Theatre Quotes

Words to the Wise
Quotations from a wide range of theatrical perspectives

For use in newsletters, season or fundraising brochures or emails, presentations--you name it.

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Category Quote First Last Source

Actors are the only honest hypocrites.

William Hazlitt
Acting, Costumes

The subjective actress thinks of clothes only as they apply to her; the objective actress thinks of them only as they affect others, as a tool for the job.

Edith Head

A cat actually thinks visibly. If you watch him jump on a shelf, the wish to jump and the action of jumping are one and the same thing... It's in exactly the same way that all Brook's exercises try to train the actor. The actor is trained to become so organically related within himself, he thinks completely with his body. He becomes one sensitive, responding whole... The whole of him is one.

John Heilpern

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

Lillian Hellman The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

I've always had great satisfaction out of writing the plays. I've not always had great satisfaction out of seeing them produced--although often I've had satisfaction there. When things go well in production, on opening there's no nicer feeling in the world--what could be nicer than watching an audience respond? You can't that from a book. It's a fine feeling to walk into the theater and see living people respond to something you've done.

Lillian Hellman Playwrights, Lyricists, Composers On Theater

But when I got to SMU and decided to take a playwriting class, I said this isn't a bad idea. If I write characters, they could be as dumb as me, and I don't have to be very smart.

Beth Henley

What acting means is that you've got to get out of your own skin.

Katherine Hepburn Friendly Advice by Jon Winokur

Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four.

Katherine Hepburn

You're an actor, are you? Well, all that means is: you are irresponsible, irrational, romantic, and incapable of handling an adult emotion or a universal concept without first reducing it to something personal, material, sensational -- and probably sexual.

George Herman


Drama should not present new stories but new relationships.

Frederick Hessel The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

The world's a theater, the earth a stage,
Which God and Nature do with actors fill.

Thomas Heywood

This is an extremely foolish and stupid and idiotic kind of attitude--to expect theatres to make money. Do the public schools make money? Do libraries make money? Does the zoo make money? Do the sewers make money? It's a community service.

John Hirsch The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.

Alfred Hitchcock

Acting is a very limited form of expression and those who take it seriously are very limited people. I take it seriously.

Judy Holliday

The novel is more of a whisper, whereas the stage is a shout.

Robert Holman

Acting's entertainment. It's not brain surgery.

Anthony Hopkins Hello! Special Edition, 9.6.01.
General, Management

This is a non-commercial theatre. It's got to be run by a person who sees right from the start that the profits won't be money profits. [On the idea of a Federal Theatre Project, 1934]

Harry Hopkins The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

White male playwrights' works continue to dominate production slates. Sometimes it seems easier for them to have the texts of their driver's licenses produced than for the female or non-white playwright to have her best play produced. The reality is, they are more often given that all-important opportunity to fail than the women's play or ethnic play.

Velina Hasu Houston
Backstage, Lighting, Set Design

If I wanted to have people tell me what to do, I would have become an actor.

Rob Hudd
Acting, Shakespeare

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

Josephine Hull The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips
General, Management

I've never quite understood the idea of a "season." Whenever an artistic director says to me, 'I have this slot,' I always start to feel we're parking cars or something.

David Henry Hwang The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

Before I write down one word, I have to have the character in my mind through and through. I must penetrate into the last wrinkle of his soul.

Henrik Ibsen

Theater is, of course, a reflection of life. Maybe we have to improve life before we can hope to improve theater.

William Inge Saturday Review 22 Feb 64

I started writing for the theatre because I hated it.

Eugene Ionesco The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips

You think, you don't just speak. The lines come off the thoughts.

Jeremy Irons American Film magazine

I've taught both screenwriting and playwriting, and playwriting is both much harder and much more rewarding. One can teach people how to tell a story in cinematic ways, but theater is a much more elusive craft.

David Ives

Writing a play, you start with less, so more is demanded of you. It's as if you have to not only write a symphony, but invent the instruments as well.

David Ives

You'd think is something one would grow out of. But you grow into it. The more you do, the more you realize how painfully easy it is to be lousy and how very difficult to be good.

Glenda Jackson People, March 1985

Acting is not about dressing up. Acting is about stripping bare. The whole essence of learning lines is to forget them so you can make them sound like you thought of them that instant.

Glenda Jackson

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

William James
Acting, Directing

The virtue of dress rehearsals is that they are a free show for a select group of artists and friends of the author, and where for one unique evening the audience is almost expurgated of idiots.

Alfred Jarry

One of the issues peculiar to community theater is dealing with inexperienced or outright bad actors who are so unimaginative, so lacking in energy, that no matter what devices you use, you just don't seem to be helping them that much. They will improve. It is your rseponsibility that the actor should ever feel that he or she has failed.

Ann Jellicoe Stage Directions Guide to Directing

The appearance and retirement of actors are the great events of the theatrical world; and their first performances fill the pit with conjecture and prognostication, as the first actions of a new monarch agitate nations with hope and fear.

Samuel Johnson


The truth is that the spectators are always in their senses, and know, from the first act to the last, that the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only players.

Samuel Johnson The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips
Set Design

I want everyone to feel as much as possible as if they inhabit the same space. They more fluid the relationship between actor and audience, the better.

Christine Jones
Set Design

I have a large personal collection of pictures. For every project, I choose images. Usually I don't do this until I've done an extensive script breakdown and distilled the text down to poetic form. I have to plant enough seeds so that there will be vibration.

Christine Jones
Set Design

If I weren't a theatre designer, I wouldn't be any other kind of designer. Design is interesting to me as it relates to narrative: the design has to support the narrative. Storytelling is the most important thing.

Christine Jones

There are two kinds of theatre, good and bad. Much as I should like to see theatre in America, I would rather have no theatre than bad theatre. What we must strive for is perfection and come as close to it as is humanly possible

Margot Jones

How do you teach someone that a theatre comes about first as an idea, from an individual who has a philosophy and a passion? That a theatre's idea is its heart and individual soul? That the person who creates it must have the desire not only to create work, but also to create the conditions in which that work can live--and in which others can do it as well? How do you teach someone to want to be a midwife as well as a mother.

Robert Kalfin The Audience Book of Theatre Quotations, by Louis Phillips
Acting, Backstage, Directing, General

There is a kind of classlessness in the theater. The rehearsal pianist, the head carpenter, the stage manager, the star of the show--all are family.

John Kander It Happened On Broadway


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