More about The Green Room

Why’s it called a Green Room?

“Room close to the stage (i.e. the green) for the actors to meet and relax before or after going on stage.”

There are many possible answers to this question. What follows are a few of those. Please let me know of any more !

All that’s agreed upon is:

  • The Oxford Companion to the Theatre entry under Green Room says that the first reference is in Thomas Shadwell’s play A TRUE WIDOW (1678).
    The relevant line from Act Four of that play is :
    Stanmore : “No madam: Selfish, this Evening, in a green Room, behind the Scenes, was before-hand with me…”
    It also says that the only ‘proper’ green room now is at Drury Lane. Green Rooms – where actors met before and after perfs to entertain friends – were also known as Scene Rooms (or Screen Rooms, for scenery storage) and Green might be a corruption of Scene. Early English theatres had several, graded hierarchically according to the salary of the actor.
    (Bill Stanton, University of Exeter)
  • Another known written use of the term is in 1701, and from the context the writer (English owner-actor/playwright Colley Cibber 1671-1735, Poet Laureate) expected people to recognise the term, so it was probably in common use by the end of the 1690s.
    Most lexicographers have concluded that the term did originate from the colour the early greenrooms were painted, but no-one has any firm reasons as to why they would have been painted green.
    [Thanks to Spence Porter]
  • Another earlier citation is found in in A Warrant for the upper tiring room at the Cockpit-in-Court, 10 December 1662 from PRO LC 5/119 (cited D.Thomas, ed., Restoration and Georgian England, 1660-1788 CUP, 1989).
    The fact that it’s in use in the Court, means it was certainly in use in commercial theatre also.
    ‘for the upper tiring room in the Cockpit, the walls being unfit for the rich clothes, one hundred and ten yards of green baize at three shillings four pence the yards;’
    So was green baize wall covering there purely to stop “rich clothes” from getting dirty?
    [Thanks to Jane Milling, University of Exeter]

Some of the other (unsupported) reasons for the name that have been suggested are:

  • Because the plays originally took place outside on the village green.
  • Because the artificial grass (green carpet) was stored there.
  • The room was painted green as it was soothing to actors eyes (after they had come off from performing in front of limelight, which left a greenish after-image on the retina)
  • It was where the shrubbery used on stage was stored, and the plants made it a cool comfortable place.
  • The ‘green’ was jargon for the section of the stage visible to the public, so clearly the ‘green room’ was the room nearest the stage.
    (I like this one, but I haven’t seen a cite for it yet.)
  • “Greengage” is cockney-rhyming slang for “stage”, hence the Green room was the room by the stage.
  • The room was walled with green baize as soundproofing, so actors could practice their lines.

(the above is from the Rec.Arts.Theatre.Stagecraft newsgroup FAQ)

  • One of our theories to the Green Room mystery is that the Actors were often nervous and nauseous and had a green complexion. (Tracey Haylock, Legoland Windsor)
  • Greek theatres had an area behind the stage covered by vines where the actors could rest in the shade after performing in bright sunlight. (Chris Jahn)
  • According to an old professor of mine (who was still teaching although old enough that I think he knew Shakespeare personally), “The term ‘green room’ is one of the most used and least understood words in theatre. The word actually is in reference to the makeup worn by the actors. When first applied, old style makeups were prone to cracking until fully cured. During the period immediately after makeup was applied, it was ‘green’ or uncured. The Green Room was a quiet place for the actors to sit and relax while the makeup was ‘green’ and to allow it to cure properly.” For what it is worth, EVERYTHING I learned from that professor has proven to be 100% accurate over the many years since. (Gary Rominger)