Glossary of Theatre Terms

Theatre Talk

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A

  • ACTF --- American College Theatre Festival
  • AFM --- American Federation of Musicians
  • ABOVE --- Away from the audience. Same as "upstage of".
  • AD LIB --- On the spot improvisations -- word or gesture -- that were not originally in the script or were added during rehearsals
  • AEA --- Actors Equity Association
  • AGMA --- American Guild of Musical Artists
  • AGVA --- American Guild of Variety Artists
  • APRON --- The space on the stage in front of the curtain line. Sometimes used interchangeably with "forestage".
  • ARENA STAGE --- A form of center staging in which the audience surrounds the stage on all sides. Theatre-in-the-Round
  • ASBESTOS --- The fireproof curtain that closes the proscenium opening and separates stage from the auditorium in case of fire.
  • ASIDE --- One of the conventions of the theatre in which the audience accepts the idea that the words spoken by an actor, with appropriate side gesture and tone, can be heard by the audience but not by the other actors onstage.
  • AUDITIONS --- Reading of specific roles before the director to determine casting. Often involves prepared material.

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B

  • BACKDROP --- Large flat area, usually canvas, hanging at the rear of the stage, that can be painted to represent the desired locales.
  • BACKSTAGE --- The area behind the proscenium arch that, during the production of a play, is not seen by the audience.
  • BELOW --- Toward the audience. Same as "downstage of".
  • "BEST EIGHT BARS" --- In a musical audition, an excerpted section of a song (typically 8 measures more or less) that displays the best of an actor's singing voice.
  • BIT PART --- A small part with few lines.
  • BLACKOUT --- The sudden extinguishing of the stage lights.
  • BLOCKING --- The movements or locations of actors onstage.
  • BRIDGE --- In AABA song form, the 8 section, generally displaying contrasting melodic, rhythmic or stylistic characteristics, also called "release".
  • BUILD --- To increase the tempo or volume or both in order to reach a climax.

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C

  • CALL --- The time at which a performer is expected to be at the theatre for rehearsal or performance.
  • CALL BOARD --- A backstage bulletin board on which notices of concern to the actors are posted.
  • CATTLE CALL --- An audition format in which many actors are seen in a short period of time.
  • CHEAT --- A term used without any derogatory meaning when an actor plays in a more open position, or performs an action more openly, than complete realism would permit.
  • CLAQUE --- Audience members who are friends or relatives of performers, or are hired especially, to applaud and cheer loudly, thereby giving the impression of general enthusiasm for a particular actor or performance.
  • CLOSED --- A "closed" position is one in which the actor is turned away from the audience.
  • COMPANY --- A group of actors who perform together.
  • CONVENTION --- In theatre, a special relation between the audience and the play in which the audience accepts certain obvious departures from reality.
  • CORST --- Council of Resident Stock Theatres
  • COSTUME PROPS --- Costume accessories used by the actor in executing business.
  • COUNTER --- A movement in the opposite direction in adjustment to the cross of another actor.
  • COVER --- An actor is said to be "covered" when another actor moves into a position between him and the audience, thus obstructing him from view.
  • CROSS --- Movement from one area to another; in writing, it is abbreviated by "X".
  • CUE --- The last words of a speech, or the end of an action, indicating the time tar another actor to speak or move.
  • CURTAIN CALL --- The appearance of actors onstage after the performance to acknowledge the applause of the audience. Curtain calls are carefully rehearsed. Actors are required to remain in costume and make-up and to take calls as rehearsed without variation. The term applies whether or not a curtain has been used.
  • CYCLCORAMA --- A large canvas hung in a half-circle that covers the back and part of the sides of the stage.

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D

  • DIALOGUE--- The lines spoken by the characters in a play.
  • DOWNSTAGE --- That part of the stage nearest the audience.
  • DRESS STAGE --- A direction requesting the actors to adjust their positions to improve the compositional effect of the stage picture.
  • DRESSING THE SET --- The placement of furniture and prop items on the raw set to provide mood and a sense of identity.
  • DROP --- A flat curtain often painted that is suspended from the flies.
  • DROPPED --- Lines on which an actor does not project his voice sufficiently to be heard are said to be "dropped". The term also means an unintentional omission of lines.

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E

  • EMC --- Equity Membership Candidate
  • ENSEMBLE ACTING --- A theatrical presentation in which the stress is on the performance of the group rather than the individual.
  • EPA --- Eligible Performer Auditions
  • EXIT --- To leave the stage. It is also an opening in the setting through which the actor may leave.
  • EXTRA --- A small non-speaking part.

