The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

Writing for Us
A CurtainUpFeature
Quotes By and About the Theater World's Famous and Infamous

Note: Quotes are arranged alphabetically by speaker. All plays reviewed and not linked here can be found in our master index of reviews.

Other Quote Archives:
Timely Quotes

Quotes From Plays

Shakespeare's Little Instruction Book

Quotes By and About Famous People Connected to the Theater.

Other Quote Archives: Quotes From Past & Present Plays. . .Shakespeare's Little Instruction Book. . . Quotes From Recently Produced Plays


Theater and Politics. All theater is political if it engages you. If more people took theater seriously we'd have different election results. I've yet to meet a serious playwright who wasn't a liberal Democrat. -- Edward Albee at January 17th Drama Desk Panel entitled Everything Goes. (Posted 1/20/05)

Playwriting: People often ask me how long it takes me to write a play, and I tell them 'all of my life. -- Edward Albee

Popularity: I'm back in fashion again for a while now. But I imagine that three or four years from now I'll be out again. And in another fifteen years I'll be back. If you try to write to stay in fashion, if you try to write to be the critics' darling, you become an employee
-- Edward Albee, on the resurgence of interest in his work. (posted 2/05/01)

Playwrights. A playwright is someone who lets his guts hang out on the stage. . . --Edward Albee's answer to his own question "Do you know what a playwright is?" addressed to another playwright Adrienne Kennedy. The quote was used to conclude Dennis Brown's interview with the playwright during the 1970s. Off-Broadway Audiences and the Internet. Across the board they (the people contributing to the buzz of plays opening and re-opening Off -Broadway) are all better-informed. Perhaps the Internet has created a unified information base   -- Doug Aibel artistic director of The Vineyard Theatre where the Pulitzer Prize winning How I Learned to Drive took its first road test. Quoted 8/21/98 in an article in BackStage  Theater Although the theater is not life, it is composed of fragments or imitations of life, and people on both sides of the footlight have to unite to make the fragments whole and the immitations genuine. --Brooks Atkinson, in the sum-up chapter of his wonderful Broadway memoir, titled--but of course--Broadway.

Happiness. In Tom Stoppard's Play, The Real Thing, the daughter asks her father what happness is and he says 'Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight.' That's what Broadway had: balance. An equlibrium -- among the producers, theater owners, guilds, unions . . . When the lure of television and film for the major talent became too great, and the costs and prices rose, the balance was disrupted. Broadway did not shift well or quickly enough. —Independent producer Emanuel Azenberg's plea in The New York Times for a National Theater which would give young theater goers the thrill of seeing plays by today's new playwrights for the first time.

Life: Life is not tragic. Life is ridiculous. And that cannot be borne -- Henrik Ibsen the acknowledged "father of the modern theater" whose Hedda Gabler, newly adapted by playwright Jon Robin Baitz.

Employment in the Theater It's one of the tragic ironies of the theatre that only one man in it can count on steady work--the night watchman --Tallulah Bankhead, quoted in Tallulah, 1952. Plays,quality of: All theories of what a good play is or how good a play should be written, are futile. A good play is a play which when acted upon the boards makes an audience inerested and pleased. A play that fails in this is a bad play. - from playwright, essayist, novelist Maurice Baring's (1874-1945)Have You Anything to Declare?

Death and Dying: Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.--John Barrymore, shortly before this "conventional thing" did indeed happen. In the sense of being dead but not forgotten, the Barrymore name is indeed far from dead--to wit, Christopher Plummer's portrayal of John which won him a Tony at the close of the '96-'97 season (Barrymore ).

Comedy: Comedy is the saving grace which makes life bearable.— S. N. Behrman, author of many drawing room comedies about changing mores, in his memoir, published a year before his death in 1973.

Song Lyrics. Easy to sing, easy to say, easy to remember and applicable to everyday events' is a good rule for a phrase -- Irving Berlin in a 1954 interview. Truly a man who lived up to his own advice, as amply evident in the easy to sing and remember song studded Annie Get Your Gun which was successfully revived in Spring 1999 starring Bernadette Peters. (our review

The State of the Theater: The fact that new playwrights aren't being produced on Broadway speaks more to the decline of Broadway than the decline of playwriting. For example, I think the directors' theater is wrong and will die out. Audiences don't want it and they are right --Eric Bentley, in one of a series of dialogues on the theme of Renewal in Issue 22 of the Lincoln Center Theater Review.

