A while back, my friend and fellow actress Maria, posted an article on her Facebook page: A 1945 Code of Ethics for Theatre Workers, and I thought I’d chime in with my opinion of the piece.
I’ve reproduced the text below, because I think it’s incredibly useful and important for actors/actresses to know this information, and a great insight for our audiences about the standards that a great many actors impose upon themselves. Those actors who don’t, aren’t on the stage for very long (hopefully).
And so it begins: (dim your lights, put on some non-vocal mood music.)
Foreword to the Code
“A part of the great tradition of the theatre is the code of ethics which belong to every worker in the theatre. This code is not a superstition, nor a dogma, nor a ritual which is enforced by tribunals; it is an attitude toward your vocation, your fellow workers, your audiences and yourself. It is a kind of self-discipline which does not rob you of your invaluable individualism.
“Those of you who have been in show business know the full connotation of these precepts. Those of you who are new to show business will soon learn. Therefore, it is with the sincere purpose of continued dedication to the great traditions of the theatre that these items are here presented.”
If you learn, as many call it: The Craft, from a knowledgeable instructor with a resume’ to back up their teaching skills, you’ll employ many of these rules instinctively.
The “rules” follow, with my thoughts in italics.
1. I shall never miss a performance.
I will show up to work when I am scheduled, and won’t take shows off with little to no notice because a concert I want to see is in town, or I want to have lunch with my agent to discuss a new direction for my career. Obviously if I can work it out days in advance with my understudy or swing, that’s one thing, but I need to show up to do the shows I was hired to do. And believe me, the Producers notice when you’re constantly absent…
2. I shall play every performance with energy, enthusiasm and to the best of my ability regardless of size of audience, personal illness, bad weather, accident, or even death in my family.
During Belle of Tombstone, we had a case of seasonal allergies and a moderate cold happening backstage. Our audiences did not noticed this at all, because every one of our actors – no matter how awful they feel – give 110% when they set foot on the stage. They may walk backstage and hang their head over a humidifier or cough up a lung after a scene, but that’s never evident while they are on stage. Our audience paid to see a hilarious, fast-paced show, full of song and dance, and that’s what we’ll give them! Of course no one in the theater is so heartless to require an actor to appear when a loved one passes – some actors NEED to be on stage to block or work through their grief; some take time off – but in either case, their fellow actors make allowances for their situation – we are, after all, a small family!
3. I shall forego all social activities which interfere with rehearsals or any other scheduled work at the theatre, and I shall always be on time.
Lunch with my BFF (who I haven’t seen in, like, forever), the snooze button on my alarm clock, the chance at meeting a celebrity at a radio station promo shall not prevent me from showing up on time to rehearsal for the show I was hired to do. I will not call in 10 minutes before rehearsal to say I’m not coming because I got a chance to audition for a paying commercial. If I won’t be there, I will let the Director or SM know the day (or two) before, and why, AND what I’ll do to make up the time I/they lost. It’s on my shoulders, and I will not make someone else do any extra work on my behalf. I will not make up some cockamamie excuse for why I was late.
4. I shall never make a curtain late by my failure to be ready on time.
If the curtain is at 8, I’ll show up at 7 to get ready. If I show up at 7.45, I’ll just turn around and go home because my understudy is already in costume, they’ve tweeted to their friends that they’re performing, it’s already in the show report that I was late and didn’t call to let anyone know, and the SM isn’t going to take the show away from my available, willing, enthusiastic understudy/swing.
5. I shall never miss an entrance.
Other actors are relying on me to make my entrance when and where I am supposed to. They were not hired to make up dialog to fill the time I’m offstage finishing a phone call with great aunt Betty, or getting one more level in Candy Crush.
6. I shall never leave the theatre building or the stage area until I have completed my performance, unless I am specifically excused by the stage manager; curtain calls are a part of the show.
My Starbucks fix can wait. I will not disappear to get a slurpee, making the SM wonder where the hell I went during a performance or intermission, and thusly calling out a K-9 sniffer unit to determine my whereabouts. I will not leave the building until my understudy arrives for the next show.
7. I shall not let the comments of friends, relatives or critics change any phase of my work without proper consultation; I shall not change lines, business, lights, properties, settings or costumes or any phase of the production without consultation with and permission of my director or producer or their agents, and I shall inform all people concerned.
