Appendix:Glossary of theatre

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This is a glossary of terms commonly used in theatre.

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ad lib
Acting without having planned what to do or say. Often done to cover up for something having gone wrong or for forgotten lines. Also common in some forms of theatre such as pantomime. Also spelled adlibbing or ad-libbing.
against type
Playing a different sort of character than expected. See typecasting.
am dram
Amateur dramatics; Non-professional productions.
amateur theatre
Non-professional theatre.
A character that hinders the protagonist from achieving his or her goals.
An acting style in which the audience is kept aware that they are watching a performance rather than reality. (See Brechtian Acting.)
The stage area in front of the proscenium arch.
A dramatic technique in which a line is said by one character to him or herself or to the audience. The line is unheard by the other characters onstage.
avenue staging
The staging of a performance with the audience placed on two sides, as though the performance space is a street. Also called "alley" or "tennis-court" staging in regional variations.


The smallest division of action in a play. The length of time necessary for a character to play an "Objective" (also called "Intention" or "Goal") from beginning to end. Also a very short pause.
An actor's movement around a set, or the notations regarding movement in an actor's script. Also for one actor to get between another actor and the audience (see mask).
A slang term for the stage (from the wood plank floor)."Treading the boards."
Acclamation, by the audience, for a fine performance
"break a leg"
A saying for actors before they go out on stage, meaning "good luck".
Brechtian acting
An acting style in which the actors purposely try to alienate the audience from the characters in order to constantly remind them they are watching a play, based on the theories of Bertolt Brecht


call times
The times at which each individual actor is expected to be at the theater. Call times vary based on the amount of time required to make-up the actor and may be staggered among smaller roles to allow for sharing of dressing room space and/or make up artists.
A slang term used for communication head-sets used during shows. The head set commonly uses one ear piece and a microphone. these are connected using XLRs in to a separate patch bay, normally next to the sound desk.
The actors in a play.
The process of choosing the actors for a play.
A narrow, often elevated walkway, as on the sides of a bridge or in the flies above a theater stage
character actor
An actor or actress who specializes in playing secondary roles. Character parts are not the romantic lead, but the additional funny, scary, or otherwise exaggerated roles.
The practice of turning one's body towards the audience even while keeping the head facing one's scene partner. Cheating is usually necessary for the audience to really see the actors and view the scene.
A term used in Australian theatre (along with the traditional 'break a leg') to wish 'good luck' for a performance.
cold reading
A reading from a script or other text without any prior rehearsal, usually in the context of an audition or workshop.
community theatre
A performance by amateurs (or unpaid actors) as opposed to professional (paid) theatre. Some community theatre groups actually have registration "fees" that must be paid before rehearsals begin. This is usually to cover the cost of rehearsal space if their sponsoring Theatre does not have space.
To laugh when on stage, as the actor, not the character, would.
Another term for Understudy
To make up dialogue and or blocking due to a mistake or accident onstage without breaking character.
To move from one point on the stage to another, especially to a diametrically opposed point.
When the lighting or sound crew runs through each of its cues to check for errors. This is done without actors onstage, or with actors citing only the cues for the tech.
curtain call
When the actors come to the front of the stage to bow at the end of a performance.


death role
A character who dies.
Stage area.
A reciprocal conversation between two or more persons; the speaking lines of a script.
digital multiplex
A communications protocol used in stage lighting; may also refer specifically to DMX512 cable
The person who directs a show. In most cases, the director has the final say on all aspects of the production.
In Brechtian performance, when actors maintain distance from their character by reminding the audience through often stylized gestures or behavior that they are simply people pretending, instead of trying to identify with their "character".
Digital multiplex.
Toward the front of the stage; in the direction of the audience.
The author of a play.
A theatrical scholar. During production a dramaturge is responsible for historical accuracy, and conforming to the vision of the absent, or deceased, playwright.
Dress rehearsal.
dress circle
In some theatres, a shallow gallery level above the main seating. In UK proscenium houses, it is a (sometimes large) balcony above the stalls.
dress rehearsal
A run-through of the play with all actors wearing full costumes. Generally, dress rehearsals also include full make-up and music (when applicable). It's often the final rehearsal before performance.
dry tech
When the running crew practices each scene change without actors onstage. This is done to ensure each scene change can be completed swiftly and quietly.


emotional memory
In method acting, when an actor attempts to draw upon sense memories causing emotions to match the emotions of their character.
(archaic) A stage direction calling for more than one person to exit, from the Latin exire, "to go out." Mostly found in classical plays.
exeunt omnes
(archaic) A stage direction meaning all the cast exit.
A stage direction which specifies which person goes off stage.


final call
The half.
fit up
The process of setting up the theatre for the show.
fourth wall
An imaginary surface at the edge of the stage through which the audience watches a performance. If a character speaks directly to the audience or walks on/off the stage, this is known as breaking the fourth wall.
french scene
A section of a play between any entrance or exit of any character
front of house
Services including parking, concessions, ushering, and playbill distributing. Also called Ticketing / Box office.
full house
The state of all of the seats being filled; the state of the entire audience section being filled to capacity.