Dramatic Impact. He hits hard, and below the belt, if need be. But at least he hits-- John Mason Brown the famous critic about Clifford Odets in his book Dramatis Personae. Odets who was considered America's master of social protest revolutionary or agitprop drama in the 1930s fell out of favor after he became a Hollywood scriptwriter. The disillusionment of that Hollywood experience led to an anti-Hollywood play The Big Knife with which Odets hoped to re-establish himself on Broadway. Despite John Garfield in the starring role the play was not a success. However, it did become a cult movie and Joanne Woodward, who seems determined to direct Odets' entire oeuvre, resurrected it for the 1998 summer season at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. ( our review

Actors An actor is a sculptor who carves in snow --Edwin Booth, who may have borrowed this phrase from Lawrence Barrett who lived at the same time as the actor.

back to the top

Theater Techniques: In today's theater, sound amplification has a way of making the live performance seem more artificial. Why not then, give in to television screens in the audience? They're no more artificial than loudspeakers. Being raised on television, we are used to seeing everything in close-up. How long can the theater insist that we take the long view? --Vincent Canby, New York Times film and theater critic, who died on October 15th. (posted 10/16)

Playwrighting: I've tried to be original. I have not introduced a single villain or a single angel (though I haven't been able to abstain from fools); nor have I accused or vindicated anyone. Whether or not I've succeeded I can't tell. Korsh and the actors are sure the play will work. I'm not so sure. The actors don't understand it and say the most ridiculous things, they're badly miscast. I'm constantly at war with them Had I known I'd never have gotten involved with it. --Anton Chekhov, after finishing his first play, Ivanov which he rewrote frequently but with which he never felt wholly satisfied. This was one reason the play has seen far fewer productions than The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya, The Sea Gull or The Three Sisters. The quote appeared in David Hare's introduction to his adaptation of the play opening at Lincoln Center 11/20/97. ( Our Review).

Acting:.He is an actor of tremendous clout. He is always vivid, never less than arresting. He is one of the few American actors who create the impression of a mature manliness; most others strike me as grown-up boys -- Harold Clurman afterseeing George C. Scott in A Death of a Salesman -- an apt assessment of the actor who yesterday left life's stage.

Audience Building Advice. Consider the public. Treat it with tact and courtesy. It will accept much from you if you are clever enough to win it to your side. Never fear it nor despise it. Coax it, charm it, interest it, stimulate it, shock it now and then, if you must, make it laugh, make it cry and make it think, but above all, dear pioneers, in spite of indiscriminate and largely ignorant critical acclaim, in spite of awards and prizes and other dubious accolades, never never never bore the living hell out of it --Noel Coward, "A Warning to Pioneers", The Sunday Times, January 15, 1961 This and the two articles that follow"ed drew immediate and intense response from many of the "new playwrights as well as readers. The complete series is reproduced in My Life With Noël Coward by Graham Payn with Barry Day ( Review of My Life With Noël Coward by Graham Payn with Barry Day.

Rewriting . . . if, 300 years later, reflecting the contemporary world has meant first deconstructing then reconstructing the text, this is only in the belief that --at this distance in time--re-invention, re-writing of one writer's work by another is a fidelity of the truest and most passionate kind.-- Martin Crimp in a program note for the Classic Stage's presentation of his thoroughly updated version of Molière's "comedy of virtues" Le Misanthrope.

Theater Experiences: My first Broadway play was in 1977. I snuck into the second act of Hair. To this day, I still haven't seen the first act. They tell me the second act was better because there was more nudity so I feel blessed. — Alan Cranston, accepting his Tony for Best Actor in a Play ( All the Way)

On-Off Stage Behavior: There's no difference between myself onstage and off. None. I speak louder. Theatre is just a way to which you can inflict yourself on the maximum number of people -- Quentin Crisp in a January 1999 interview in Backstage during his latest one person show An Evening With Quentin Crisp.

 back to the top
Business If they don't want to come, you can't stop them. —David Cromer after the producers closed the first Broadway play he directed, Brighton Beach Memoirs just a week after it opened, and before its planned repertory partner, Broadway Bound, could be mounted. Cromer's quote has been variously attributed though Cromer credited it to Second City co-founder Bernie Sahlins.

He [Harold Pinter] showed me how dramatic art can be lyrical without versifying, can be poetic merely by delving into the buried rhythms of everyday speech. . . He was not afraid of silence or letting his characters lapse into stuttering or inscrutability. .—Ariel Dorfman, a day after his friend's death, in the Washington Post

Desire: By freely purusinghis own desires, Lyman Felt attempts to embrace life and defy death. Like Oedipus' pride, Lyman's jealousy is his undoing, his fatal flaw leading him to inadvertently expose his lie. As the private becomes public, Lyman is suddenly forced into a new role, battling both his guilt and the social hypocrisy that surrounds him, wishing that death would liberate him from the life he so desperately wanted --David Esbjornson, director of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan The quote from various thoughts on the play's relationship to the Greek dramatist's belief that "your character was your fate" in the Public Theater's always informative program notes. It refers to the suspicions raised about the anti-hero's accident on the icy Mt. Morgan Rd. Was he worried that his young wife was cheating him, seeking to assuage his guilt for deceiving her and his first wife by ending it all?

