History of…



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The history of... THE GREEN ROOM

Nowadays we know the ‘green room’ to be a room backstage where the performers or presenters would wait before going on-stage. But how did it get its name?

Here are some theories as to why it is a ‘green’ room:

All that’s agreed upon is:

  • The ‘Oxford Companion to the Theatre’ says that the first reference is in Thomas Shadwell’s play A TRUE WIDOW (1678):
    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 – which were also known as ‘Scene Rooms’ (or Screen Rooms, for scenery storage) and ‘Green’ might be them changing the word ‘Scene’.
    (Bill Stanton, University of Exeter)
  • Another known written use of the term is in 1701, writers expected people to recognise the term, so it was probably in common use by the end of the 1690s.
    Most people who have studied the name, 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 sporter@cat.nyu.edu] 
  • Another earlier use of the name ‘Green Room’ is found in A Warrant for the upper tiring room at the Cockpit-in-Court, 10 December 1662.
    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 the 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.
  • “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.