Theatre Terms

image of question markHere you'll find over 1000 definitions of theatrical terms, from Aside, Beam Angle, and Camlock, to Upstaging, VU Meter, and Wagon.  Fully searchable, our glossary is helpful for technical staff, directors, actors, producers, or anyone wanting to better understand the inner workings of theatre.

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Term Definition Cross Reference Link
ABOVE 1) Elizabethan stage directions for a location on an upper stage or in a gallery. 2) Stage direction (mostly obsolete) for upstage, upstage of.
ABSTRACT SETTING A stage setting that is stylized rather than photorealistic or representational; that is, one that does not attempt to present a realistic stage picture. Setting
ACCENT LIGHTING Lighting that stresses certain stage areas. It may be done with intensity and/or color. An "accent light" is one that provides such illumination.
ACN Advanced Control Network. Show control protocol using ethernet, designed to improve on the limitations of DMX512. DMX/SMX/RDM
ACOUSTIC Pertaining to sound. Acoustics
ACOUSTICS The behavior of sound and its study. The acoustics of a room depend on its size and shape and the amount and position of sound-absorbing and reflecting material. Acoustics
ACT 1) One of the principal structural divisions of a dramatic work, usually, in a play, from one to five in number. 2) To perform, to represent a character in a dramatic production. Hence acting. 3) A solo performance created and/or presented by the performer, as in "a Las Vegas act."
ACT CURTAIN A curtain behind the fireproof curtain, and behind the grand drape, if there is one, closing the proscenium opening, and raised (or drawn) to reveal the stage during an act or scene. Grand Drape
ACT DROP Victorian stretched framed and painted canvas. Used as a visual stimulation during scene changes, and to indicate that there was more to come. Term now used to refer to any front cloth or tabs lowered during intervals. Especially pantomime / musicals.
ACT WARNING A stage manager's call to actors and crew to announce the timing remaining before the beginning of an act, or scene. Call
ACTING AREA That area within the performance space within which the actor may move in full view of the audience. Also, a specific portion of such an area actually used for acting during all or part of a performance. Acting area light
ACTING EDITION Performing Edition
ACTION 1) The physical movement of an actor on the stage. 2) The movement or development of the plot of a dramatic work, or an incident in that movement, as it is revealed or meant to be revealed by actors on the stage through dialogue, physical movement, etc. Short for "dramatic action."
ACTIVE A piece of circuitry is termed active if it needs a power supply for it to function. (Active DI box, Active crossover etc.) Circuitry that needs no additional power supply is termed passive (e.g. resistors & capacitors in a crossover). Passive circuits use the electrical sound signal itself to operate the components. OR A piece of circuitry is termed active if it amplifies a signal supplied to it. A passive circuit does not increase the level of a signal.
ACTOR Originally a male performer in a play, with "actress" used for women. Today, "actor" is increasingly used for both male and female performers. Actor
ACTOR-PROOF Said of a role or script that is certain to be effective even if badly acted.
AD LIB To add lines or business not in the script, or songs or music not in the score, especially as improvisation.
ADAM Digital Recording
ADJUDICATION The process of evaluating a production entered into a theatre festival or other competition, by a group of people (adjudicators) with a wide range of theatrical training and experience. Adjudication is considered to be an educational process, in which the adjudicators provide a verbal report of their reactions to each production (normally, immediately after the production) for the benefit of the producing company and the audience. Adjudicators also determine which productions will advance to the next level of competition (as in the AACTFest cycle), and may also award first place and second place awards. Adjudication
ADJUDICATOR A person with a wide range of theatrical training and experience, who views productions entered in a festival (such as AACTFest) and who shares his or her reactions with the participants and audience. Adjudication
ADVANCE BAR Lighting bar positioned just downstage of the proscenium arch.
ADVANCE MAN A representative in charge of business arrangements who proceeds a touring company.
AERIAL Cable or rod used to send and receive radio signals (connected to transmitter and receiver or tuner).
AERO A type of high-intensity Par lamp that derives its name from its use as an aircraft landing lamp. The true Aero is 28V and 250W, although there are many variations. The lamp has a very tight beam.
AESTHETIC DISTANCE The maintaining of artistic illusion by sufficient physical or other separation or detachment.
AFFECTIVE MEMORY In the Stanislavski method, the recollection of feelings that an actor has experienced and can use on the stage. Stanislavski method
AFTER-PIECE, AFTERPIECE A play, dance, etc., especially a short one, performed after the principal offering.
AGC Automatic Gain Control. Circuitry within recording equipment which compensates for differences in volume in the incoming sound signal by adjusting the gain automatically. Helps to reduce wild swings in volume.
AGENT An intermediary who performs certain business services in the theatre world, such as helping actors obtain engagements and helping dramatists find producers for their compositions. Hence, agency.
AISLE A passage through the seating area.
ALARUM Obsolete term for a call to arms by drums or trumpets. Especially Elizabethan, a stage direction. Sometimes "alarums and excursions."