back to the top
On One's Expectations from a Play; A play should give you something to think about. When I see a play and understand it the first time, then I know it can't be much good --T. S. Eliot, quoted in the New York Post, September 23, 1963.Wouldn't it be nice if there was a policy of reduced ticket prices for any theater-goer seeing a play a second time, with additional discounts for each viewing?

back to the top

back to the top

Progress: Progress America, in the year 2000, then, progress seems to consist of our willingness to spill our tribal guts, to allow otherwise decent people to say on stage things that, even a quarter century ago, would have been consigned to the villain. When such things spill out of the mouths of ivory tower types, something vistigial in us feels shocked. But given the realities of American life in the past two decades, the question really ought to be: why? -- Anthony Giardina, Lincoln Center Theater Review devoted to Spinning Into Butter

Actors; Theater Posters The theater poster. What is it but a rectangular piece of cardboard with stars' names on it? Right? When I was a kid, another of the prime reasons to be a playwright was you would have a poster with your name and the title of your play on it that you could then hang in the living room of your inevitable penthouse. The poster as souvenir-- John Guare in his introduction to The Theater Posters of James McMullan, . ( our review ). McMullan's posters, like any theater poster capture an image that triggers a try me-buy-me response in a quick glimpse, but as Guare explains they transcend commerce because they "share that sense of a challenge being flung out, a promise of 'I dare you".

Stage Plays; The stage play is a trial not a deed of violence. The soul is opened, like the combination of a safe, by means of a word. You don't require an acetylene torch -- Jean Giradoux.

Writers/Playwrights: It's up to us writers to be smart enough to come up with stuff that's going to sell. I don't have the energy to worry about this trend, or what producers are looking for, or what's selling and what's not. There are a lot of people buying tickets to the musical theater. And that's all I need to know.
—Adam Guettel (Floyd Collins, Light in the Piazza), Nelson Pressley Interview, "Born With a Golden Ear" in The Washington Post, 12/16/06 (posted 12/20/06)
Actors; An actor is at his best a kind of unfrocked priest who, for an hour or two, can call on heaven and hell to mesmerize a group of innocents-- Alec Guinness from his 1986 memoir, Blessings In Disguise (See our review of his follow-up to this, his diary of his 81st year My Name Escapes Me .

back to the top

Playwriting; Playwrights must be allowed to be at less than their best sometimes, without meeting an all-out critical assault --British director Peter Hall quoted in Studs Terkel's collection of stage and screen interviews, TheSpectator. Hall cited Eugene O'Neill's up-down-up-down career as thriving from this sort of tolerance. Musical Theater, writing for: First take a play that you like and musicalize it. Then take a play that you like but that you feel has flaws and try to improve them, and musicalize it. Then take something that is not a play but that somebody else has written, a novel or a short story, so that you don't have to invent the characters or plot, and musicalize that and make it into a play. And then finally, write an original, your own story, and dramatize that. --   Oscar Hammerstein the 2nd, Stephen Sondheim's surrogate father and mentor, prescribed the above four-part lesson plan for mastering the art of writing musicals. It's a plan any would-be composer-lyricist might do well to follow. The book from which the quote is taken Stephen Sondheim: a Life is good reading for anyone interested in the creative process and the genesis of some of the best known musicals of our era. See Our Review

Composers and Lyricists: "Your husband wrote dum, dum, dum-dum." My husband wrote "Old Man River"--Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein, quickly interrupting Mrs. Jerome Kern.

Israel; People always say that in England we lead Shallow lies. Our lives must be shallow because we live in a country where nobody believes in anything any more. My whole life I've been told, 'Western civilization? An old bitch in the teeth.' And so, people say, 'Go to Israel. Because in Israel they're fighting for something they believe in.' --Sir David Hare quoted in the Lincoln Center Theater Member News on what prompted him to finally visit this epicenter of world religion. The people he met there so moved him enormously and led to the writing of Via Dolorosa in which he he starred on Broadway in Spring 1999. (our review) Originality; Great writers steal, mediocre writers imitate --Lillian Hellman to students in her Harvard class on writing. ( Review of Hellman and Hammett .

Endurance. To quote another great Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, 'We got through all of last year and we're still here.— Gregory Hines, during one of his interludes as host of the Tony Awards ceremony, June 2, 2002.

