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"Thank You, Fifteen" (Random phrases you only hear in theatre)

After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus brought on by COVID-19, I finally returned to the stage in September as Mrs. Sarah Strakosh in the fantastic musical Funny Girl. If you didn't get to see it, you missed an amazing production, and I highly recommend that you make a visit next year to Wilmington, NC to see one of the seven incredible shows that Opera House Theatre Company has planned for 2023. (You can check them out at

OK, shameless plug over. During rehearsals, it occurred to me that there are certain words and phrases that you really only hear in the theatre world. What a perfect, light-hearted blog topic to distract us from an otherwise chaotic, negative, and toxic world, am I right? So, without further ado, I present Act I of the list of things you generally only hear if you work (or play) in theatre:

  1. "Heads!" - Now, if you're on a football field just before kickoff, you will likely hear this from a team captain, his words muffled by a helmet and mouthpiece that he has been nervously chewing on for the last 30 minutes. If you're in the theatre, though, if you hear someone yell "Heads!", it's in your best interest to look up immediately and be prepared to dive out of the way. as a curtain or fly is getting ready to come down on top of you. This word, or sometimes the phrase "Heads up!", can be used by anyone in the theatre who notices that there is at least one person in the line of fire. Unless they don't like you.

  2. "Line!" - When you're first starting out in theatre, it's all about the number of lines you have. You are naive enough to believe that the more lines you have, the more important your role must be. With age and experience, however, you realize that it just means more shit to remember. The rehearsal process is not only about blocking, choreography, and discovering the nuances of your character. It's also about learning your lines, so when you're rehearsing a scene and you forget what you're supposed to say next, you call for your line. Then the stage manager (and all of the other people in the cast who want you to know that they know your lines better than you do) will give you the line. Please do not confuse this with "doing a line", which is a totally different scenario and is, in fact, illegal.

  3. "Break a Leg!" - Years ago, one of my first directors (and closest friends) gave me a card for opening night that read, "I would tell you to break a leg, but you're so conscientious you'd probably do it!" One of the best compliments I've ever gotten. If you have ANY experience with the theatre, you know that saying "Good luck" is the absolute worst thing you can say to someone, particularly right before they go on stage. Without going deep into the origins of this phrase, when you tell someone to break a leg, you're basically telling them you hope they don't fuck up. Also, do not say "break a leg" to a dancer. Obviously.

  4. "What's our call?" - These days, we all have cell phones, Apple watches, and other technology that allows us to check the time just by lifting our arm. In the theatre, however, it remains the stage manager's job to remind everyone (sometimes ad nauseum) how much time they have left to goof off before actually getting into costume and makeup. As if that weren't enough, anyone within earshot is expected to respond with a thank you, accompanied by the time that was called. For example, when you hear the stage manager call "Five minutes, please", you will then hear a chorus of voices from backstage saying, "Thank you, five", and probably one person (usually the lead) yelling, "OH MY GOD, I'M NEVER GOING TO BE READY!" Still, there are always a handful of people (myself included), who will wander around asking everyone, "What's our call?", because we get so used to hearing it that we sometimes tune it out. Let me be clear, though. The actor's scattered brain does not excuse the stage manager who doesn't call places until the entr'acte starts or forgets to call it completely. Shame!

  5. "Can you cheat this way?" = Guys, the theatre is probably the only place where you can get away with saying something like this. If you're a newbie and you hear someone talk about cheating out, they are NOT giving you permission to leave your special someone at home while you hit every dive bar downtown in an attempt to see how many STD's you can manage to avoid. This is when the director needs you to turn your body just enough towards the audience so that, as my long-time director and friend would say, your mama can see you good.

I hope this is helpful for those of you considering getting into local theatre, and mildly entertaining if you've been at it for decades. Stay tuned for Act II, where we will discuss what is actually meant when someone gleefully shouts, "That's right! You and I were BOTH in Jesus Christ!"

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