I’ve had the pleasure of mostly positive reviews for the shows I’ve been privileged to be cast in. But, occasionally, there’s a stinker. Happens to the best of us, even on Broadway – but it’s usually just one person’s opinion, and hey, maybe they’ve had a bad day and wanted to be elsewhere. Meh. I’m going to keep doing the show the way I was directed to do the show, until I’m told otherwise. I’ve had audiences sit stony-faced through a performance, only to have them greet me afterwards with the most effusive and genuine smiles, handshakes and hugs. We’re all in the same boat, and if it’s going down, I’ll grab the piano, you grab the guitar and let’s make some music.
8. I shall forego the gratification of my ego for the demands of the play.
I am not out there on stage. The character I created (with the help of many others) is. I will wear whatever the costume designer hands me (so long as it fits) and not complain, nor try to justify the non-wearing of an item because it’s “not my character” – I will find ways to make it work. I will not have a Diva moment, because I respect my other actors and I remember we are all in this together. I will help my fellow actors when they are struggling, because I know they will help me. I will listen to more experienced actors because they have seen more things, and been more people than I have – and one day I will be able to pass on their creativity to others.
9. I shall remember my business is to create illusion; therefore, I shall not break the illusion by appearing in costume and makeup off-stage or outside the theatre.
As fun as it might sound going to Subway in full Pirate regalia, there’s a chance I might get mud splashed on the costume that someone has worked so hard to create, or I might spill low-fat Ranch on my collar while I’m wolfing down a $5 footlong. Also, Pirates didn’t eat hoagies, so… there’s that.
10. I shall accept my director’s and producer’s advice and counsel in the spirit in which it is given, for they can see the production as a whole and my work from the front.
I’m not the director. Yes, I have directed, and my actors received great notices. But I was NOT hired as the director of this show. So, I’m going to take their advice and guidance, examine what they are saying/asking of me, and apply it generously. I also will refer to number 8 when I feel like I’m getting all bent out of shape.
11. I shall never “put on an act” while viewing other artists’ work as a member of an audience, nor shall I make caustic criticism from jealousy or for the sake of being smart.
I will say “thank you” for getting me tickets to your show, I will not feed you B.S. if you want my honest opinion of a show or your part in it. When I give you feedback, it is because I enjoyed what I saw. I will not give you feedback on opening night, or maybe even any other night – what you create is different from what I would create if given the same part, and that’s why one production is enjoyably different from another.
If you are simply too amazing for words, I reserve the right to jokingly tell you how awful you are, because you know darn well you’re the bee’s knees.
12. I shall respect the play and the playwright and, remembering that “a work of art is not a work of art until it is finished,” I shall not condemn a play while it is in rehearsal.
“You want me….to talk…to a skull??” You can’t see the forest for the trees. There is magic that happens in the theater. It often doesn’t happen until Opening Night, so I’ll keep my mouth shut because the Director has hundreds of things more to think about than I do, and they’ve probably already thought of what I wanted to tell them, and they’ll handle it when it’s time for them to handle it.
13. I shall not spread rumor or gossip which is malicious and tends to reflect discredit on my show, the theatre, or any personnel connected with them-either to people inside or outside the group.
14. Since I respect the theatre in which I work, I shall do my best to keep it looking clean, orderly and attractive regardless of whether I am specifically assigned to such work or not.
This place is our home away from home, and we are here six days a week. I will use the paper towel I just dried my hands with to mop up stray water droplets on the sink counter. I will clean up after myself, and I will help others if something gets spilled. I will refill the coffee machine with water. All because the last thing we need is a color-coded chore chart.
15. I shall handle stage properties and costumes with care for I know they are part of the tools of my trade and are a vital part of the physical production.
I will hang up my costumes and handle my props with care because I respect the time and effort that went into making them. I do not want to buy the production a new Louis XIV settee because my behind plopped down too hard and broke through the 300 year old pine frame. Yes, we occasionally use real stuff on stage because it’s easier than making it ourselves.
16. I shall follow rules of courtesy, deportment and common decency applicable in all walks of life (and especially in a business in close contact with the public) when I am in the theatre, and I shall observe the rules and regulations of any specific theatre where I work.
I’m going to be nice to my fellow actors because: we all have our own stuff to deal with, and while we’re at the theater, we have a 2-3 hour break from “real life”. In turn, they’ll be nice to me, and off-work friendship may ensue. I’ll also be nice because they also follow these “rules”, and by doing so, create a harmonious work environment where we can have fun for 2-3 hours each night.
17. I shall never lose my enthusiasm for theatre because of disappointments.
That pretty much says it right there; I feel no need to expand on that.