Identity, Self Image. My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else. — Lena Horne, looking back at 80. She lived on to be 'Me' and 'like nobody else' until her death on May 9th at age 92.

back to the top

Life is not tragic. Life is ridiculous. And that cannot be borne -- Henrik Ibsen the acknowledged" father of the modern theater" whose Hedda Gabler, newly adapted by playwright Jon Robin Baitz, which was given a Broadway bound revival at the Williamstown Theatre Festival

Art: There is an essential difference between a mat and a Matisse, even though they share a syllable. -- Eugene Ionesco whose little known Le Tableau has been newly translated as The Picture and is running in a new venue on 42nd Street. Making Something New From Something Old: They (the Drama Dept.) Unearthed a 70-year-old chestnut and gave it new life as if it were written 7 minutes ago --Dana Ivey, about the Drama Dept. which won the 1997 Encore Taking-Off Award for its very fresh and original revival of June Moon. 

back to the top

Theater Quality; 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, quoted in "Theatre '50: A Dream Come True;Ten Talents in the American Theatre1957. " (Ed.Note: Go through the ABC listings. What's your count of plays that meet Ms. Jones' declaration of theatrical purpose? Also check out Paula Vogel's comments on perfection.
back to the top
Lyric Writing; The real art (and the real craft) of lyric writing lies in the act of compression. To get an emotion, or an idea, or a revelation, and squeeze it down into its most compact and graspable and memorable possible form: that is the challenge and the joy of lyric writing. Thus, there are very few words involved, and every word, every justaposition of words, is of extreme importance. Every "and" and every "but" and "the" is weighed with extreme care.-- Lyricist/librettist Tom Jones and is best illustrated with another quote from--what else--a Jones and Schmidth song (from 110 in the Shade: Not all dreams are great big dreams.
Some people's dreams are small.
Not all dreams have to have a golden fleece,
Or any kindof fleece at all.. Having reviewed The Show Goes Ona charming small revue featuring Lyricist/librettist Tom Jones, his partner Harvey Schmidth and three other singers, we can't resist a paraphrase: Not all showshave to be big,
Some people's vision is small
Not all shows have to have glitter and glitz
Just talent, that's all 
back to the top

Playwriting; Remember! the word is playwright --W-R-I-G-H-T -- like wheelwright. A play is not so much written as wrought. it's designed and build and shaped; it's carved out -- writer and director Garson Kanin who died 3/13/99 at age 86.

Satirical Plays; Satire is what closes on Saturday night --George F. Kaufman, the playwright who sought no higher purpose in the theater than to entertain.The humor in his plays usually stemmed from a clash between eccentrics, often show biz personalities. His 1939 hit, The Man Who Came to Dinner, for example, was based on Alexander Woollcott, the Marx brothers and Noel Coward. Kaufman who's at times been regarded as a forerunner to Neil Simon, still wrote in the days when you could afford to have an actor appear in the first act, and have nothing to do again. In June Moon which he co-wrote with Ring Lardner, for example a house pianist at a music publishing company wanders back to his piano at the end of one act to find a window cleaner there picking out a tune with one finger, so the pianist wanders over to the windows and begins to clean them. The window cleaner is there for this one stunt joke. Today he would surely double up. An addendum: Just as we posted the above, we learned that we'd have a chance to check out this window cleaner bit since there's a revival at the Ohio Theater on Wooster Street, (1/08/97-1/19/97). Check out our review to see how it was handled.
Addendum to the above addendum: Actually, the window cleaner bit was a Lardner, not a Kaufman, shtick and if his biography is accurate, (Ring Lardner, Elder), was invented after the show's summer tryouts when Lardner took a room at a hotel, called for a piano and gave a party, during which a window-cleaner came in and apparently indifferent to the carryings-on proceeded to wash the window. And here's another tidbit: In 1940 (3/24/40 to be exact), the CBS radio program, Campbell Playhouse hosted by Orson Welles, broadcast the show starring the comedian Jack Benny as Stevens. Benny immediately stepped out of character and into a comic argument with th director Welles. If you're interested in old-time radio, this bit of memorabilia is in the archives of the Museum of Radio and Broadcasting which is located in both New York and Los Angeles
back to the top

Endurance: The good and the bad moments in an actor's career pass. The trick is to stay at the table, play the cards we're dealt, and hope for a winning hand.-- Frank Langella's , accepting his Tony for Best Featured Actor in Fortune's Fool. Langella ended his thank speech with "I'm very grateful to each and every Tony voter who gave me this for this work, and this wonderful moment, which I know is about to pass."

