100 Quotes Every Theater Producer, Playwright, Director, Actor, etc. Must Read

I love a good quote.

They’re what start me up in the morning.  Even more so than coffee.

See, a few years ago I started writing good ones on my whiteboard in the AM so I would stare at them all day long.  They’d keep me going, even when things weren’t going well.  (You can check them out here.)

I’ve put together quite a quote collection since then, and I thought I’d curate all my faves about the theater and put them here with the hope that they’ll inspire all of you Theater Makers out there to. . . well . . . make more theater.

Because as I’ve said, I believe the world is a better place if there is more theater in it.  So I hope just one of these inspires you as they’ve inspired me.

  1. “Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich; But theatre will make you good.” -Terrence Man
  2. “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” – Langston Hughes
  3. “The theatre is as essential to civilization as safe, pure water.” – Vanessa Redgrave
  4. “Theater is a verb before it is a noun, an act before it is a place.” – Martha Graham
  5. “Live like you’ll die tomorrow, work like you don’t need the money, and dance like nobody’s watching.” – Bob Fosse
  6. “Great theatre is about challenging how we think and encouraging us to fantasize about a world we aspire to.” – Willem Dafoe
  7. “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin
  8. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw
  9. “The play is not in the words, it’s in you!” – Stella Adler
  10. “The mission of the theatre, after all, is to change, to raise the consciousness of people to their human possibilities.” – Arthur Miller
  11. “You should feel a flow of joy because you are alive. Your body will feel full of life. That is what you must give from the stage. Your life. No less. That is art: to give all you have.” – Anton Chekhov
  12. “Nothing in theatre has any meaning before or after. Meaning is now.” – Peter Brook
  13. “The pit of a theatre is the one place where the tears of virtuous and wicked men alike are mingled.” – Denis Diderot
  14. “It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring.” – Tina Fey
  15. “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” – Joseph Chilton Pearce
  16. “Unless you learn how to be in your head, you’ll never learn how to create.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda
  17. “You’ve gotta be original. Because if you’re like someone else, what do they need you for?” – Bernadette Peters
  18. “Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.” – Uta Hagen
  19.  “Happiness was useless to me.  It was heartache that filled my purse.  What happy man has need of Shakespeare?”  – Jennifer Donnelly
  20. “Don’t let form become more important than the substance of your heart and mind. Don’t let commerce determine what you do exclusively.” – Avery Brooks
  21. “The power of art can break the shackles that bind and divide human beings.” – Daisaku Ikeda
  22. “Don’t compare your career to anyone else’s. It’s tough when you’re in a business that’s competitive. I was having a difficult time with that in college. Now, I’m having to learn to be patient and be where I am.” – Danielle Brooks
  23. “We all deal with failure. If you’re lucky enough to have a long career, it’s part of the experience.” – David Henry Hwang
  24. “The arts make a bridge across this world in ways that nothing else can.” – Julie Andrews
  25. “You gotta have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” – Oscar Hammerstein II
  26. “Everyone has literature inside of them.” – Anna Deavere Smith
  27. “Success is like failure. It’s how you perceive it. It’s what you do with it, not how you achieve it.” – Stephen Sondheim
  28. “There isn’t anything I wanted to do that I haven’t. At the same time, there isn’t anything I’ve ever done that I didn’t want to do better.” – Richard Rodgers
  29. “Always give them the old fire, even when you feel like a squashed cake of ice.” – Ethel Merman
  30. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett
  31. “I believe in serendipity, but I also believe there are times when you have to be the one who lines up everything so it can fall into place.” – Susan Stroman
  32. “First, think. Second, dream. Third, believe. And finally, dare.” – Walt Disney
  33. “Everyone deserves to have their story fully told.” – Dominique Morisseau
  34. “Laughter is much more important than applause. Applause is almost a duty. Laughter is a reward.” – Carol Channing
  35. “Work hard, do the best you can, don’t ever lose faith in yourself and take no notice of what other people say about you.” – Noel Coward
  36. “Write what you feel. Write because of that need for expression.” – Dorothy Fields
  37. “Don’t accept that others know you better than you know yourself.” – Sonia Friedman
  38. “If you’re not invited to the party, throw your own!” – Diahann Caroll
  39. “Don’t expect a pat on the back for merely doing your job, but know that you’ll get one for doing it exceptionally well.” – Lea Salonga
  40. “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” – William Shakespeare
  41. “Don’t try to be anyone else but yourself, because you are singular, and your greatest asset is your individuality.” – Sutton Foster
  42. “You can’t get it right all the time, but you can try your best. If you’ve done that, all that’s left is to accept your shortcomings and have the courage to try to overcome them.” – Idina Menzel
  43. “All of the challenges will make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew.” – Cicely Tyson
  44. “It all starts with self-reflection. And then you have to be brave. You have to figure out how to articulate what your dreams are.” – Glenn Close
  45. “Not everyone is going to like what you do or what you have to offer; however, if you can’t see yourself doing anything else, and you have the drive and ambition, get the training and go for it.” – Kristin Chenoweth
  46. “Somewhere in our DNA we know  that stories are out there to help us understand what we’re doing here on this planet.” – Theresa Rebeck
