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Theater

  • ... if there's a spirit world why don't the ghosts of dead artists get together and inhibit bad playwrights from tormenting first-nighters?

  • I do not understand those who spend hours at the theater watching scenes between people whom they would not listen to for five minutes in real life.

    • Natalie Clifford Barney,
    • "Scatterings" (1910), in Anna Livia, ed., A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney ()
  • In the theater, as in life, we prefer a villain with a sense of humor to a hero without one.

  • Theatre audiences can't be made to think and cry: at best, they can be made to think and laugh, or to feel and cry.

  • Here were blood, lust, love, passion. Here were warmth, enchantment, laughter, music. It was Anodyne. It was Lethe. It was Escape. It was the Theater.

  • The word-coining genius, as if thought plunged into a sea of words and came up dripping.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • on Shakespeare, "Notes on an Elizabethan Play," The Common Reader, 1st series ()
  • ... on Broadway money rules. Like a host of vultures, the ticket brokers, the speculators, the craft unions, the agents, the backers, the real estate owners move in on the creative body and take their bite. The world of dreams breathes in an iron lung; and without this mechanical pumping it dies.

  • Acting in the theatre is the most direct and effective approach to emotion that has ever been devised, isn't it?

    • Helen Hayes,
    • in Lewis Funke and John E. Booth, Actors Talk About Acting ()
  • Good actors sparking each other make for the wild fire that lights up the theater.

    • Helen Hayes,
    • with Sandford Dody, On Reflection, An Autobiography ()
  • Somehow, no matter how well done an Oscar Wilde play may be, I am always far more absorbed in the audience than in the drama. ... They have a conscious exquisiteness, a deep appreciation of their own culture. ... 'Look at us,' they seem to say. 'We are the cognoscenti. We have come because we can appreciate this thing — we are not as you, poor bonehead, who are here because you couldn't get tickets for the Winter Garden.'

  • I have noticed that in plays where the characters on stage laugh a great deal, the people out front laugh very little.

  • I know all about improvisation and the free-form that mirrors the chaos of our time, but I do like to feel that the playwright has done some work before I got there.

  • ... the real stakes in the theater are high — they are life stakes. That's what I love about it. You gamble with your life, and that's a gamble worth taking.

  • At last it was over, and the theater rang and rang with the grateful applause of the released ...

  • Actors are as anxious about the state of audiences as aviators are over weather conditions.

  • ... the audience is the controlling factor in the actor's life. It is practically infallible, since there is no appeal from its verdict. It is a little like a supreme court composed of irresponsible minors.

  • Failure in the theater is more dramatic and uglier than in any other form of writing. It costs so much, you feel so guilty.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work, 3rd Series ()
  • [On Tennessee Williams:] He writes by sanded fingertips.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work, 3rd Series ()
  • ... failure in the theater is more public, more brilliant, more unreal than in any other field.

  • It is best in the theater to act with confidence no matter how little right you have to it.

  • When you think about it, what other playwrights are there besides O'Neill, Tennessee and me?

    • Mae West,
    • in George Eells and Stanley Musgrove, Mae West ()
  • Good theater is not what is expected, but what surprises.

  • I'm glad you like my Catherine. I like her, too. She ruled thirty million people and had three thousand lovers. I do the best I can in two hours.

    • Mae West,
    • on her show, "Catherine Was Great," in George Eells and Stanley Musgrove, Mae West ()
  • The theater is the only branch of art much cared for by people of wealth; like canasta, it does away with the bother of talk after dinner.

    • Mary McCarthy,
    • "Up the Ladder From Charm to Vogue" (1950), On the Contrary ()
  • All dramatic realism is somewhat sadistic; an audience is persuaded to watch something that makes it uncomfortable and from which no relief is offered — no laughter, no tears, no purgation.

    • Mary McCarthy,
    • "The American Realist Playwrights," On the Contrary ()
  • People stood on their chairs, cheering and waving. And it was all for me! Waves of love flooded the stage and washed over me. I started to cry. The sweetness of such a moment is impossible to describe. One is both lover and beloved. ... I'd found the one true, enduring romance of my life.

    • Bette Davis,
    • in Charlotte Chandler, The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis ()
  • Perhaps society should give actors the same sort of protection it gives to those who follow a religious life. Actor/priest was originally the same job. The theater is left wing magic and theology is right wing magic.

  • If there is one pleasure on earth which surpasses all others, it is leaving a play before the end. I might perhaps except the joy of taking tickets for a play, dining well, sitting on after dinner, and finally not going at all. That, of course, is very heaven.

  • The theater was my mother and my father.

  • Playing Shakespeare is so tiring. You never get a chance to sit down, unless you're a king.

