Saying: Advice for actors: Speak clearly, and don't bump into the furniture.

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 31 13:54:35 UTC 2014

There is a famous piece of advice directed at new actors that has been
attributed to Noel Coward, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, and Spencer
Tracy. Here are three variants of this evolving expression:

1) Speak clearly, and don’t bump into the furniture.
2) Learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.
3) Memorize your lines and try not to crash into the furniture

Fred wrote about this saying in his valuable article "Anonymous was a
woman" here:

The Noel Coward attribution is popular in the UK.  Yet, when I posted
on this topic last week on the QI website I was unable to find any
direct evidence that Coward spoke a version before the 1960s.

At last, a few days ago I found a relevant citation. Coward used the
phrase "without bumping into people" and not the more comical phrase
"without bumping into the furniture":

[ref] 1954 August 16, Long Beach Independent, The Lyons Den: Broadway
Gazette by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 10, Column 7 and 8, Long Beach,
California. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
The only advice I ever give actors is to learn to speak clearly, to
project your voice without shouting - and to move about the stage
gracefully, without bumping into people. After that, you have the
playwright to fall back on - and that's always a good idea.
[End excerpt]

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