  47. “You have to stop yourself from even thinking about failing.” – Julie Taymor
  48. “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo
  49. “Victories aren’t born on the field. You create them during practice – day in and day out.” – Silvia Pencak
  50. “Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho
  51. “Theater and storytelling has the power to change lives.” – Liesl Tommy
  52. “Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take the moment and make it perfect!” – Aryn Kyle
  53. “If you act brave, you can seem brave, and if you do it enough, you can take yourself into believing you’re brave.” – Kelli O’Hara
  54. “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” – Kurt Vonnegut
  55. “All you can do is do good work, and do the good work for the sake of doing good work and your evolution as an artist.” – Audra McDonald
  56. “Do you know what a playwright is? A playwright is someone who lets his guts hang out on the stage.” – Edward Albee
  57. “You can’t judge your success by someone else’s. You can’t be afraid to fail.” – Patina Miller
  58. “Don’t listen to anyone who doesn’t know how to dream.” – Liza Minnelli
  59. “If there’s a story that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
  60. “All one needs to write a story is one feeling and four walls.” – Doris Betts
  61. “Some people dream of success, while other people get up every morning and make it happen.” – Wayne Huizenga
  62. “Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” – Claude Debussy
  63. “You’re worse than decent. You’re virtuous.” – Eugene O’Neill
  64. “He who seeks shall find.” – Sophocles
  65. “No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.” – P.T. Barnum
  66. “If you want to honor your craft and yourself, strive for the nobler instincts.” – Patti LuPone
  67. “One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you don’t utter.” – James Earl Jones
  68. “Be yourself… And shoot for the stars. Obviously dreams really do come true.” – Laura Osnes
  69. “Don’t wait for people to tell you who you are. Show them.” – Laura Benanti
  70. “You just have to be open and ready, and let it all happen.” – Angela Lansbury
  71. “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” – Judy Garland
  72. “You have got to discover you, what you do, and trust it.” – Barbra Streisand
  73. “At the end of the day, give up your worries and  give thanks for the journey.” – Ben Vereen
  74. “I am not here to change the world. I am changing the world because I am here.” – Lisa Wilson
  75. “Time goes on. So whatever you’re going to do. Do it. Do it now. Don’t wait.” – Robert De Niro
  76. “You never know how far you’re gonna go if you don’t jump.” – Robbie Fairchild
  77. “You are enough. You are so enough. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.” – Sierra Boggess
  78. “The path to moments of greatness in your life will be paved, in part, with your spectacular failures.” – Leslie Odom Jr.
  79. “From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow.” – Aeschylus
  80. “Everybody has their own path. But with conviction and discipline you can make anything happen.” – Sonya Tayeh
  81. “Learn how to take the worst situation and let it be the catalyst for our undoing, which is then our transformation.” – Eve Ensler
  82. “It’s good to remember… so you know you need to do now, so you know that you ain’t got forever just right now…” – Tarell Alvin McCraney
  83. “Be bold. Envision yourself living a life that you love. Believe, even if you can only muster your faith for just this moment, believe that the sort of life you wish to live is, at this very moment, just waiting for you to summon it up. And when you wish for it, you begin moving toward it, and it, in turn, begins moving toward you.” – Suzan-Lori Parks
  84. “There are no shortcuts to hard work.” – Adrienne Warren
  85. “Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.” – Sean O’Casey
  86. “There’s always doubt and fear. If you’re a human being, everybody’s got it.” – Keala Settle
  87. “The artist’s role is to raise the consciousness of the people. To make them understand life, the world and themselves more completely. That’s how I see it. Otherwise, I don’t know why you do it.” – Amiri Baraka
  88. “Master your craft, empower yourself, and enjoy the journey.” – Denise Simon
  89. “If you’re going to go for a thing, there’s no point unless you’re going all the way.” – Cynthia Erivo
  90. “If you gauge how you’re doing on whether somebody is responding vocally or not, you’re up a creek. You can’t do that; you kind of have to be inside of your work… And tell the story every day. Tell the story. Tell the story. Regardless of how people are responding, tell the story.” – Billy Porter
  91. “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.” – Paul Robeson
  92. “Have a belief in yourself that is bigger than anyone’s disbelief.” – August Wilson
  93. “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” – James Baldwin
  94. “He knows not his own strength that has not met adversity.” – Ben Jonson
  95. “Nobody knows what you want except you. And nobody will be as sorry as you if you don’t get it. Wanting some other way to live is proof enough of deserving it. Having it is hard work, but not having it is sheer hell.” – Lillian Hellman
  96. “Any form of art is a form of power; it has impact, it can affect change – it can not only move us, it makes us move.” – Ossie Davis
  97. “Don’t wait for something big to occur. Start where you are, with what you have, and that will always lead you into something greater.” – Norm Lewis
  98. “In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” – Miguel de Cervantes
  99. “Never do but one thing at a time, and never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” – Lope de Vega
  100. “Sometimes you will meet yourself on the road before you have a chance to learn the appropriate greeting. Faced with your own possibilities, the hard part is knowing a speech is not required. All you have to say is yes.” – Pearl Cleage