  • O God, send me some good actors — cheap.

  • ... there is something shameful about the death of a play. It does not die with pity, but contempt. A book may fail, but who is there to know it? It dies and is buried, and is decently interred on the bookseller's shelf; but the play dies to laughter, to scorn and disdain.

  • ... the theater is the only money-making business I know in which haste apparently rules from first to last.

  • ... anyone who writes plays is unbelievably persistent, because there isn't a need in the world for plays. Somehow you internally have to feel a need to write a play.

  • ... as everyone knows who has anything to do with it — the stage is not a profession but a virus ...

  • Theater for me is energy; it is sensual, spontaneous ...

    • Ellen Stewart,
    • in Kristen Golden and Barbara Findlen, Remarkable Women of the Twentieth Century ()
  • Applause is an instinctive, unconscious act expressing the sympathy between actors and audience. Just as our art demands more instinct than intellect in its exercise, so we demand of those who watch us an apppreciation of the simple unconscious kind which finds an outlet in clapping rather than the cold intellectual approval which would self-consciously think applause derogatory. I have yet to meet the actor who was sincere in saying that he disliked applause.

  • Coroners' inquests by learned societies can't make Shakespeare a dead man.

  • The tragedian will always be a limited tragedian if he has not learned how to laugh. The comedian who cannot weep will never touch the highest levels of mirth.

  • Theater people are always pining and agonizing because they're afraid that they'll be forgotten. And in America they're quite right. They will be.

    • Agnes de Mille,
    • in Jane Howard, "The Grande Dame of Dance," Life ()
  • Lillian Gish may be a charming person, but she is not Ophelia. She comes on stage as if she had been sent for to sew rings on the new curtains.

  • ... since piety has become the fashion at Court, dramatic authors imagine that their pieces would be more welcome if they added in a little devotion. At first their plan succeeded, but now no one can bear their comedies.

  • Believe me, nothing is so calculated to lose you audience sympathy as too many tears. Move your listeners all you can but let them do the crying.

  • ... I think a Play the best divertisement that wise men have: but I do also think them nothing so who do discourse so formallie about the rules of it, as if 'twere the grand affair of humane life.

  • I think I love and reverence all arts equally, only putting my own just above the others, because in it I recognize the union and culmination of all. To me it seems as if when God conceived the world, that was Poetry; he formed it, and that was Sculpture; he colored it, and that was Painting; and then, crowning work of all, he peopled it with living beings, and that was the grand, divine, eternal Drama.

  • ... other artists — poets, painters, sculptors, musicians — produce something which lives after them and enshrines their memories in positive evidences of their divine mission; but we, — we strut and fret our hour upon the stage, and then the curtain falls and all is darkness and silence.

  • [The play] 'Yang Zen Froggs' is so rambunctious and odd it's like trying to describe Man Ray to your dog.

  • ... a really good play is ambiguous — which is exactly why it endures. Every succeeding generation develops theories about it. The play's words provide very little clue. On the contrary, words are notoriously imprecise and open to every kind of interpretation, so you must search.

  • How often we have had cause to regret that the histrionic art, of all the fine arts the most intense in its immediate effect, should be, of all others, the most transient in its result! — and the only memorials it can leave behind, at best, so imperfect and so unsatisfactory!

    • Anna Jameson,
    • "Adelaide Kemble," Studies, Stories, and Memoirs ()
  • In the theater you work very, very hard right up to the curtain, here we go, bang, and adrenalin does the rest. In the movies the curtain never goes up. It's like a loose rubber band — no tension.

  • The awful consciousness that one is the sole object of attention to that immense space, lined as it were with human intellect from top to bottom, and on all side round, may be perhaps be imagined but can not be described.

  • ... customary interruptions are not only gratifying and cheering, but they are also really necessary in order to gain breath and voice to carry one on through some violent exertions; though after all it must be confessed that silence is the most flattering applause an Actor can receive.

  • In the theater, I've found that, in general, reaction and laughter come easier at an evening performance, when the audience is more inclined to forget its troubles. Matinee customers must enter the theatre in a more matter-of-fact frame of mind, hanging on tightly before they let themselves go.

  • That winter two things happened that made me see that the world, the flesh, and the devil were going to be more powerful influences in my life after all than the chapel bell. First, I tasted champagne; second, the theater.

  • [To actors on opening night:] You have had good equipment to work with. You've had a theater with everything you needed, and you are involved with the play; but all the way through you have been handicapped. One essential has been denied you. Tonight the audience is there; now they are sitting out front; you have everything you need ...

