What is a Green Room?
A green room is a space in a performing venue that is set aside for performers to lounge in when they are not required on stage. It typically is set apart from the stage and the audience so that the performers can hold conversations and do other things without being heard by the audience. This room usually is equipped with couches and chairs, reading materials and food and beverages. It also is a popular place to unwind after the show.
Unlike a dressing room — another popular lounging area — a green room is not equipped for preparations to go on stage and is designed as a purely recreational area. It also is not usually established with the intent of being a peaceful and quiet space; it is an area for socializing. Actors who need quiet before going on stage usually find other areas of the venue where they can focus or meditate.
A modern green room usually includes video monitors so that actors can be ready for their appearances on stage. There is often a separate intercom so that staff members can communicate with actors. On television shows, guests and presenters often meet each other in the green room before the performance, allowing them to get to know each other or get reacquainted before appearing in front of an audience. Some smaller theaters do not have green rooms because of a lack of space.
Origins of the Term
The origins of the term are unclear. The first usage of “green room” in reference to a backstage waiting area is believed to have been in a play in 1678, The True Widow. Numerous theories have been bandied about to explain the term, but two are more likely than others. During the Shakespearean era, some actors prepared themselves in a room that was filled with plants and topiary, because the plants provided humidity, which was believed to be beneficial for the voice. This explanation seems less likely when one considers that not all theaters had space for plants.
The most likely origin of the term is the traditional association of the color green with actors. Many performers staged plays outdoors on the grass, or "the green," and some stages were draped or covered in green material. Liveried actors wore green, and the stage was called “the green.” The color is associated with actors, and the green room can be a private place for actors to socialize, so calling it the “green room” would have distinguished it from rooms that had another function, such as dressing rooms, and would have emphasized that the green room was for actors only.
My one brush with fame story involves the green room at a national talk show. I was on a vacation in New York City, and I had two free tickets to the taping of a talk show. As most people probably know, these shows are usually taped in the late afternoon and then shown much later at night. I had time to go to the taping and then watch the show in my hotel room that night.
The guests that night included one of my Hollywood crushes, Reese Witherspoon, and the band Radiohead. I got to the studio really early and got into a friendly chat with one of the studio pages. She asked me if I wanted to take a quick tour of the backstage area, and of course I said yes. She gave me a visitor's badge and we walked through the hallways behind the set. We went right by the green room, and the door was open.
I found myself standing three feet away from Reese Witherspoon herself. She was busy talking to the lead singer of Radiohead, so I didn't want to bother her. She did look my way and smile, though.
A few years ago, my community theater director asked me to do a promotional interview at a local television station. I'd never done that sort of thing before, but I was eager to try it. The station really did have a green room, and I was seated next to one of my favorite local news anchors and a well-known author who was in town for a book signing. We all sat there and drank coffee and just talked like regular people.
We could watch the show on a TV monitor, and every so often a production assistant would come in and tell someone to get ready for his or her segment. It was all very organized and friendly. The green room had some refreshments on a table for all the guests, and I got to see how a real TV station works. I barely remember doing the interview because I was so nervous, but I do remember going back to the green room and having a few more conversations before leaving.
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