I recently saw this post about a 1945 Code of Ethics for Theatre Workers that was discovered a few years ago. When I began in theatre I never saw this list written down. However I have seen it enacted by everyone of my theatrical role models, my teachers, and many fellow thespians.
Almost twenty years ago I saw my first live theatre performance, Alice Through the Looking Glass. Within months I stood onstage, in costumes, under the lights and recited my first line, “She laughed”. I was only eight.
Theatre has shaped me. It’s taught me how to behave, both in my personal and professional life. Even working outside of theatre, I still find myself applying the lessons I learned on and off stage to my everyday life.
I was lucky enough to have a wonderful community theatre in my city, with a wonderful director that expected and cared a lot about the production and everyone involved. Even though it was just a community theatre, she crafted a professional atmosphere. I later would discover that the production side of things was not on a professional level. But at the time I was in front of the curtain. Here I learned to be on time is late. I knew to come prepared to rehearsal, to give performances my all, to respect both the play and the facilities, and much more.
Jumping forward a few years to my high school years, I began getting involved behind the scenes. Prompted by a friend, I began staying after school to help build the set for Antigone. Then quickly found myself on the run crew for the show. Novi High School had a fantastic drama teacher, she listened to the students and when you showed responsibility and maturity, she treated us as equals. Again, this code was followed without being written out.
I didn’t intend to pursue theatre for my degree, had I attended a different college I don’t think I would have. DePauw had a small theatre department, so it was easy to get involved without declaring a major. Of course as soon as I worked on my first production I never left the theater for very long.
Here, the professors and staff expected even more from students. They were willing to teach if you didn’t know. The program kept as close to professional standards that any educational theatre can and still operate in an educational setting. Here I really learned and discovered my passion for the technical side of theatre. Following prompts from my professors I began stage managing. Every time I expressed interest in a position or helping with a production, but lacked the knowledge to do it, I was told “we can teach you”.
Here, I learned how to communicate effectively and make sure everyone had all the information they needed. I learned how to critically watch theatre and still enjoy it. I learned not to let my personal life affect the play, that every audience deserves the same show. That theatre can not only be an escape for the audience, but for the actors and technicians.
Working in professional theatre, most of my colleges followed the same code. And those that didn’t often were labeled as “that actor” or were the technician that everyone put up with until that production was over. Or course, many of the “rules” in the 1945 code are also found in Equity’s handbook and in many theatrical contracts.
Now that I am working outside of theatre, I still follow the code in my professional life. I do my best to bring the same enthusiasm to work each day. When is asked of me, especially if it is vital to whatever project I am working on, I do it even if it does not fall strictly under my job title. (I do not work in union setting. So I am not breaking any rules or taking a job away from someone else.) I take care of the facilities I am in. And I try to respect others and not spread malicious feelings.
Working outside of theatre, I have discovered there is a surprising number of professionals who do not have a similar code of ethics. I have witnessed professional backstabbing. Constant tardiness. Disrespect of facilities and tools. And many inflated egos that are not willing to lend a hand for the good of the project. Perhaps they never were taught these ethics, at home or in the classroom.
So when I work on productions in my spare time, it is like a breath of fresh air. I am lucky to be living in a city with a lot of community theaters. And they are excellent community theaters. When I walk into rehearsal, the attitude is one of mutual respect and enthusiasm. Those who are new to theatre pick up the code quickly, or often they don’t stick around for long.
I have this code printed out. From now on I am going to include it in my production book for each play I work on. That way I have a reminder for myself, to continue holding myself to that code and hopefully pass on the same attitude.
I hope that my kids inherit my passion for theatre. So that they too will be surrounded by role models with an ethics code that not only makes them a better professional, but a better person.