  • The theater, when it is potent enough to deserve its ancestry, is always dangerous; that is why it is instinctively feared by people who do not want change, but only preservation of the status quo.

  • Neither should the theater in our country be regarded as a luxury. It is a necessity because in order to make democracy work the people must increasingly participate; they can't participate unless they understand; and the theater is one of the great mediums of understanding.

  • The theater audience is the ultimate teacher, instructing the actor on the degree to which he has executed both the author's and the director's intent.

  • There are two kinds of directors in the theater. Those who think they are God and those who are certain of it.

  • First one works alone through the mind, then before the public through experience.

    • Eleanora Duse,
    • 1890, in Georgette Leblanc, Souvenirs: My Life With Maeterlinck ()
  • Plastic tables and chairs were scattered about, and there were a couple of settees, which, imperfectly disguised, performed onstage as often as some of the actors and, it must be said, frequently with more conviction.

  • Theater is a verb before it is a noun, an act before it is a place.

  • ... on the whole the American theater, dominated by men, does not perceive women fighting for their lives as a central issue.

  • ... drama is made up of what people most fear and deny in themselves. The taboos. The secrets. The devils and the demons. The only reason they let us live, I suppose, is because somebody has to confront what those things are like and tell other people about them.

  • People pay all that money to sit in a chair in the theater mainly because it is a respectable way to see and experience things they cannot see and experience in their own lives.

  • Statistically, it would be insanity to go into the theatre for money. According to the statistics, you should just stay home. The odds are just incredible.

  • Mankind may be divided into playgoers and not playgoers ...

    • Vernon Lee,
    • "On Going to the Play," Hortus Vitae ()
  • The theater has fallen into the hands of real estate men and syndicates and those who have no love or interest in the stage or its life, but who have considered it principally as a means to make money.

  • ... the theater should be free to the people just as the Public Library is free, just as the museum is free. ... I want the theater to be made accessible to the people.

  • The stage is actor's country. You have to get your passport stamped every so often or they take away your citizenship.

  • To me, the theatre — I don't like to say it, but I'll say it — is a temple in a kind of way, where human beings go to be elevated.

    • Shelley Winters,
    • in Lewis Funke and John E. Booth, Actors Talk About Acting ()
  • If a play is good and you're effective in it, you suddenly hear a silence that is loud, and that moment makes the whole schmageggy business of an actor or an actress worthwhile, because you suddenly know that they are human beings like you, who are receiving something from you.

    • Shelley Winters,
    • in Lewis Funke and John E. Booth, Actors Talk About Acting ()
  • Every now and then, when you're on stage, you hear the best sound a player can hear. It is a sound you can't get in movies or in television. It is the sound of a wonderful, deep silence that means you've hit them where they live.

  • Good drama should sandpaper the mind.

  • Theatrical work means too much work or none.

  • The rehearsals began just as all rehearsals begin. Not at all. The participants stood around sniffing each other.

  • My stage fright gets worse at every performance. During the overture I hope for a theater fire, typhoon, revolution in the Pentagon.

  • If one sits down and concentrates on imagining the worst possible surroundings for rehearsing a musical show, it's never as bad as the rehearsal rooms one actually lands in.

  • There is no better indication of what the people of any period are like than the plays they go to see.

  • Half the audience understands us, the other half comes because Brecht is this year's playwright to know ...

  • Theater is by nature political.

    • Naomi Thornton,
    • in Sara Ruddick and Pamela Daniels, eds., Working It Out ()
  • If you really want to help the American theater, don't be an actress, dahling. Be an audience.

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

  • In the theater lying is looked upon as an occupational disease.

  • Constant repetition of the same words and same gestures to a crowd of bronchial strangers can paralyze the will and unhinge the mind.

  • In theater, the playwright is the raft that everyone else's dreams float on.

  • The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation. The theatre is a spiritual and social X-ray of its time.

  • Good theater should always send people away feeling changed.

  • You have written a play which must command success; for I cannot understand it, nor can the public, and I presume no more can you. All you have to do, therefore, is to have it presented, and then sit down and wait for the critics to explain the play to you as to the rest of the world.

  • All drama depends on our need to connect with one another.

  • Don't be taken in by the guff that critics are killing the theater. Commonly they sin on the side of enthusiasm. Too often they give their blessing to trash.

  • In the theatre you don't eat lunch. Ha! In the theatre you're lucky if you eat.

    • Lauren Bacall,
    • in Fran Weil, "Woman of the Year," Playbill ()
  • Theatre is magic. It's what takes us all out of the kitchen of life we're trapped in. It's what makes us reach for something better.

    • Lauren Bacall,
    • in Fran Weil, "Woman of the Year," Playbill ()