way, when something within a classroom character exercise, if there are rules for that, when something comes to light which is a little unexpected – which happens in the drama classroom every day.
KERRY: All the time!
LINDSAY: You’ve got a way of dealing with it.
I think that students appreciate having their voices heard because so much of their day is spent, sit in the desk and do your work and listen whereas, I think, in the drama classroom, students are able to get up and have their voices heard and express themselves in so many various ways which is wonderful. It’s one of the reasons I love drama class.
Let’s move to the etiquette. There’s so much etiquette that is necessary in a production. When you’re going from the rules of the audition all the way through to what’s going to happen afterwards when you’re doing your strike. When you think about the etiquette of a rehearsal process, of a production process, what’s one thing – I’m going to throw you now on the spot, under the bus, do some improv – what’s the one thing that really you think is a good etiquette rule to start with?
KERRY: I think the biggest thing is that everything has to come back to respect. It seems common sense and it seems like, “Yeah, you can use this for anything,” but it’s a sense of respect. If students are respectful of themselves, of each other, of the crew members, of the teacher and the director, you know, they’re able to grow and develop as actors, as performers, as people because it’s common sense but you’ve got to say it again.
Having that respect for your classroom, for yourselves, you can allow yourself to open up and express yourself more and learn more and explore throughout the process of taking your drama class. You can use that in every other situation you’re ever in in your life – whether it’s other classes, whether it’s getting your first job, whether it’s dealing with your family.
Respect goes back a hundredfold for everything.
LINDSAY: If you’re looking at a show, I think the biggest example of that is onstage actors and offstage actors. Onstage actors treating the crew.
LINDSAY: The stage management, your costume people, your sound people – treat them with respect.
KERRY: Exactly. It’s so important.
The actors onstage at the end get the big bow. They get the applause. With backstage crew and stage managers, their job is done properly and well when you don’t notice anything going wrong or going unexpectedly. If the show is smooth and beautiful, they’ve done their job, but they don’t get to go out and take a bow. They’re backstage hidden in the black clothing.
With teachers, I always encourage them to say, “You know what? Remind your students that, particularly backstage crew, that applause is for you, too.” Actors need to be reminded as well that the crew and the stage management team and the designers and all the backstage people need to be treated with respect.
For example, I know in the theatre I work in right now, oftentimes, after shows, our actors are so excited to go and see their families and see their friends and we use a lot of wireless microphones in our shows. So, they’ll want to just rip the mic off and go see their family. But we have a wireless mic assistant back there (a) to take care of the wireless mic equipment, take care of it, put it away safely, and (b) for them to gain experience in the theatrical world and volunteer and learn more about the backstage aspect. We need to remind actors, “You know what? Your tech person, your wireless mic person has a job to do. They need to do their job properly and so you need to do your job properly so go see them, let them take it off properly. That way, you get to see your family sooner, the microphone doesn’t get damaged.”
LINDSAY: Thousands of dollars don’t go down the drain.
KERRY: Yeah, and the wireless mic person gets to do their job properly. It’s just win-win for everyone. You know, have respect for that person. Have some patience. That is a huge aspect of it, too. Have patience, particularly in technical in technical and dress rehearsals, but any time, and everything will come together.
LINDSAY: You know what? I think that a lot of acting is sometimes can be narrow and it’s very self-centered, right? Because you’re centered on what you have to do, your job, and, yes, of course, there is the community and the collaboration onstage but it really is easy to forget that, just as you have a job to do, that wireless mic person has a job to do, too. If you’re respecting them, you’re not letting them do their job.
If you throw your costumes on the ground, you are taking someone who did a lot of work on their costumes and you are not respecting their job. You are not giving them the chance for their work to shine.
KERRY: And you’re causing more work for that person who then has to go find the costume, hang it up, potentially get any dirt off it or dewrinkle it and you’re just causing more work for everybody else. It just makes everything a big old mess.
Another thing I was thinking as we were talking is about how it’s so important that onstage worlds and offstage worlds are all working together to help the theatre world because then the other thing we have to think about is being respectful to the audience.
KERRY: Yeah, exactly. You know, we have to remind students that, no matter what role you’re doing on the show – whether it’s an onstage role or whether it’s a backstage role – you’re all contributing to the same ultimate goal which is to create this magical world that you’re going to immerse your audience in for a couple of hours, take them out of their everyday lives, transport them, and tell them this amazing story.
If you have that respect, if you’re following the etiquette rules, it all kind of works together to make that happen. It could be something as simple and seemingly mundane as keeping your classroom clean. Picking up garbage and sweeping the floor and keeping the classroom tidy – that seems like such a silly thing. Don’t we have custodial staff for that? But having the students participate in that process, they keep the classroom clean which therefore they can have a clean and tidy and safe rehearsal space – safe because there’s nothing mucking up the room and keeping it looking great. You have a safe rehearsal space for them to work which then they can develop their skills as an actor or as a performer or as a backstage crew, whatever, which then translates to a better performance which translates to a better experience for the audience.