The highest section of the theatre; a section at the back or sides without seats where people can stand to watch a performance, usually raised.
get in
Fit up; the process of setting up the theatre for the show.
To be used as a singing voice for another actor. (See also, ghost-writer.)
ghost light
A light left on the stage overnight and/or when the stage is not in use for safety. It also has superstitious meaning for the run of the play.
An acronym (Goal, Obstacle, Tactics and Expectation) used to remind actors of their most basic work in character development.


the half
The time before a performance by which all actors must be present in the theatre – traditionally half an hour before curtain up.
A bad actor; usually one who overacts or hogs the spotlight. Can be used endearingly to describe rambunctious, but good actors.
The theatre, the people in the theatre, the audience.


A single, temporary desire or goal that arises in a character within a scene. (Also called "Objective" and "Goal".)
A break between acts (usually first and second, but some plays have three or more acts).
An intermission.
When an actor who is "in character" makes up action or dialog without prior scripting. (see Ad Libbing and Improvisational theatre.)
Unrealistic or untruthful acting. At its worst it is often associated with acting of the past in which realism was not ubiquitously prized and stereotyped gestures were used to "indicate" emotions rather than actually showing them.
To leave the stage.
to run Italians
To speak one's lines very fast, either individually or as a cast; thought to assist in committing lines and cues to memory. Also called "speed-through".


jumper cable
An extension cable with a stagepin head.


leading lady
The actress playing the largest role in the cast performed by a female (or originally intended for that purpose).
leading man
The actor playing the largest role in the cast performed by a male (or originally intended for that purpose).
Masking curtains hung vertically and parallel to the sides of the proscenium. Legs define the sides of the performing area and hide offstage areas from the view of the audience.
Referring to the lighting department of the crew (lighting designer, head electrician, lighting operator etc).


(archaic) A stage direction calling for a person (or more than one person) to remain on stage as others exit, corresponding to the Latin manent, meaning "they remain."
To block another actor, or something worn over the face, sometimes expressing emotion. (See Kabuki.)
Drapery or flats used to frame the stage, and stop the audience from seeing the backstage areas.
method acting
Acting style in which the ideal of a "true"( or "real") moment or impulse is valued most highly; the actors try to feel the emotions of the character so that the actors' choices and the characters' would be as one---i.e. inevitable. Pioneered by Konstantin Stanislavski, currently taught most formally at The Actor's Studio in Manhattan. Of note, the American Method acting of the popular imagination was based on an early, incomplete experiment of Stanislavski's. Many if not most modern teachers have moved away from the original (Stanislavskian ) "method" as it is truly difficult to teach well, has been altered by many secondary and tertiary disciples in the '60s and '70s to suit personal agendas, and can produce seemingly uninteresting and almost "masturbatory" results in younger actors. Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman are perhaps the best examples of masterful methodists who use and discard various parts of many schools of thought to achieve success.
An extended set of lines spoken by one person either directly addressing the audience (as in a soliloquy) or another character (a speech).
When a person speaks with no change in tone.
A character's individual desires or goals which propel them into action ;the driving force of an inciting event that starts a story's progression. Also known as "objective" or "super-objective".
To make exaggerated facial gestures in order to draw the audience's attention


A single, temporary desire or goal that arises in a character within a scene. (Also called "Intention".)
A force opposing a character's "objective" (or "intention") which gives rise to dramatic tension and conflict.
Over The Top, or over-exaggerating when acting.
The seats on the lower part of the theatre.
orchestra pit
where the musicians play, usually directly in front of the stage, often sunken below the seating sections.
(archaic) In stage directions, all the cast.
what happens after the character achieves his/her Objectives


packed house
Full house.
in a Greek theatre, the wall on either side of the stage, reaching from the back wall to the orchestra.
A character; the portion of the script intended for one character.
The upper part of the main seating. Usually behind a cross aisle, and almost always steeper than the lower Orchestra.
preferred reading
The interpretation of the script that is stressed by the author or the text itself.
A performance of a play in which the actors and audience occupy the same space, with no distinction between acting area and audience area. The audience is given the freedom to explore the space together with the performance, and there is generally an element of audience interaction in the play.
To tell an actor his next line when he has forgotten it. Also the person whose job it is to do this (also called the prompter). It used to mean the side of the stage where the prompter sat. The other side of the stage was called 'Opposite Prompt' or OP.
An object used in the play, from the Middle English proppe, meaning a support, not originally related to property as in ownership; does not include scenery or costumes.
Proscenium arch.
proscenium arch
The boundary between the stage and the audience in a conventional theatre; it appears to form an arch over the stage from the audience's point of view. In some cases, it does create an arch over the stage.
The main character; the hero or heroine.
When only one half of a dialogue is portrayed, especially either just the questions or the answers, wherein the performer is not directly addressing the audience.


