Legend has it that theatres used to have multiple “green rooms”, with each one’s walls painted differently to accommodate the multiple moods and eccentricities of the actors who occupied those spaces.
by Matt Raudsepp of Matt and Kyle and Matt
The Ecru Room
…or as the French say, the Raw Room. Prior to theatres having walls, plays were performed outdoors. This meant that backstage areas were made of makeshift materials. Linens were hung to create sizable backstage areas. Back then, dyes were expensive, therefore the linens were unbleached and raw, or as the French say, écru.
The Red Room
Green rooms have often been painted red during the holidays. Tradition dictates that all lead actors would gather in the green room and elect who they believed was the least jolly stagehand (the Green Room Grinch). Once chosen, this stagehand would be forced to alternately paint the green room red and green every new day during productions mounted around Christmas. This tradition has been very hard to practice ever since that one stagehand brutally murdered the young child playing Tiny Tim for demanding a more festive red room. Ironically, Tiny got exactly what he asked for: a vibrant, blood red room. Unfortunately, the little guy never got to see it. God bless us, every one.
The Plaid Room
What started as a joke eventually gained momentum and became the most popular design for dressing room walls in the nineteenth century. Artists like to pretend that they know everything, so when a practical joke was orchestrated during an early production of the Scottish play, instead of laughing, everyone pretended it was “one of those superstitions” that you had to deal with in order to have a safe run of Mackers. Artists assuming things and agreeing in groups can be very dangerous. Plaid-levels of danger.
The Puce Room
This room was never painted puce. Instead, as the French say, fleas ruled this living space. You guessed it: the walls were crawling with bugs, creating a dark grey living tapestry, a veritable “marché aux puces”. Where do you think the idea for A Flea In Her Ear came from? Sitting around with an actress in the puce room.
The Lavender Room
Theatre designers agree that lavender is the single best colour for a backstage waiting room. It is calming and pretentious. It inspires actors to think of themselves as flowers, secreting pungent verse or prose to their captive audience of buzzing bees. This, at least, was the intention. However, actors are extremely fragile, nervous creatures. One hundred percent of them will vomit backstage on opening night. No matter what colour designers painted the room, it always ended up green, or slightly yellow depending on what the actors had for dinner. After a while, the vomit accumulated and made it impossible for new paint to stick. Simply, theatres need to save money. Why waste it on paint the audience will never see? Nauseous actor after nauseous actor has taken part in repainting green rooms since time immemorial, in a style not unlike Pollock’s, only slightly more violent, and from deeper in their gut.