Show Business: Have audiences chased away great shows?: If no single reason can fully account for the lack of great work on Broadway these days, there is a factor in the discussion that is rarely mentioned but which has a bearing on what gets produced: the audience. . . It's not audience intelligence that has waned; it's audience passion -- the pro forma Broadway standing ovation now springs from duty not desire. . . If that passion exists more in the audience for The Lord of the Rings than for contemporary Broadway musicals, well, at least it is alive somewhere.---Brendan Lemon, Financial Times, December 30 2003. (Posted 1/03/04

Theater A normal person is just someone you don't know real well. --Tracy Letts whose grim but grippingKiller Joe proved to be one of the Off-Broadway hits of the 1998-99 season.

Theater; The theater is one of the most expressive and useful vehicles for the edification of a country's people, and a barometer that marks the country's greatness or declines. A sensitive theater. . .can alter a people's sensibility in just a few years, while a decadent theater where hooves have taken the place of wings can cheapen and lull to sleep an entire nation --Frederica Garcia Lorca, quoted in 1936 and, in March 1997, in the program notes for a play by Migdalia Cruz based on Lorca's La Casa de Barnarda Alba. Check out our review of Another Part of the House to see why we thought this adaptation was a misguided idea.

Acting Tips; There's a certain secret every actor must have in his work. If you reveal it, you're letting the audience in on the wrinkles and convolutions of your brain. All I want them to do is to see the effect. --Frank Langella, explaining why he doen't like to discuss his craft any more than his private life. The quote was part of a December 1, 1996 New York Times interview by Dinitia Smith entitled "A Very Private Actor On a Very Private Author." The private author referred to is Noël Coward in whose Present Laughter Langella stars. ( Present Laughter review.

Success: The higher up you go, the more sensitive you become --Alan Jay Lerner, quoted in his wittily introspective The Street Where I Live, in 1978. Lerner, whose lyrics often soared to poetry, was familiar with the sting of criticism despite enormous success. 

Plays, their purpose: As an artist, I believe that the point of all drama is to give the audience a fuller appreciation, an understanding of reality. Obviously, there is no single way to do this; there are an infinite number of ways. Plays can turn reality on its head; they can turn it inside out and confuse all the issues so that the audience is left with a heap of unanswered questions. But if a play leaves the heart, mind, body and soul untouched, unenlightened, that is unpardonable--Craig Lucas, Lincoln Center's The New Theater Review in the spring/summer issue no. 16 themed Theater & Politics. Lucas' play God's Heart unfortunately failed to touch either critics or audiences very deeply and never extended beyond its limited run. 

back to the top

To eat and drink and be merry before or after the show? That is the question. For myself, not before. Because if the show is'nt good, there's always something to look forward to. . .and if the show is terrific, there's reason to celebrate.One of John Heilpern's less controversial comments in How Good Is David Mamet, Anyway.

The old phrase has it that the only difference between a fairy tale and a war story is that one begins, "Once upon a time," and the other starts, "This is no shit". ---David Mamet in an article about Goldilocks in the Winter 2005 issue of The Three Penny Review (Posted 12/26/04)

Translations of Classics: In 10 or 15 years Doll's House, my version will have dated. But Ibsen will never date. And somebody else will come along and they will do him in the language of their time. Because our language is constantly changing.--Frank McGuinness in 8/03/97 article The New York Times discussing the proliferation of new translations of classic plays with numerous translaters (many themselves playwrights) defending the liberties they take with the original texts. McGuinness's 1996-97 translation of A Doll's House re-interpreted the character of the husband quite drastically and contributed no small measure to the revival's enormous success.(posted 11/11/98). 

Musicals: I don't see that many plays, and for me, musicals are rarely pleasing. I feel the actors are being put through a kind of nightmarish labor. They're like animals being forced to pull heavy carts of vegetables at incredible speeds. --- Wallace Shawn, "Stage Leftish", interview with Debora Solomon, NYTimes Magazine, 1/11/04.(Posted 1/12/04

I faced about a hundred of them {Cuban acting students}, young and avid and bursting with hope and energy, wanting to know all about 'Broadway.' When I told them that 'Broadway' had been captured almost exclusively by musicals and pure entertainment and that the few straight plays were limited runs for stars, they looked unhappy and really didn't want to hear the bad news. Nothing, it seems, can tarnish the success and hopefulness that most things American convey. One thing is sure, given the chance they'd have rushed in a body to Times Square. --- Arthur Miller, "A Visit With Castro", New Republic, 1/12/04.(Posted 1/07/04

Truth-telling; Despite my wishes I could not tamper with something the play and life seemed to be telling me: That we were doomed to perpetuate our illusions because truth was too costly too face -- Arthur Miller on The Price during its brief but extremely popular revival at TheWilliamstown Theatre Festival

back to the top

back to the top


Acting; Acting is an everlasting search for truth. -- Sir Laurence Olivier Laughter. In a world run by fools, the writer can only chronicle the doings of fools or their victims. And because the world is a cruel and heartless place, he will be accused of not taking his subject seriously... But laughter is a serious business, and comedy a weapon more dangerous than tragedy. Which is why tyrants treat it with caution--- Joe Orton, whose play Loot was revived at the Cocteau Theatre during the 1998-99 season. our review.

