Posted by: yteditors | January 12, 2002

Professionalism in Theatre

Professionalism in Theatre – Nandini Rao

Well, as I started putting my thoughts together to make notes for newcomers in yours truly theatre, I just realized that these pointers and thoughts are universal and true to most amateur theatre groups in India or otherwise. So thought will share it with everyone and most importantly I hope newcomers in theatre read this and can gain some insights from it.

Considering many  theatre groups in India are amature theatre (not doing theatre for livelihood ), which means most of the actors who are part of them,  do work in some or other places and are hence exposed to corporate world.

Now, it is funny that being in the corporate world we are very aware of the word ‘professionalism’ , the unsaid protocols, set etiquettes, and few basic courtesies. However same people who follow these to tee at work, forget about them completely when they are with a theatre group or working on productions. Unfortunately,  this is true for some who have decent number of experience in theatre as well.

Professionalism in Theatre: communication is the key

So I am just jotting down few points on ‘Professionalism’ which will help newcomers, co-actors, directors and mainly the play/production and theatre in general.

Will be using the abv ESTD (easier said than done) thru these articles , I know its not a perfect world and most of things list sound easy but difficult to practice.

Before you start:
1) There is no harm in learning/getting trained in theatre:
Many believe in concept of ‘born talent’ ‘talent in the blood’, ‘its there in me or not there’. However just like every other art requires, theatre and acting also needs passion for it along with consistency and long term commitment.
Its true for every art, the more you stay and dedicate time, energy the more you get comfortable and good with it.
Short term , fast food quickie in art will give little or no idea of the depth of it nor the satisfaction. So choose your interest, but for gods sake stay with it for sometime, see what it does to you. Give yourself time with it.

I have come across quite few people, who have been involved in college skits/mad ads/street theatre believe they have done it all and because they won ‘best actress in school/college/office’ they don’t need to learn any more.
There are many theatre workshops conducted in every city, learning concepts and ideas of theatre will not harm you, but will give a wider perspective and greater understanding.

2) Starting small is not bad  (ETSD)
I cant be a tree or a soldier, many times youngsters believe that they would be offered main leads or so called ‘cheesy roles’. It’s a perfect dream come true moment people wait for all their lives. Don’t wait for that, take up the opportunities coming your way, every experience is a great learning. This way you also can build trust of directors and co-actors by showing your commitment & passion. Also watching and being part of productions will teach you more about overall aspects of theatre.

– Will perform only in proscenium stage –  many want to their first show to be in a big, fancy & most reputed theatre auditoriums and never take the opportunities of beginning small and humble. The pleasure of performing at variety of locations from under a tree to intimate room is actually a great experience. The informality these locations offers help actors to get comfortable at early stages than a formal auditorium with pressure of performance. Same is true when you perform for variety of audience, from children to older age. Not many groups do take this route, but if you get a chance, don’t miss it.  

Now lets move to next aspect once you are close to being part of a production

Before you commit :

Its great to have enthusiasm, but before you commit to a play/production do
 understand the timelines of commitment expected for rehearsals and  show days and schedules.
In initial enthusiasm you might commit, but later realize that you cant stretch your personal or professional commitment. Don’t hide the truth to directors, specially if you for sure or tentatively know that you will be moving out for job, studies or personal reason. You will be putting the director, co-actors and the production into a soup by doing that. Tell them the truth, many  time they will be accommodative and will appreciate your honesty.

During the rehearsals
Its always easy to commit but difficult to sustain. So if you have commited to a project

1)      Be regular for rehearsals(ETSD)  – Don’t bunk and give list of excuses to directors. Its not your school or college nor your director your teacher. Remember you have not just committed to them director and co-actor, but it’s a commitment you have made to yourself, so respect your own decision. Plan ahead, if you are going to miss out, inform and communicate as and when required. Trust me most  directors are accommodative if there are genuine and imp reasons. 

2)      Be on time for rehearsals (ETSD) – IST( Indian standard time) is not something we need to be proud of and follow. There is a lot of things which will be planned for every rehearsal. One actor coming 5 min late for every rehearsals is overall a huge waste of time for all.  Respect your co-actors, directors time. Plan ahead the distance, traffic, peak hours etc. But Be on time.

3)      Keep your personal life at the doorstep –  All of us do go through ups and down in our personal and professional life, but when you do come for rehearsals, do keep them away (ETSD)  and give your best in rehearsals. Infact this will help you forget about the problems for that time and you will feel more relaxed.