It’s like a crescendo. It’s like a flower blooming.
LINDSAY: Any image you’d like to put in there.
KERRY: I know! I’m liking the imagery here!
It’s a little tiny seed of something so simple as showing up on time to rehearsal or class or keeping the classroom clean just balloons out into this much bigger experience and maybe it seems like I’m overgeneralizing or making things much more dramatic than they are but I really think it just all builds up.
LINDSAY: You know what? You start with the tiny things.
As with anything, I think that students really learn best in baby steps. You don’t come in and you have this huge discussion on etiquette and write across the board – “What is etiquette?” – and chastise them for “why don’t you behave?”
KERRY: Nobody wants to be lectured at.
LINDSAY: Nobody wants to be lectured at but everybody wants respect. At their heart o fit, everybody in a production really does want to do their best. Everybody wants a place that is safe. Everybody wants a place and everybody wants that adulation from the audience.
LINDSAY: If we’re going to go all the way to the crescendo, the top of the crescendo, the top of the mountain, what’s up there is the audience adulation, where does it start? Pick up a piece of garbage.
LINDSAY: That’s it. Or even be quiet – be quiet backstage.
KERRY: Exactly. It’s the small things that add up to create the final amazing performance product production. It’s all those bricks create the house. More metaphors, more similes, more discussion.
LINDSAY: Well, you know, all we’ve got is the mic here. It’s our job to give you, the listener, all the imagery that you need so that you can visualize this thing. We’ve got bricks in the house. We’ve got a crescendo. We’ve got flowers.
KERRY: It’s everything.
LINDSAY: But maybe that’s a way because I think that is one of the biggest problems that a lot of directors have with students – that offstage noise – and I have seen directors time and again, “I can hear you. I can hear you. I can hear you.” Those little darlings, they just don’t shut up. They don’t. So, I mean, we have to work backwards. We have to work backwards instead of that lecture. Instead of that, we have to figure out what’s step one in this theatre etiquette process to get them what they want which will hopefully make them be quiet.
KERRY: Starting with the basics and instilling those kind of rules, guidelines, tips – whatever you want to call them – at the beginning. It will hopefully stay with the students as they progress in their drama classes if they start in grade nine and go on to grade ten, eleven, twelve in drama. We hope that learning and remembering these tips that you learned at the very beginning will help you succeed no matter how big of a production you’re doing or how difficult a task you’re doing in the drama classroom – whether you’re taking on Hamlet or something as equally daunting. Starting with those basics like being quite backstage, taking care of your costume, listening to your crew members. They seem so simple and yet they’re things that people honestly don’t know if they’ve never done this before.
LINDSAY: Or if they’re taught not to do them. You know, there’s as many adults who have an onstage mentality. If the adult in the room is not treating the crew with respect, why should the actors treat the crew with respect?
KERRY: Oh, it comes right down to the drama teacher. Lead by example. They’re the leaders in the classroom. The drama teacher has such an opportunity – an opportunity really to instill these values and these etiquette rules and skills in their students. By demonstrating it themselves, they’re showing that, “If I present myself as a professional, if I give a positive attitude, I’m going to succeed in what I’m trying to do here.”
LINDSAY: I love that because everybody has all the same goal. Everybody wants a good show, right? Everyone wants a good show or everyone wants a good grade.
LINDSAY: It’s all about, well, how do we achieve this? It comes right down to how are we behaving in this social world and drama class – more than any other class – is one of the few places where we can learn real-world skills.
KERRY: Definitely. I think there are so many skills that are transferable.
LINDSAY: Transfull? It’s full of transfer!
KERRY: Yes, transfullable! Oh, my goodness! That’s a new word. That’s a new word and it’s going in the dictionary.
LINDSAY: I’m stealing that!
KERRY: Transferrable to real-world applications. Like I was saying before, any other classroom or getting a job or existing, you know?
LINDSAY: Just being on the planet.
KERRY: Just being a person on the planet. But, in performing and in learning skills in the drama classroom, you’re learning things like listening and working with other people that you may or may not know or like or get along with. You’re learning problem-solving skills because something will go wrong. Inevitably, something goes wrong – someone forgets a line, someone drops something, a costume is stuck or something like that. You’ve got to figure out how to solve that. They have to learn how to project their voice and be heard onstage. People need to speak to each other every day in their everyday lives. You need to learn how to be able to deal with other people and be able to speak to them and make up words, if necessary.
LINDSAY: It’s always been my M.O. Just make it up!
KERRY: Make it up as you go along. Fake it till you make it.
LINDSAY: Yeah, I’ve never done that.
KERRY: But, in playing these games and running around the classroom and being silly but exploring different ways of thinking and using your brain in different ways than sitting down and taking notes, you’re exercising your creative brain and that creativity right there, there’s another thing that you need in your everyday life – creativity, solving problems, figuring out where do I go from here, what do I need to do, and how do I need to get it done.