back to the top

Revivals of Classics; Times have changed. You can't do the classics conventionally anymore. They lay on you like bagels. Doing the classics doesn't interest me, except with directors who bring them to life--Joseph Papp, in the 1950s when he was still involved with Lincoln Center where audiences clamored for less unconventional, more classical fare. Papp's response was to give them what they wanted, but not in the form they expected. Papp clearly would have approved this season's unconventional production of Three Sisters ( CurtainUp review.). The quote comes from Helen Epstein's excellent biography of Papp reviewed by us.. Joe Papp, An American Life

Critics, Bloody Critics; John Simon died 40 years ago and his corpse was revived by a witch. To keep alive he must drink the blood of actors, directors and theatrical designers on a weekly basis -- Dolores Prida, a New York City Playwright, alo known as and to date never pierced by Mr. Simon's bloody pen.

Playwriting: I can sum up none of my plays. I can describe none of them, except to say: That is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did. --- Harold Pinter, 1971 quoted in London review of No Man's Land (posted 12/11/01)

Playwriting: . . .  as a writer you're holding a dog. You let the dog run about. But you finally can pull him back. Finally, I'm in control. But the great excitement is to see what happens if you let the whole thing go. And the dog or the character really runs about, bites everyone in sight, jumps up trees, falls into lakes, gets wet, and you let that happen. That's the excitement of writing plays--to allow the thing to be free but still hold the final leash.-- Harold Pinter (Posted 3/21/01) back to the top


Awards: Not to name a winner when there are three plays worthy of being finalists is a little obnoxious. I feel like our vocation is a dying species in America. We need everyone supporting us as much as possible. Telling stories in the theater is an important thing. Playwrights are moving to the West Coast to do TV and film just to stay solvent. --Adam Rapp, in commenting on how the non-award made this" a year without Santa Claus" for dramatists like himself. (The 3 plays in question were his Red Light in Winter, Rolin Jones' The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, and Christopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon

Success, Overnight; It takes about 10 years to become an overnight sensation--Gerard Raymond's introduction to an article" in In Theatre, 10/24/97 about three directors who became "hot after some eight years of working steadily if without acclaim: Michael Mayer (Triumph of Love), Nicholas Martin (View from the Bridge) Mark Brokaw (How I Learned to Drive). All mentioned plays reviewed and on archive at CurtainUp What Separates Novelists from Playwrights A novelist may lose his readers for a few pages; a playwright never dares lose his audience for a minute --Terence Ratigan, quoted in the New York Journal American, October 29, 1956.Could Ratigan have inspired the trend towards eliminating intermissions? 

A playwright is a special human being -- a thinking, perceptive human being -- - who is able to articulate ideas in a dramatic way-- Lloyd Richards quoted in The New York Times, 7/18/99 in an article about his retirement as artistic director of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut, (an organization dedicated to the development of the theater).

Gossip as performance art?
Maybe I'm a throwback to the freewheeling days of Walter Winchell. My natural bent is that I like to mix it up. I look on my columns as mini performances in themselves ---Michael Riedel, NYPost gossip columnist in Toronto Star interview with Richard Ouzounian (Posted 1/03/04)

Television and the Theater. Those who tend to be all negative about television's effect on theater writing and attendance should heed his comments about why scripts submitted to the Center today ar more readable. "people have learned to write drama better. Why? Because people are going to classes. And they sit in front of the box. They learn the form of storytelling. They learn the form of drama." Not that he sees television a substitute. "The theater is different than the box. It requires more from the playwright, the artist and the audience. Theater is closer to radio than it is to television. With the radio, as with theater, you are required to invest imagination. The box deals with reality, not the imagination." .ultimately the story of an adaptation is the story of a relationship. It's either a dance, a dialogue, a duet, or it's a duel between you the adaptor and the original creator -- for Caldéron and me it's been all of the above - Josê Rivera on his version of Life Is a Dream , renamed Sueño
back to the top


Critics and Criticism; People have pointed out evidences of personal feeling in my notices as if they were accusing me of a misdemeanor, not knowing that criticism written without personal feeling is not worth reading. It is the capacity for making good or bad art a personal matter that makes a man a critic. . .--George Bernard Shaw, who was as eminent a critic before he became a playwright. He concluded the above essay, written in 1890 with "Never in my life have I penned an impartial criticism, and I hope I never may." His theater columns for The Saturday Review were a running campaign to displace the" hypocisies of the theater of the time which he tagged "sardoodledom. 