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F

  • FAKE BOOK --- A book of songs that contains only the melody line, lyrics and chord symbols.
  • FAKING --- Business which is not possible or practical to actually perform is said to be "faked".
  • FLAT --- The canvas-covered frames that constitute the walls of a stage setting.
  • FLIES --- The space above the stage in which the scenery is suspended.
  • FLOOR PLAN --- See GROUND PLAN
  • FOURTH WALL --- The imaginary wail at the proscenium opening "through" which the audience views the play.
  • FREEZE --- In acting, to stand absolutely still for an agreed number of counts or until curtain or blackout.

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G

  • GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES --- Any unchangeable fact that affects the playing of the scene.
  • GREEN ROOM --- A room located close to the stage in which the actors may await entrance cues and receive guests after the performance. The term also refers to the time directly before a performance during which the director or stage manager may give last minute notes.
  • GRIDIRON (GRID) --- A framework, usually of steel, above the stage area. It is used to support lights and flown scenery.
  • GROUND PLAN --- A plan that shows, from a point of view above the set, the location of walls, doors, windows and furniture. Often called floor plan.

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H

  • HAND PROPS --- Small objects which the actor handles an stage

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I

  • IMPROVISATION --- Spontaneous invention of lines and business by performers.
  • IN --- Toward the center of the stage.
  • INDICATING --- Performing an action without an intention. It is a derogatory term in psychologically motivated acting.
  • INGENUE --- The actress who plays the role of the innocent and attractive young woman.
  • INTENTION --- The actor's real reason for performing an action.

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J

  • JUVENILE --- The male equivalent of the ingenue.

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L

  • LORT --- League of Resident Theatres

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M

  • MASK --- To hide a lighting instrument or the backstage area from the audience's view, usually by means of scenery.
  • MONOLOGUE --- Related to the soliloquy, this form of stage address is delivered by a character who is usually (though not always) alone on stage. The material does not represent the character's thoughts, however, but is clearly material that the character wishes to communicate primarily to the audience.
  • MOTIVATION --- Why the character acts.
  • MUGGING --- A derogatory term for exaggerated facial expression.

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O

  • OFFSTAGE --- All parts of the stage not enclosed by the setting.
  • ONSTAGE --- That part of the stage enclosed by the setting.
  • OPEN POSITION --- An "open position" is one in which the actor is facing toward the audience, or nearly so.
  • OUT --- Away from the center of the stage.

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P

  • PACING --- The rate of speed at which the actors speak their lines, pick up their cues, and perform their actions.
  • PAPERING THE HOUSE --- A term referring to the practice of issuing large quantities of complimentary tickets, or selling large numbers of tickets at reduced prices, in order to secure a large audience.
  • PATTER --- A song whose text, usually humorous, is sung very rapidly.
  • PERSONAL PROPS --- Hand props which are carried on the actor's person and are used only by him.
  • PICK UP CUES --- A direction for the actor to begin speaking immediately on cue without any lapse of time.
  • PLACES --- A direction given by the stage manager for everyone to be in his proper position for the beginning of an act.
  • POINTING --- Giving special emphasis to a word or phrase.
  • PROSCENIUM --- The wall separating the audience from backstage.
  • PROP TABLE --- Tables which are usually placed offstage right and left to accommodate props which the actors carry on and off the set.

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R

  • RAKE --- To slant the stage floor up from front to back.

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S

  • SETC --- Southeastern Theatre Conference
  • SOLILOQUY --- A speech delivered by an actor alone onstage which by convention is understood by the audience to be the character's internal thoughts, not a part of the dialogue.
  • SSDC --- Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers
  • STAGE BUSINESS --- Small actions performed by the actor onstage.
  • STAGE LEFT --- The actor's left as he stands onstage facing the audience.
  • STAGE PROPS --- Objects for dressing the stage which are not used by the actors in executing their business.
  • STAGE RIGHT --- The actor's right as he stand onstage facing the audience.
  • STEALING --- Term used to mean taking the audience's attention when it should be elsewhere. Scene stealers, either intentional or unintentional, are not well-liked in any cast.
  • STINGER --- A chord, usually staccato, that follows the final word of sung text in a song and serves as musical and dramatic punctuation for the song just performed. Also called 'button'.
  • STRIKE --- The direction given by the stage manager to change the setting for another scene or to dismantle the set at the end of a run.
  • SUBTEXT --- The actor's continuous thoughts that give meaning to the dialogue and the stage directions.

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T

  • TAG LINE --- The last line of a scene or act.
  • TELESCOPING --- Overlapping speeches so that one actor speaks before another has finished. It is a technique for accelerating the pace on building a climax.
  • THEATRE-IN-THE-ROUND --- See ARENA STAGE
  • THRUST STAGE --- A stage with a projected apron or playing area that allows the audience to view the action from three sides.
  • TOP --- To "build" a line higher or louder than the one that preceded it.
  • TRAP --- An opening in the stage floor.

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U

  • UPSTAGE --- Away from the audience.

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