4)      Don’t get too personal (ETSD) (ETSD) Yes, in theatre you would be working closely with many people physically and emotionally, and its natural to get close and sometime very close, however, my personal opinion is to keep a professional relations with co-actors and directors. Making boyfriend/girl friends/best friends /soul mates can sometime get messy not just for you but for all. Even if you do happen to get close, its better to keep it away from the rehearsal space. Though theatre is lot of fun, don’t make it a place to have picnic.

5)      Try to learn – instead of being critical about co-actors or counting how many more lines or stage appearances they have got than you, try and learn and absorb. Every individual has a there own way of representing characters or scenes, some may take time to learn and some might be faster. So try and leave your prejudices and enjoy the moment.

6)      Give your best – I have come across many who don’t believe in giving their best during rehearsals, they wait for the show day to give their best performance. Theatre is a ‘riyaaz’ and that why rehearsals are called practice, treat every rehearsal like a show without audience, keep the consistency, if you plan to change something, speak to director.

7)      Homework – Go back home, rehearse your scenes, parts, lines. This will save time and director will be keen to work with actors who go that extra mile and put effort. Observe life, there is so much you can apply back in rehearsals.

8)      Don’t direct the director or co-direct co-actors  – It’s quite natural that sitting outside or watching other scenes, you will get more or better ideas about how it can be or should be. If you do have any opinion about your scene or any other scene, speak to director after rehearsals, if he/she is open they might want to accommodate.

Respect the fact that director has a vision of the play which is a larger perspective about the whole production. So take the instructions, the director is directing because they have years of experience and they will know what works and what doesn’t. Even if it’s a new director, give him/her the due credit.

Show day & later :

Let the show aftereffect not affect you – Idea should be to give your best for the show, post the show the success or failure, the accolades or the brickbats, the fame or tomatoes should not affect your self esteem or suddenly develop a super star attitude. Every show is an experience and takeaways are many.
Stay with it – many believe once I have performed on the stage, I have done it all, now I need to move to new production or another art. But performing first 5 shows are the tip of the iceberg, these shows all actors are mostly getting the moves right, getting lines right, they wouldn’t have touched the layers of the scenes.

Quitting a production:  We as Indians are mostly non-assertive types, to say NO is not too much part of our DNA. We would rather disappear from earths surface than face the situation. Very rarely we assertively can put our points and view across.

However it would just help you and the directors.  if you are honest and clear about your priorities. Instead of the disappearing acts or list of creative excuses on mails or smses, it is better you meet the directors face to face ( they are not monsters who will eat you up), tell them the truth, reasons you have to quit, reasons you have to take a break etc. Stitching creative stories and excuses which everyone can see through will only make them lose respect for you and you will never have the face to return.

Give them notice period – just like in corporate you give notice 2-3 months before, if you do have to quit, don’t wait for last minute to shock your director. Inform them as soon as you get to know, so they can plan accordingly. Trust me they will be thankful to you for informing in advance.

So make the exit smoother, keep in touch with them, theatre community is a small one, you will come across them more often than not. You can choose to personally say good bye or write a mail or a note, thanking for opportunities you got and time they spent of mentoring you.  Keep good relations and leaving at a good note helps.



  1. Very nice one. It’s really true to have professionalism in theatre as well because that helps grow more and learn a lot. I think everyone should read each and every line of this particular article.

  2. If I dont follow Professionalism in theatre, I myself will be a loser. This attitude extends to our personal life as well, so I’d better follow this and learn.
    Thanks Nandini!

  3. A very good read for newcomers and experienced theater artists. a Professional is an artist at work 🙂

  4. Super learning 🙂

    favourite takeaways from this (and yes I have favourites here also :))

    “leave your prejudices and enjoy the moment”

    “Observe life, there is so much you can apply back in rehearsals.”

  5. All is well said.

    There could be situations, where your personal life or professional ambitions pull you away, but if you really like theatre and experimentation , YT is really striving to make a difference.

  6. I am going to refer this page to anyone who asks me anything bout entring into theatre..this is so complete.

  7. Hats off, An amazing article, worth reading every word of it 🙂 every letter is so true, with your permission i want to circulate this to WeMove members
    -Abhishek Iyengar

  8. Wow, really good article. I really think it gives newcomers some ideas of theatre rules – for it is not only fun fun fun all the time – and reminds experienced ones of some qualities they might have lost over some time. Only the friend aspect is a little bit to tough in my opinion. Of course, while rehearing itself you should keep away your affections or disgusts towards your co-actors. But even in small brakes you get really intimate. I experienced that theatre friendships are of the most intimate type although they are only held to the end of this or the next production. But that’s okay and you shouldn’t suppress affection. Usually, in every school theatre production of mine, one couple found each other.

  9. This article is really worth reading for every one with the slightest interest for or affiliation with theatre. I loved it!!!

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