 

Favorite Quotes Vol. 42: What is entrepreneurship?

You think a career in the theater is tough?  You should try stand-up comedy.

It’s just you on that stage.  Nothing else.  No sets.  No costumes.  Just you.  And an audience drunker than the one at The Awesome 80s Prom (and that is saying a lot).

It takes a certain breed of artist-epreneur (which is my new term for all of us who pursue a life in an artistic profession) to pursue a career in comedy.

But that didn’t stop Kevin Hart, who was raised in North Philly, whose father was a cocaine addict, and who was booed so badly at his first couple of shows, someone actually threw a piece of chicken at him.

He kept at it.  And slowly but surely, he got good at it.  (That’s what usually happens when you keep practicing something anything).  And then he developed his own purple style, and got great at it.

And like the artist-epreneur he is, he didn’t stop at comedy, but released an app, developed a kick a$$ (dollar signs intentional) vid game and that’s just the start, I’m sure.

When asked about entrepreneurship, this is what Kev had to say:

Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.

Well said, don’t you think?

So when you’re facing a battle of a day (like the one I had yesterday, actually), remember that whatever slog you’re in, no matter where you are in your career, it will be worth it as long as you keep at it and keep practicing.  There is a reward on the other side.  And fortune, fame . . . that’s not even what I’m talking about.

The reward is seeing your project, your play, your dreams . . . happening right before your eyes.

