§ DON’T upstage fellow actors. Don’t always position yourself one to three steps “up” of scene partners (toward the back of the stage.) This is amateurish and irks professional coworkers.
§ DON’T take tiny steps every time you say a line, particularly not upstage. Again, this is the mark of the amateur. Plant your feet, and stand still while speaking or listening.
§ DON’T meander on the musical stage. If you’re going to move, move! Then make your cross, cement yourself in that spot, and listen or speak your lines. Stop milling about.
§ DON’T sigh or exhale and then talk. Like the declarative statement, this habit immediately releases energy from a scene. If you must exhale or sigh, do it ON your line, not before or after. Color your speech with it.
§ For the same reason as above, DON’T slap your thighs with both hands as an acting choice. The only reason Jimmy Durante made this work was because he used it as a rim-shot after a joke. Don’t slap your thighs.
§ DON’T mimic another actor’s energy or movement style. If your scene partner moves about a great deal in a scene, take the separate path. Choose stillness…few do.
§ Unless specifically directed, DON’T use as an acting choice, “I’m not going to listen,” “I don’t really care,” or “my scene partner doesn’t interest me.” Don’t say “no” to onstage opportunity by playing indifferent or bored. Instead, find reasons to be fascinated and riveted to all scene action.
§ DON’T be the last actor off-book. Instead, be the first memorized.
§ DON’T come to rehearsal looking like a bag lady or bum. Don’t wear cargo shorts, ratty tennis shoes and a “Joe’s Pub” T-shirt. Don’t wear flip-flops. Shave, comb your hair and wear something presentable. Producers and creative staffs offer jobs. Their eyes and admiration are drawn to well-dressed professionals, not vagrants.
§ When offered direction, DON’T let your first question be, “Why?” Figuring out why is your job. If after several attempts at the scene you can’t figure it out, then ask.
§ DON’T blather on in rehearsal about your character. Nobody cares about your motivations, acting technique or why your character needs do this and that. If you wish to make a point, talk about the scene or argue direction, state your case and do it concisely. Time is money. Don’t waste it.
§ In rehearsal rooms, DON’T forget to turn off your phone. Must we endure another poignant love scene pierced by someone’s rhumba bell-tone ring?
§ DON’T continually talk about how worried you are that your performance isn’t working, how much your body hurts or how sick you are. We all ache, get sick and are all terrified of being less than brilliant. Welcome to the club. Just hush up about it. You’ll be fine onstage, and soon you’ll get over that cold or sprained ankle.
§ DON’T constantly show up one, two or ten minutes late for rehearsal or half-hour call. If you’re going to be late, even by thirty seconds, call your stage manager!
§ DON’T be frivolous with your body mike and pack. This stuff costs big bucks. Don’t drag it on the ground, get it wet, step on it, cover it with hairspray or goop it up with gel.
§ DON’T warm-up your voice in the dressing room. Nobody wants to hear your arpeggios.
§ DON’T be the actor that adheres to all craft rules but one: “Look to the speaker and don’t move.” Sharing stage, rather than monopolizing it will make you and fellow performers happier, as well as make the play more compelling. From time to time play the straight man (or woman.) There are plenty of laughs to go around. If audiences are not looking at you every second onstage, it doesn’t mean you are dying, or that your career will soon end. The musical theater is a give-and-take medium, so please try giving now and then.
§ At the stage door, DON’T be a jerk to patrons. Be gracious and grateful for their praise and attention. Be charming not standoffish. This is part of your job. Producers expect it of you.
§ At work, DON’T always talk about your career or future career. Pleeeeease?
§ After seeing a show, DON’T go backstage and critique actor performances. You are not welcome backstage unless you can say, “You were wonderful!” That is the ONLY acceptable backstage critique, and must be said to every actor, director, choreographer, composer and writer you meet. NEVER talk to anyone after a show without first commenting positively about his or her night’s work. In other words, lie and lie well. We’re actors, not critics. Practice now, “You were wonderful!”
§ DON’T ignore the lessons in this book. Don’t believe that you alone will change musical theater performance history by offering the world something completely new. Trampling on libretto rules is commonplace. If you wish to be unique, learn the rules and adhere to them. Doing so will make you one of the elite.
Everyone in the theater thanks you for adhering to the above!