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A green room is a room in a theater, studio, or other public venue for the accommodation of performers or speakers when not required on the stage. Its function is as a break/touch-up lounge so that performers do not have to go back to wardrobe/dressing rooms and are still easily accessible for their call. The term is often attributed to the area historically being painted green [1][2] however in modern use the area may or may not include any green in its color scheme.[3] [4]


Source of the Term

The specific origin of the term is lost to history which has led to many imaginative theories and claims. One story is that London's Blackfriars Theatre (1599) included a room behind the scenes, this room happened to be painted green, here the actors waited to go on stage and it was called the "green room". In some English theatres there were several green rooms, ranked in use according to the status and salary of the actor, and an actor could be fined for using a green room above his/her station [5] [6].


Historical attributions of the term

Some theories have attempted to identify specific historical origins for the term. For example:

  • Richard Southern, in his studies of Medieval theatre in the round, states that in this period the acting area was called The Green. This central space, often grass-covered, was used by the actors, while the surrounding space and circular banks were occupied by the spectators. From this source then The Green has been a traditional actor's term for the stage. Even in proscenium arch theatres there was a tradition that a green stage cloth should be used for a tragedy. The green room could thus be considered the transition room on the way to the green/stage. Technical staff at some West End theatres (such as the London Coliseum) still refer to the stage as the green.

"Tiring house", "scene-room" and "green room"

  • In Shakespeare's day, the actors waited in a tiring house. Here it is mentioned by Peter Quince as he plans for his acting troupe to rehearse in the woods:
QUINCE: Pat, pat; and here's a marvellous convenient place for our rehearsal. This green plot shall be our stage, this hawthorn-brake our tiring-house; and we will do it in action as we will do it before the duke.
Midsummer Night's Dream (approx 1595) - Act 3 Scene 1
  • By the time of the English Restoration the tiring house was specifically the men's dressing room, the shift was the women's dressing room (not needed in Shakespeare's time when all actors were men), and the scene room was where scenery was stored and where the actors met, ran lines and rehearsed.
...she took us up into the Tireing-rooms and to the women's Shift, where Nell was dressing herself and...then below into the Scene-room, I read the Qu's (cues) to Knepp while she answered me, through all her part of Flora's Figarys...
  • It is possible that "green room" might be a corruption of scene room, the room where scenery was stored which doubled as the actors' waiting and warm-up room [5].


  • Thomas Shadwell's Restoration comedy, "A True Widow" (1678), mentions in Act Four: Stanmore : "No madam: Selfish, this Evening, in a green Room, behind the Scenes, was before-hand with me..." [9] [5][10]
  • The term "green-room" is mentioned in Colley Cibber's Love Makes a Man (1701). "I do know London pretty well, and the Side-box, Sir, and behind the Scenes; ay, and the Green-Room, and all the Girls and Women~Actresses there.' [9] [11] [10] [12]
  • Jerome K. Jerome's first book comically describes his stint in English theatre during the late 1870's. "There was no green room. There never had been a green room. I never saw a green room, except in a play, though I was always on the lookout for it." [14]

Folk etymology

In addition to the preceding explanations, the term green room has also been attributed to numerous alternative folk etymologies, including the following:

  • The room was originally painted green to "relieve the eyes from the glare of the stage."[16][17] On the other hand, early stage lighting was by candlelight, so the "glare" might be apocryphal, a modern reference to electric stage lighting. [18]
  • It is sometimes said that the term green room was a response to limelight[19], though the name is merely a coincidence -- "limelight" refers to calcium oxide, not to the fruit or color. Furthermore limelight was invented in 1820 and the term "green room" was used many years prior to that.
  • Many actors experience nervous anxiety before a performance and one of the symptoms of nervousness is nausea. As a person who feels neauseous is often said to look "green", so the "Green Room" is the place where the nervous actors wait. [9]
  • Some studies state that the green room was originally called the retaining room. The ensemble of a production would wait there for their appearance onstage, listening to the performance of the principal actors and critiquing their acting. When made aware of this practice, the leads began to call the retaining room the green room, mocking the (green) envy of these actors.[citation needed]
  • In Restoration theatres, the main, seasoned actors waited for their entrances in the wings - or sometimes even at the sides of the stage - while the minor players, usually young, less experienced "green" actors, were banished behind the scenes. Hence, the backstage room was for the "green" players and came to be called the green-room.[citation needed]
  • According to one theory, long before modern makeup was invented the actors had to apply makeup before a show and allow it to set up or cure before performing. Until the makeup was cured, it was green and people were advised to sit quietly in the green room until such time as the makeup was stable enough for performing. Uncured makeup is gone, but the green room lives on.[20]
  • In Shakespearean theatre actors would prepare for their performances in a room filled with plants and shrubs. It was believed that the moisture in the topiary was beneficial to the actors' voices. Thus the green room may refer to the green plants in this stage preparation area. [21]
  • The term green room can alternatively be traced back to the East End of London, UK. In Cockney rhyming slang, greengage is stage, therefore greengage room is stage room and like most rhyming slang it gets shortened, hence green' room. This info came from the late, great comedian and dancer Max Wall.
  • Green is also thought to be a calming and soothing colour.
  • It has been suggested that the original green room was in a London theatre converted from office buildings. The room behind the stage had previously been used to cut deals and was known as the agreeing room, and the phrase has become corrupted over the years.[citation needed]
  • In English theatres, a green floor-cloth was traditionally spread on the stage for tragedies. During the Restoration, when virtually all performances were comedies, the green floor-cloth for tragedies was stored in the actor's waiting room and used to deaden their footsteps so the sound of pacing actors would not disturb the performance. As tragedies were rarely performed, the green floor cloth became a routine fixture of the actors' lounge and the room became known as the Green-room.[citation needed]

Other meanings

  • In some theatre companies, the term green room also refers to the director's critique session held after a rehearsal or performance, since it is often held in the green room. This session is used for a pep talk, bonding among actors, and/or warmup exercises.
  • The green room is sometimes a location where theatre patrons or fans may meet and greet any famous musicians or performers after a concert. A fee is usually paid to gain access to this area.
  • In the White House, the Green Room is one of three state parlors located on the state floor, it is traditionally decorated in green.
  • In surfing, the green room is the inside of a barrel that is produced by a wave. This term was coined due to the color of light reflected into the barrel.[22]

Unusual events

  • In 1735 actor Charles Macklin got into a quarrel with another actor over a wig and killed the other actor in the green room at Drury Lane [24].


  1. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, William Morris editor, 1971
  2. ^ Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Millennium Edition, revised by Adrian Room, 1999
  3. ^ Academy Awards green room decor (not green) Architectural Digest March 2009
  4. ^ Primetime Emmy greenroom Architectural Digest, November 2009
  5. ^ a b c The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre, edited by Phyllis Hartnoll, Oxford University Press, 1972, pg 220
  6. ^ Old theatre days and ways By William John Lawrence via Google Books quoting in turn An Actor's Notebook by George Vandenhoff
  7. ^ Voices from the World of Samuel Pepys By Jonathan Bastable pg 111, David and Charles Limited (2007) via Google Books
  8. ^ The life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. By James Boswell, Mowbray Morris, pg 122, via Google Books Boswell
  9. ^ a b c
  10. ^ a b World Wide Words website
  11. ^ Oxford English Dictionary as cited at Word origins .org
  12. ^ Word website
  13. ^ The life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. By James Boswell, Mowbray Morris, pg 122, via Google Books Boswell
  14. ^ On the Stage--and Off: the brief career of a would-be-actor, Jerome K. Jerome, pg 74-75, via Internet Archive [1]
  15. ^ Based on Google book search, there is one reference to an actor who mentions his reputation in the "greenroom". Just a passing reference however.
  16. ^ Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Millenium Edition, Revised by Adrian Room
  17. ^ Straight Dope website
  18. ^ De
  19. ^
  20. ^ Glossary of Technical Theatre Terms at
  21. ^
  22. ^ Surfing glossary
  23. ^ Green Room theatre website
  24. ^ Charles Macklin article at Theatre


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