Critics and Criticism; Criticism has positive popular attractions in its. . .gladiatorship--George Bernard Shaw, The Quintessence of G.B. S. Actors and Audiences: Theater at its best is a healing experience,not in any grandiose, California cosmic om-m-m-m sense bof the word. By healing I mean anything from a gentle departure from the day's drudgery to a cathartic experience for someone who realizes he's been on the wrong path. It's not my job to tell you to to react. Actors are court jesters, and there's nothing more to it. Actors are not political icons. When the king is ready for a laugh, he calls us. When he is done laughing, we walk away. And if we're not beheaded, we're in good shape --Douglas Sills, 10/24/97 Back Stage. Mr. Sills just about to open as lead in the musical The Scarlet Pimpernel thus responded to a question about what he'd like the audience to come away with. As it turned out the show in which his characters saves countless Frenchmen from the guillotine came close to being beheaded by the press -- except for Mr. Sills who won all-around praise. What's more the show had strong staying power with audiences. our review

New York vs. Hollywood: In New York when it's 16 degrees in the winter, it's 78 in Los Angeles. And in New York, when it's 102 in the summer, it's 78 in Los Angeles. However, in New York, there are 4 million interesting people and only 78 in Los Angeles --Neil Simon.This much-quoted putdown of Los Angeles notwithstanding, Simon currently makes his home in the city of the 78. 

On Critics; A critic out of town has the opportunity, if they don't abuse it, to tell you where you can fix it. The out-of-town critic is the pediatrician who can help you make and keep yur baby healthy. The New York critic either gives your creation a college degree or a death sentence --Neil Simon, Rewrites. Review

Play Essentials; With a play or musical, a comedy or drama, you lay down the ground rules to the audience in the first ten minutes. Consistency is the keynote. The play can have twists and turns, surprises and jolts, but it can never deviate from the tone you established in the beginning. It's as inviolable to mix styles in a play as it would be if the great French mime Marcel Marceau spoke just one single world in the entire evening --Neil Simon, defining the unwritten pact between the playwright and the audience, in his memoir Rewrites.
On Writing Comedy and Drama The line between the two sometimes is no wider than a strand of hair, but it must be as strong as a tightrope if you're going to try to balance yourself as you cross from one end to the other --Neil Simon explaining how he had to grow into achieving the right balance in his memoir Rewrites.

Reconceived Shows: The thing about the theatre as opposed to movies and television is it’s malleable. . . Shows are performed and, most importantly, directed, by different people, and that keeps them alive.—Stephen Sondheim, on why he gave the go-ahead to director Marianne Elliott to do a production of Company with an all-female cast.

Perfection In the Theater: Now that I have left the White House I understand why Washington may seem like a big, long play. But the world does matter. I am taking a break--a long intermission if you will.--to teach and to write a book about my drama. Is it F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, 'There is no second act in American life'? If that is true, I am in Big trouble ---George Stephanopoulos, Lincoln Center's The New Theater Review in the spring/summer issue no. 16 themed Theater & Politics. The issue was timed to coincide with LC's premiere of Wendy Wasserstein's newest play An American Daughter which of course revolved around politics. 

On Getting Older and Working Less: Do you know The Fugitive? Harrison Ford is falsely accused of killing his wife and Tommy Lee Jones is pursuing him, and they come to a waterfall, and Ford shouts 'I didn't kill my wife', and Jones answers 'I don't care'. I think that's one of the great movie lines. Time is so limited. You have to choose what matters. --Tom Stoppard, explaining to Benedict Nightingale of the London Times why he aims for a life not quite so work-related, September 26, 1997. It bears noting that the interview coincided Mr. Stoppard's about to open (at the National) new memory play about A.E. Housman, Invention of Love,--not to mention a successful revival in this country of Rough Crossing
back to the top

back to the top



Theater: Theater is more than psychology. It should rise above reality. It should become poetry. To me, theater is about paradise, perhaps a lost or utopian paradise, but a paradise anyway. It is about a dream. Theater should show great black holes, in which diamonds suddenly glitter--director Ivo van Hove, quoted in program notes to the New York Theatre Works production of Eugene O'Neill's More Stately Mansions. which under his direction was indeed stripped of all its realistic elements. The very fact that this unfinished play was produced, realistically or otherwise, aroused the ire of O'Neill's biographers Arthur and Barbara Gelb whose essay on the subject (also in the program) concluded as follows: O'Neill, after all, left forty-nine completed plays --sufficient fodder for even the most passionate admirer to feed on, and surely enough to preclude any further cannibalizing of those plays he left uncomplete.

