How to Be an Actor: the Rules and Guidelines of Theatre

“There is a CODE OF CONDUCT by which any Actor worth his or her union membership should abide.  Most of these you know – they’re just common sense.  So when you are lucky enough to work, follow these simple rules.” – Actors Equity

Contrary to what people might think, the road to acting is long, arduous, and necessitates thick skin.  Most of us get our start in community theatre, school, or even church.  Some of us start really young – with supporting parents, and a clear indication you were made to perform.  Some of us start later, as a hobby, then are hooked.  All of us share commonalities.  We live for the stage/camera.  I’m firmly rooted in community theatre these days, and I’m having a helluva time with it.  I am enjoying the challenges, implanting myself in the community, and the wonderful group of people who surround me. I write, act, direct and produce.  That’s the nature of the beast with community theatre; one has to be prepared to wear many hats.  I love that we have actors who are also visual artists.  I love that we have actors who are award-winning dancers.  I love that we have people in our group that absolutely hate acting and are happy calling the show (stage manager), and providing props.  I also love when it’s the actors who are willing to take a step from the limelight and help out backstage.

If you can’t help out backstage, you have no business being on stage.  

If your ego is too big, and you think the only space to hold it is a stage, you will not find yourselves on my stage.  Backstage crew are the most important people in a performance. Sure, you can memorize the lines and cry on cue, but if we have no lighting guys, no one will see you.

10 to 1, it's an eye drop.






If we have no costume mistress, the audience is going to wonder why you’re a knight in Arthur’s court wearing a Canadian Tuxedo.

And here we have Matt Damon, wearing our traditional garb.










The point I’m trying to make is this: Actors, you are not the shiz.  Or the nit.  You are part of a team of people working hard to make the director’s vision come to light.

To that end:

  1. Some directors (myself included) welcome suggestions, especially at the community theatre level.  If they don’t, too bad.  It’s their prerogative.  You are merely the body/voice chosen to act out his vision.
  2. Actors never, never, ever give directions to other actors.  If you are scene partners, you may say, “hey, what if we tried this?”  Never, never, ever say, “you need to do this.”  That is not your role; you are not the director.
  3. Actors never, never ever do something you’re uncomfortable with.  That being said, it is YOUR responsibility to read the entire script to check for things which may make you uncomfortable before you accept the role.  No director worth his salt will fault you for turning down a role due to your own ethical code, but he will be exceedingly angry if you pull diva crap like that after you’ve accepted; because if you’ve accepted, it means you’ve accepted your character – and all his/her nitty-gritty parts.
  4. Tech week is one of the the most important weeks in the run of a show.  Attendance is mandatory.  Man-da-tory.  There may be extenuating circumstances and a director may be empathetic, but another rehearsal, audition, or a casting call for Bachelor:Canada is unacceptable.
  5. Actors, do not come to a rehearsal and say, “which show are we doing?”  We get it, you like acting.  We do too!  But an actor is first and foremost a professional and not having your poop in a group will not endear you to anyone.  Also, it makes you sound like a pretentious douche.
  6. When a directors says you need to be off-book, be off-book.  That does not mean you can’t call lines.  It just means to get the damn book away from you.  It limits your acting and the director wants to begin to shape you in his vision.
  7. Do not give another actor a line.  A dramatic pause is not necessarily someone forgetting a line.  If he/she forgets a line, he/she will stay in character, and call line, which will be given to him by a pre-designated individual (most commonly the stage manager).
  8. If you are fortunate to act with a huge organization, if you have a question for the director, it goes through the Stage Manager.  She is your point of contact.  She reports to the director, and he reports to producers.
  9. When a director gives notes, write them down.  This includes blocking.  Nothing is more frustrating for a director than an actor not adapting the changes previously given.  It is rude, unprofessional and absolutely infuriating.
  10. Finally, you are not the only person sacrificing your time, your social life, and your sanity to do a show.  Do not act like you are.

None of this is meant to discourage or acuse.  If you want to be part of the wonderful world of theatre, you need to know these things.  One wrong move can ruin your career.  Community theatre is meant to be and is fun.  You surround yourself with like-minded individuals and at the end of it, people clap for you!  It’s great!  But acting is also very vulnerable, and if you can’t respect the social mores surrounding theatre, you don’t deserve the trust actors give you.

Images taken from here and here.


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