raked stage
When the set inclines as it goes upstage. Often used in the past (especially in Shakespeare's time) to force the perspective of the stage picture. This has determined the sections of the stage; i.e. "Upstage".
read through
A reading of the entire play or act without blocking.
Practice of the play.
Run through.
run through
A practice of an entire play or act.


The text of the dialogue and stage directions of a play; to write a play.
sense memory
In method acting, when an actor attempts to recall memories of the physical sensations surrounding prior emotions in order to utilize emotional memory.
signs of character
The various cues that convey a character's personality, emotion or motivation.
signs of performance
An actor's movements, expressions and vocal tones and patterns that contribute to signs of character.
site specific
A play which is created or specifically modified to use the character of the performance space to the greatest advantage. Site specific spaces are usually locations which are not normally used for showcasing theatre, but have another primary function (warehouse, mansion, abandoned military bunker, etc).
social actor
People who portray themselves in a performance, usually previously known to the audience.
sold out
When the number of tickets sold for a performance is equal to or greater than the number of available seats.
A monologue spoken by a character to him or herself or the audience to reaveal his or her thoughts.
See "Standing Room Only".
stage direction
In the script of a play, any instruction for the actors, or setting, or character description.
stage left
The side of the stage on the left when facing the audience.
stage right
The side of the stage on the right when facing the audience.
standing ovation
At the end of a performance, when the audience stands and claps, a higher form of praise than normal applause.
standing room
A space where people can stand to watch a performance, especially if all the seats are filled. (See Gallery.) Most New York houses count standing room tickets in their house counts. The Lion King caused quite a stir when it didn't, and boasted more than 100 percent house counts for months.
standing room only
Admittance to a performance after all of the seats are filled which requires people to stand to watch.
to remove a set piece or from the stage ("Strike that chair.") To "strike the show" is to disassemble the entirety of the set, return all equipment to storage and leave the venue as it was before the show was set up. May be used as a noun to refer to the event at which the show is struck.
stock character
A archtypical or stereotyped character, usually originating in Roman comedy and finding its widest expression in Commedia dell'arte. Stock characters continue to be used, however, in one form or another and examples include the lover, crafty servant, the miser, the clown, etc.
Extra, walk-on part, most often speaks no words.
supporting cast
Actors who are not playing major parts.


The curtains separating the stage from the audience.
Technical rehearsal.
A general slang term for a member of the technical crew of a show.
technical rehearsal
A rehearsal primarily for the purpose of practicing the technical elements of a play, such as lights and sound.
Building where acting takes place (also a cinema)
The world of this type of acting, or the world of acting in general; the art itself.
theatre in the round
Any theatre where the audience is seated on every side of the stage. (See arena.)
A stage that extends out into the audience, so that the audience is seated on three sides of it.
A term used in Dutch movie, television, theatre or video to wish 'good luck' for a performance.
When an actor becomes associated with only one type of role or character, often based on physical appearance.


An actor familiar with another actor's role so that he or she can substitute in an emergency.
Towards the back of the stage; the half of the stage that is farthest from the audience; to outshine another's performance, especially when the other has a larger part or is more well-known. (The third meaning derives from the simplest means of "upstaging" another actor: to walk "upstage" of an actor, thereby forcing the other actor to turn his or her back to the audience while the "upstage" actor can stand full front, facing the audience. For the origin of the former two meanings, see raked stage)


The trait of seeming truthful or appearing to be real, from the Latin veri similis, "like the truth."
An directing technique championed by Anne Bogart. Originally it was a dance and movement technique extended to apply to the movement of actors and manipulation of a stage image by a director. It was also later extended as an acting technique.


Curtain call.
Costumes, or the people responsible for them.
wardrobe mistress / master
The person in charge of the costume department.
The "backstage" or parts of a stage off to the left and right not seen by the audience.

See also[edit]

ballet, Chinese opera, comedy, drama, epic theatre, farce, kabuki, melodrama, mime, musical theatre, opera, operetta, pantomime, paradigmatic structure, syntagmatic structure, suspension of disbelief, tragedy, tragicomedy, vaudeville