And it could be worse.  You could be a stand-up comedian.

 

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Favorite Quotes Vol. 41: Last minute Christmas Gift suggestions.

Broadway Kid on ChristmasHere’s a quote to put under your tree today:

Christmas gift suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.
– Oren Arnold

Those are gifts I’d like to remember to give all year round.  Imagine how much better a place our business world would be.

Wishing you and yours “all good gifts” this holiday season.

 

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Favorite Quotes Vol. 40: What M.A.S.H. and a Great Musical have in common.

Broadway hot dogIf you’re a Broadway Producer, a Broadway playwright or a Broadway chef, it’s important to have a focused vision on the type of work you want to produce/write/cook.

People ask me what Broadway show I would have loved to produce, or what type of show I am looking to produce.  I usually give a long-winded waxing-poetic answer (shocking) about moving audience members through the range of emotions . . .  and I’m assuming I’ve put you to sleep already.  Wake up!  Wipe the drool off your keyboard!  No more waxing anything from now on, I promise!

I stumbled on this quote from M.A.S.H. star (and over 10 time Broadway vet) Alan Alda, who was asked why the heck M.A.S.H. episodes were so dang popular.  Alan said . . .

What they do is give viewers a great-tasting hot dog but that nourishes them like broccoli.

And that’s when I realized I never had to explain an audiences range of emotions when asked about the type of musicals I’d like to produce, or describe the Aristotelian structure of Les Miz or Rent.  I just had to channel my inner Alda.

IMHO, great musicals, great paintings, and great art are both appealing to the senses, and appealing to the mind.  It thrills and teaches.  It moves the mind so the audience will try and move the world (to paraphrase a lyric from Kinky Boots, a perfect example of this phenomenon).

Many producers and writers feel the need to force feed their audience their vegetables.  No one wants to eat vegetables.  I’m convinced Vegetarians don’t even want to eat vegetables!  They just know it’s good for them.

People go to the theater first and foremost to be entertained.  So don’t be afraid to give your audience the juiciest of hot dogs, with ketchup and sauerkraut and onions and anything else that looks like it could cause a heart attack on the spot.  Just make sure it’s chock full of the best vitamins on the inside.

Need a great example?  Take a cue from Alan and watch M.A.S.H.

 

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Favorite Quotes Vol. XXXIX: Everybody makes ’em. Not everyone learns from them.

Rufus Norris BroadwaySo imagine if you were the President of the United States . . . right after Abe Lincoln.  Or JFK.

Or imagine if you had to take over Hugh Jackman’s role in Steady Rain, or Boy From Oz , or anything.

Well, that’s exactly how Rufus Norris must feel.

Who’s Rufus?  Glad you asked.

Well, contrary to what you might think based on the photo in this blog, he is not Robert Sean Leonard’s long lost British brother.

He’s the new Artistic Director at London’s National Theatre, taking over for the should-be-canonized-by-the-theater-pope Nicholas Hytner, who made the National one of the most important theaters in the . . . world.

Big shoes.  Big shoes.

But even though he has yet to pick a season, or direct a new show, and get something transferred to this side of the pond, Rufus is off to a great start in my opinion, and it’s because of quotes like the one below.

See, Mr. Norris, like so many, has had a flop or two on Broadway, including his 2006 production of Festen.  In this article in the NY Times announcing his appointment, he talks about that, and what he thinks went wrong.  And when pushed about this “failure,” the article says . . .

He said he made “several basic mistakes” but did not regret the production “because I learned more from that one experience than anything else I’ve done.

Admitting mistakes.  And learning from them.   That’s how he do.

It’d be easy to stew on a failure for years, and let it stew, and bitterize you.  It takes a very powerful spirit to spin that sucker around into some positivity.  And that’s why he is now leading one of the most important theaters in the  . . . yep, gonna say it again . . . world.

Best of luck to you, Mr. Norris.  I think you’re going to crush it.

 

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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