Perfection In the Theatre: Outside New York, there's still some flexibility in the audience. Even so, we tend to repress our emotions. We don't laugh as loud as we want to or allow ourselves to enjoy what's there -- especially if the critics tell us how to react. Instead, we keep narrowing the definition of what a play can be. We're losing the opportunity for someone like Samuel Beckett to spring up, because we no longer want our plays messy. But my God, sometimes we need mess. These are messy times and plays can reflect that. Angels In America is a mess -- and I mean that as a compliment.

Hamlet is a mess. If someone wrote Hamlet today, first thing you'd hear a director say is, `that advice to the players bit doesn't advance the story... Why do we only allow our classics to be messes? --Paula Vogel, playwright ( See our review of her much praised How I Learned to Drive). 

Audience/Playwright Relationships: The audience has to meet the playwright halfway, and that's happening less and less. People expect the playwright to put their experiences up onstage, but we need the writers who say, `No. You're going to translate me.--Paula Vogel, playwright, 1997Playbill Online interview after the successful opening of How I Learned to Drive

Theatrical Pyrotechnics: Mark Brokaw relies on the pyrotechnics of the human spirit--Paula Vogel, playwright, at the 1997 Encore Taking-Off Awards. She was the presenter of the award to the director of her own play, How I Learned to Drive.
back to the top


On Pessimism; Schopenhauer has analysed the pessimism that characterize modern thought, but Hamlet invented it --Oscar Wilde. Wilde also commented on the interpretations of the melancholy Dane with "There are as many Hamlets as there are melancholics." It's worth noting that Wilde runs Shakespeare a close second for having one play or another at some stage or other at all times. The 1996-97, brought Wilde to Broadway with Ideal Husband and off-Broadway with The Importance of Being Earnest.

Epitaths; And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn -- this inscription on Oscar Wilde's tombstone was for a man whose reputation had been torn to shreds. These days While he went to his grave with his reputation in shambles. These days, his name seems once again on everyone's lips, given the flood of books, movies and plays by and about him. Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde has become a virtual Off-Broadway landmark and David Hare's reimagining of two emotionally charged periods in Wilde's life, The Judas Kiss was a major event of the 1997-98 Broadway season.

Drama, basics of;    Four fundamental conditions of the drama separate it from the other arts. . . . These conditions are:
The theatre is an art which reposes upon the work of many collaborators is addressed to the group-mind.
It is based upon a pretense and its very nature calls out a multiplication of pretenses
Its action takes place in a perpetual present time.-- Thornton Wilder

Death: Nobody is as good or as great as they are on the day of their funeral. --Samm-Art Williams, author and director of Dance on Widow's Row

On a Play's Characters Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just a a great deal of mystery is always left in the revelation of character in life, even in one's own character to himself --Tennessee Williams, from his stage directions for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1955. 

Communication between playwright and audience: In all human experience, there are parallels which permit common understanding in the telling and hearing, and it is the frightening responsibility of an artist to make what is directly or allusively close to his own being communicable and understandable, however disturbingly, to the hearts and minds of all whom he addresses. ---Tennessee Williams, in an essay entitled "Too Personal". Williams was once again in the news during the summer of 1999 with the Williamstown Theatre Festival's stunning production of Camino Real and an off-Broadway reprise of Small Craft Warnings

Critics: Oh Those Critics; I do not say fuck the drama critics because fucking is too good for them --Tennessee Williams in a letter to actress Maureen Stapleton. She pictures this treasured momento in her autobiography A Helluva Life ( Review of A Helluva Life.

Playwriting: I think the goal is to write a good play. . . . First you just write a good play, and then you try to get it produced under the best possible circumstances. I never think Broadway is the best possible circumstance for a serious play.— Lanford Wilson.

Culture and Ideas In the Theater: The general public, thank goodness, has not yet lost its thirst for real culture and ideas. In Broadway shows the singers look plastered over with melted wax. The rest of us are interested in making art. The country must defend its art. If we depend upon money alone, we are lost. We can't be controlled by it. Then our horizons get shut off. The artist has to dream. The artist has to expand the limits of art --Irene Worth, April 1997 Encore Magazine Interview with Randy Gener which coincided with the opening of one of Ms. Worth's new one woman" recitals" TheGypsy and the Yellow Canary at the Public Theater's Martinson Hall. Unlike the usual one-person shows in which the actor uses the audience as a combination confessor/psychiatrist, the actress to do a dramatized reading of Prosper Merimee's story "Carmen" (yes, the same story that inspired Bizet's opera of the same name).

back to the top


back to the top

Other Quote Archives
Quotes From Plays-- current and past
Shakespeare's Little Instruction Book

©Copyright 2008, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from