Theatre Terms

Theatre Personnel

Accompanist

The person who plays the piano for a rehearsal or performance.

Actor

One who performs a role or represents a character in a play. The term is now used for both men and women performers.

Artistic Director

The person who oversees the artistic vision of a theatre company  The artistic director is usually responsible for picking the plays that a theatre will produce, budgeting for productions, directing selected productions, hiring the directors (and sometimes other staff) and planning for the future of the theatre company.

Choreographer

The person who designs, stages and teaches all of the dance moves for a production.

Costume Designer

The person who designs and sometimes builds all of the costumes worn by the actors in a production.

Director

The person responsible for the casting of actors, setting the rehearsal schedule, blocking, running rehearsals, taking notes on run-through’s and focusing the thematic and design concepts for the production of a single play.

Hair, Make-up & Wig Master

One or more persons who coordinate with the Director and Costume Designer to ensure hair make-up and wigs meet the professional standards for the show. Special make-up, wig or hair design may or may not be required for any given show.

House Manager

The person responsible for making sure that the audience gets safely in and out of the theatre and oversees all of the ushers.

Lighting Board Operator

The person operating the lighting board that controls the lights for the performance.

Lighting Designer

The person who designs and executes the arrangement of the lights for a production. This can include hanging the lighting instruments in the proper positions and deciding on the right colors, intensity and timing for the lights.

Musical Director

The person who teaches all of the music and oversees all musical choices for the production.

Prop Master

The person responsible for acquiring properties (what actors hold and take on to the stage with them, or items placed on the stage that are not part of the set) and assigning places backstage and onstage for them (note: actors are usually responsible for their own props – bringing them on and offstage during rehearsals and performance)

Set Designer

The person who designs and executes the arrangement of the setting for a production.  This can include the building of walls, platforms and furniture.

Sound Board Operator

The person operating the soundboard that controls the sound effects and recorded music for a production.

Stage Hand

The person responsible for placing set pieces, controlling special effects, and helping actors where needed, etc.

Stage Manager

The person responsible for the organization of a production.  This can include making cast lists and contact sheets, distributing schedules and other materials, writing down the Director's blocking, making sure everyone is present for a performance, coordinating with the House Manager before starting the show, giving the actors calls to let them know how much time they have to get ready and sometimes letting the light board operator and sound operator know when to perform their tasks.

Technical Director

The person who coordinates the activities of all of the technical personnel for a theatre.  This can include the hiring and scheduling of designers and builders and the overseeing of general theatre maintenance.

General Theatre Terms

AUDITIONS

The process by which a play or theatre event is cast.

BLOCKING

The Director's arrangement of the actor's movements on stage with respect to each other and the stage space.

CALLBACKS

Usually the last stage of an audition process.  Normally callbacks are a series of cold readings where the Director makes the final decision on who will be cast in the production.

CASTING

Casting refers to the choosing of certain actors to play certain roles in a theatrical production.

COLD READINGS

Reading from a script without preparing in advance.

IMPROVISATION (sometimes short-ened to IMPROV)

A spontaneous scene or episode created by an actor or actors without a script.

RIGHTS

Most plays require the producer of the play to pay performance rights in order to legally perform the play.

SETTING

The surroundings in which the action of the play develops.

*THEATRE

The word “theatre” can denote either a) the theatre building or space, b) a theatre production or c) the entire discipline or genre of theatre.  The discipline or genre of theatre generally includes all areas of work and study surrounding the creation and execution of scripted performance works by live actors for an audience.  While spelling theater with a final “er” is acceptable, the “re” spelling is generally preferred among theatre professionals.

Theatre Directions

ABOVE

A direction to move around an object by moving away from the audience. Same as "upstage of". (An actor who walks above a piece of furniture walks between the furniture and the upstage wall of the setting.)

BELOW

A direction to move around an object by moving toward the audience.  Same as "downstage of". (An actor who walks below a piece of furniture walks between the furniture and the audience.)

*CENTER

The middle of the stage.

*DOWNSTAGE

Toward the audience. The downstage area of the stage is the part of the stage closest to the audience (in a regular proscenium theatre).

IN

Toward the center of the stage.

OUT

Away from the center of the stage.

*STAGE LEFT

The actor's left as he/she faces the audience.

*STAGE RIGHT

The actor's right as he/she faces the audience.

*UPSTAGE

Away from the audience. The upstage area of the stage is the part of the stage furthest from the audience (in a regular proscenium theatre).