LINDSAY: And figuring out how to interact with people which I think, at its heart, I think that’s sort of the essence of etiquette, isn’t it? It’s the interaction with other people in a world where people are not going to agree with you.
LINDSAY: People are doing different tasks than you – tasks that you don’t like. People who don’t treat you particularly well for the things that you do. You know, there’s lots of stories out there of onstage actors who look at tech people and go, “Well, I could never do that job.”
KERRY: Or “Why would I want to?”
LINDSAY: This is the place. You know, you guys – you who are listening out there – you have it in the palm of your hand to turn your drama class and your students into amazing human beings and etiquette is such a funny word but it’s the place to start.
KERRY: I definitely think so, especially you get your students involved in that right off the bat, have them contribute to it, their voices are being heard, they’re buying into it, they’re owning it. It becomes theirs. It’s their classroom. It’s their etiquette. It’s what works for them. From there, they can just go on, explore, figure out what they’re going to do.
LINDSAY: I’m going to throw you under the bus again. Do you have a story of a student who was not or did not buy into this whole notion of proper behavior and learned over the course of a show or a class?
KERRY: I don’t know if they learned but I definitely have a story.
Actually, it happened to me in university. I was an assistant stage manager on a production. It was a thankless job because this was a really weird show we were working on – a bunch student-written productions all compiled together into one long showcase. We had to do things like bringing a dog cage onstage and moving risers in a span of thirty seconds and hiding in a corner because the change was so quick that there was no way to get us offstage so we kind of had to just hide on the stage. It was very, very strange.
But I remember overhearing one of the actresses in the show and she said, “I would never want to be an ASM. They do all the work and get none of the glory.” I felt just like lower than dirt when I heard that. It made me feel like my job was so unimportant and she had entirely missed the point because I wasn’t doing it to get the glory. I was doing it because I wanted to get involved. I hadn’t done theatre for a little while and I wanted to get back in and so I thought, you know, I’ll volunteer on this show. It’s going to be fun. I’ll meet some new people. I actually met one of my very best friends doing that show, hiding in that little alcove on the stage. You bond. You bond with people. You really do! When you’re crammed into a little area on the stage.
But I wanted to learn a different aspect of theatre because I’d done some onstage stuff. I’d done some props work or costume work but I’d never been an ASM before and I wanted to learn. This actress just made me feel like crap. I don’t know if she learned from that. I should have said something to her.
Thinking back on it now, you think of all the clever things to say after the fact. I should have said something to her but I didn’t. But it made me think and learn going forward that I never want anyone to feel like that if I can help it so I want to make sure that, when I’m dealing with any theatrical situation – whether I’m onstage, backstage, whatever – I want to treat everyone with the respect I would want and I want to impart in my students the same thing that they need to treat people the way they want to be treated. Otherwise, then this girl wins. This actress, the snotty actress from university wins.
But, also, again, it’s just like we said before, the little bricks make up the house. The little bits of respect and kindness and treating other people the right way will just grow and grow and the students won’t know any different because that’s the way they’ve always done it. So, this is what we do, this is the way we treat other people, this is our etiquette, and that’s what we’re going to do.
LINDSAY: And then, we win.
KERRY: Then, we win!
LINDSAY: Because that’s what it’s all about. We win!
Awesome. Kerry, this has been a lovely conversation and I know that – oh, my goodness – you’re working on Tarzan right now.
KERRY: I am. It is so much fun. It is so much fun. We’ve just gotten a bunch of costumes. I’ve seen some of the gorilla costumes and they’re magnificent.
LINDSAY: And no one is throwing them on the floor.
KERRY: No one is throwing them on the floor. They are too hard to make and there are too many of them to throw them on the floor. But I am so excited. It’s been such a learning process for me. It’s really pushing me as a director and it’s pushing my students as actors and I can’t wait. It goes up in May and it’s going to be amazing.
LINDSAY: Awesome! All right, thanks very much!
KERRY: Thank you so much!
LINDSAY: Thank you, Kerry!
Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Kerry is not only a fabulous podcast guest. She is also a Drama Teacher Academy instructor.
The Drama Teacher Academy is the education arm of Theatrefolk Global Headquarters. It is a place of support where teachers can find community, lesson plan library, and resources. It’s also a place of learning with courses designed specifically for the drama educator.
In Kerry’s course – Theatre Etiquette 101 – she talks about the importance of, when teaching students who are brand new to theatre, the importance of discussing the expectations of the drama classroom and the theatrical world.
This course starts with the question: “What is etiquette?” and goes through every step of the production process from audition to post-show recovery. Every module comes with tips, classroom exercises, and reflections.
Check out more at dramateacheracademy.com or click the link in the show notes – Theatrefolk.com/episode166.
Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every second Tuesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on youtube.com/theatrefolk and on the Stitcher app. You can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Search for that wonderful word: “Theatrefolk.”
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.