 Theatre Positions and Movement

CLOSED

A "closed" position is one in which the actor is turned away from the audience.

COUNTER

A movement (usually to a more open position) in adjustment to the movement of another actor or stage event.

CROSS

To move from one stage position to another.

FULL FRONT

Facing directly toward the audience.

FULL BACK

Facing directly away from the audience.

GIVE/TAKE

When two actors are not equally "open" and one receives a greater emphasis than the other, the actor emphasized is said to "take" the scene.  The other actor is said to "give" the scene.

ONE QUARTER

Facing diagonally toward the audience.

OPEN

An "open" position is one in which the actor is facing toward the audience, or nearly so. To "open" is to turn toward the audience.

PROFILE

Facing directly stage right or left.

SHARE

Two actors "share" a scene when they are both "open" to an equal degree, allowing the audience to see them equally well.

THREE QUARTERS

Facing diagonally away from the audience.

UPSTAGING

One actor upstages another when she/he takes a position that forces the second actor to face upstage or away from the audience.  Since the downstage actor is at a disadvantage, upstaging (when not directed to do so) has a negative connotation and is to be avoided.  Upstaging can also refer to distracting, inappropriate behavior that pulls the focus of the audience away from the important action of the play.

 Theatre Facilities and Equipment

APRON

The part of the stage that extends toward the audience in front of the curtain line.

BACKDROP

A flat surface the width of the stage, usually made of canvas, that hangs from the flies at the rear of the staging area and is painted to represent the desired setting.

BACKSTAGE

Usually the entire stage portion of the theatre building that is not accessible to the audience.  This includes the "offstage" area and all dressing rooms and areas that are connected to the stage area.

CALL BOARD

A backstage bulletin board on which notices of concern to the actors are placed.

DRESSING ROOMS

The rooms, often located under the stage where the actors put on their costumes and make-up before a performance.

FLATS

The canvas-covered frames that constitute the walls of a stage setting.

FLY SPACE

The area of the theatre above the stage.  Usually this is where scenery and backdrops are raised so the audience cannot see them.

GREEN ROOM

A room located close to the stage where the actors await entrance cues and relax while offstage.

LIGHT BOARD

The machine that operates all of the lighting equipment that illuminates the stage.  Most light boards are small computers that are capable of recording hundreds of cues

OFF STAGE

All parts of the actual stage floor that are not visible to the audience (usually the area behind the set).  This does not include the dressing rooms and other "backstage" areas.

ON STAGE

The part of the stage enclosed by the setting that is visible to the audience in any particular scene.

PROPS

(Short for "properties") Everything required during the action of a play that does not count as furniture, costume, or scenery.

PROP TABLE

Tables placed offstage on which props are placed so actors can have easy access to them.

PROSCENIUM ARCH

The picture frame through which an audience watches the play in a proscenium arch theatre.

PROSCENIUM STAGE

A theatre with the audience on one side.

THRUST STAGE

A theatre with the audience on three sides, usually with vom entrances.

THEATRE IN THE ROUND

A theatre with the audience surrounding the stage, usually with vom entrances.  The stage is usually NOT ROUND.  It is usually square with vom entrances at the corners.

VOM (short for VOMITORIUM)

An entrance to or from the stage that passes through the audience.

WINGS

The offstage space at the right and left of the acting areas.  Wings can also refer to the curtains that hang at the right and left of the stage to mask actors waiting for entrances from the audience.

 Acting Terms

ACTION

What a character does to get what she/he wants.  An action can be either physical or psychological.  An action is the smallest unit of measure in the acting vocabulary.

BEAT

From the beginning to the end of an objective.  A beat may include many actions.

CHARACTER

A person (or being) in a play.

CHARACTER ROLE

A major role in a play, but not one of the romantic leads.  Often used to mean an unusual or extreme role in terms of age, voice or physical characteristics.  Also used for elderly and funny characters.

DIALOGUE

Speech between two or more characters.

ENSEMBLE PLAYING

The type of acting in which a cast works as a team to create a total effect rather than a group of individual performances.

GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

The circumstances that are given to you by the playwright.  The unchangeable facts that affect the playing of a scene, usually set by the playwright and sometimes the Director and actors.  These are facts regarding the story of the play, including information about the characters, environment, situation, relationships and past history.

INGENUE

The young, attractive, innocent lead in a play, generally the romantic interest.

*MOTIVATION

Why the character acts.

MONOLOGUE

A speech spoken by one character to other characters in the play.

OBJECTIVE

What the character wants.

OBSTACLE

What is in the way of the character getting what she/he wants.

ROLE

Part in a play; the character played by an actor in a play.

SOLILOQUY

A speech in which one actor, usually alone on stage, speaks his or her thoughts aloud.

SUBTEXT

The actor's continuous thoughts that give meaning to the dialogue.

SUPER-OBJECTIVE

The ultimate reason that the character acts.

TRANSITION

The moment when an actor changes an action.  A change of action will almost always be accompanied by some physical movement.

 Rehearsal Terms

AD LIB

Coming from the Latin "ad libitum" (meaning "at pleasure"), the term applies to lines supplied by the actor whenever they may be required (but not given by the playwright), as in crowd scenes or to fill in where there would otherwise be an undesirable pause.

ASIDE

A line of dialogue directed to the audience or a selected character (certain characters, sometimes all of the other characters, do not hear this line).

BUILD

To increase in tempo, energy and volume in order to reach a climax.

CALLING FOR LINE

When an actor forgets a line in rehearsal, they should say the word "line" and then the person who is "on book" (usually the stage manager) will give them the line.

CUE:

The line or action that indicates to the actor that their line or action is next.

DRESS REHEARSAL

The last rehearsal or series of rehearsals prior to a play being performed before an audience.  Treated as a performance, it is done in full costume, with full technical effects, and played straight through without stopping.  The Director will usually give the company notes after a dress rehearsal.

DRY TECH

A technical rehearsal without actors.

LINES

The dialogue for a play; the words the actors say in performance.

NOTES

During the run-through or dress rehearsal of a play, the Director will write down comments about the play so as not to stop the rehearsal.  Notes can include suggestions and comments on the acting and/or technical aspects of a play.

ON BOOK

To be "on book" is to be watching the script for the actors in case someone forgets a line.  If you are "on book" and an actor calls for a line, you are to give them their line.

OFF BOOK

To be "off book" is to have memorized all of your lines

PACE

The rate of speed at which actors speak their lines, pick up their cues, and perform their actions.

PICK UP CUES

A Director's note to eliminate the pause between the end of one actor's line and the beginning of the next actor's line.

REHEARSAL

A session in which the Director and actors prepare a play for performance.  Please do not use the word “PRACTICE” to denote a rehearsal.  Sports teams practice, theatre people rehearse.

RUN-THROUGH

A rehearsal at which an entire scene, act, or play is done without stopping for changes or corrections.

SCRIPT

The written book from which a play is staged.  Usually a published book that contains all of the lines and stage directions.

TECH REHEARSAL

This is the rehearsal where the technical elements (sets, lights and sound) are first added to a production.  Actors are present.

 Performance Terms

CALL

The time the actors are to arrive at the theatre before a performance.

COVER

To invent a line or action to cover up for a mistake during a performance.

CURTAIN CALL

The bows at the end of a performance.

DARK

A theatre has a "dark" night if there is no performance on that night.  Most             theatres are dark on Monday nights.

DRY

To forget your lines.

HOLDING FOR LAUGH

When the audience laughs at a joke in a play, the actor's should wait until just after the laughter has peaked before continuing with the play.

HOUSE

The people in the audience.

INTERMISSION

The break between the acts of a performance.

OPENING NIGHT

The first full performance of a play for an audience.

PLACES

The instruction to the actors and theatre personnel to get ready for the performance to begin.

PREVIEW

A full dress rehearsal of a play before the opening night for an audience (usually at a reduced cost).  The purpose of a preview is for the actor's and Director to see what the audience reaction is before the official opening of the production.

SET CHANGE

The movement of the setting between scenes or acts.  Set changes can be done by the actors or the stage crew.

SET DRESSING

Small items that adorn the set that are not used specifically by an actor.  For example: a painting on the wall; a vase of flowers, etc

Abbreviations 

Listed below are some basic theatre abbreviations that can be used when writing down blocking.  Blocking should always be written in pencil as it may change during the rehearsal period. These are not particularly geared toward a theatre in the round, such as the Space, so check with the Director.

 

L or SL = Stage Left

The actor's left as he/she faces the audience

R or SR= Stage Right

The actor's right as he/she faces the audience

U or US = Upstage

Away from the audience

D or DS= Downstage

Toward the audience

C = Center

as in moving from one place to another

X = Cross

 

Aud = Audience

as in entering from the audience or when given the direction to look or talk to the audience

Ent = Enter/ /

 

Ex = Exit

 

Thru = Through