ALLEGORY A dramatic work or a portion of one that expresses meaning by means of personification and symbolism; for example, the medieval morality play. In an allegory, characters may be named "Everyman," "Lust," "Greed," "Death," "Mr. Money," etc.
ALTERNATE 1) One or two actors who alternate in a specific role. 2) An understudy.
AMATEUR 1) A theater company whose participants (particularly actors) work without salary. 2) A person who acts without pay; sometimes used in ridicule to mean "not of high caliber." In actuality, the term comes from the Latin root meaning "to love," in this case, to do something for the love of it rather than for profit. Professional
AMATEUR RIGHTS Permission from the playwright (via the representative or publisher) to produce the play by a theater company whose participants (particularly actors) work without salary. Unlike professional royalties, which demand a percentage of the gross, amateur royalties are finalized up front. In some cases a flat royalty is charged (for example, $50 for the first performance, $40 for each successive performance). In many cases, however, the fee is based on theater seating capacity, average ticket price, and the number of performances. Professional Rights
AMP 1) AMPERE, the standard unit for measurement of electrical current passing through a circuit. Cables, fuses and switches are designated by their current carrying capacity. Square pin plugs are rated at 13 Amps maximum and Round pin plugs at either 5 Amps or 15 Amps maximum, depending on the size of the pins. If a cable rated at 5 Amps is used with a load of 15 Amps, the cable will overheat and possibly catch fire. 2) AMPLIFIER - sound equipment that converts the low voltage, low current signal from a tape deck, mixer etc. into a higher current signal suitable for driving speakers. See Power Amplifier, Crossover.
AMPHITEATRE An auditorium, outdoors or indoors, circular, semicircular, or elliptical in shape, in which a central arena is more or less surrounded by rising banks of seats.
AMPLITUDE The strength of a vibrating wave ; in sound, the loudness of the sound.
ANALOG SIGNAL A continuously variable signal that can have any value over a given range. For example, an analog voltage within the range 0 to 10 Volts can have values of 0, 2, 8.785 or any value between. Most dimmers require an analog voltage in order to operate (from 0 to -10V or 0 to +10V depending on the manufacturer). Most lighting control desks produce a digital multiplexed output, which is converted by a demux box to an analog signal for the dimmer. See also Digital Dimmer. Digital
ANGEL A person who invests in a prospective production. Angel
ANSI CODE ANSI is an abbreviation for American National Standards Institute. ANSI Code refers to a three-letter system that has been devised to describe lamps of different manufacture but the same application. The letters have no relationship to lamp description, but the same letters always designate the same type of lamp. Some of the application parameters they define include wattage, base type, envelope size, and light center length.
ANTAGONIST A principal role, opposed to that of the protagonist or hero.
ANTICLIMAX or ANTI-CLIMAX A point in a dramatic piece, after the climax, which may emphasize the meaning of the climax by some lesser tension, or may merely lessen the effect of the climax, sometimes to absurdity. Climax
APPEAR To act, as in to appear in a play or a part. Hence, appearance.
APPLICATION A copyrighted work cannot be produced legally until you receive written permission from the author's representative. An application for rights typically includes: name and address of the producing organization; phone and fax numbers; name of show; dates of desired performance(s); number of performances; name of theater/auditorium; seating capacity of theater/auditorium; and ticket prices. The processing time for an application can vary from two days to two weeks or more. If the title is available for the dates indicated on the application, fees are quoted and a license is generated. Copyright
APPRENCTICE A person who serves without pay in an acting company in order to learn about acting or other aspects of theatrical work.
APRON Section of the stage floor which projects towards or into the auditorium. In proscenium theatres, the part of the stage in front of the house tabs, or in front of the proscenium arch. Forestage
ARBOR Metal frame in which counterweights are carried in a flying system. Also called a cradle.
ARC 1) An "arc" is light caused by an electrical discharge between two electrodes in a gas such as xenon, argon, or air. 2) Short for carbon arc spotlight, hence arc-lighting. Obsolete.
ARC LIGHT Discharge Lamp
ARCH 1) An opening in a piece of scenery, representing an arch or a space of some other shape intended to remain empty or to be filled with a door, window, or the like. 2) A flat in the form of an arch. 3) Shaped like an arch. Proscenium Arch
ARCHITECTURAL LAMP A type of linear filament lamp with contacts at 90 degrees to the filament which can give the appearance of a continuous line of light (similar to neon, but dimmable).
ARCLINE (Trade Name) A colored plastic tube containing a number of small strobe units which, when triggered, flash in sequence down the tube. Many tubes can be connected together.
ARE YOU DECENT? "Are you dressed to receive visitors?" Query made at a dressing room door before entering.
ARENA Form of stage where the audience is seated on at least two (normally three, or all four) sides of the whole acting area. Thrust
ARRANGE To adapt a score for orchestral use.
ARRAS 1) A drape curtain loosely suspended across a stage. 2) A curtain or tapestry used to screen a door, or serving as a wall hanging.
ARTIST IN RESIDENCE A person from the professional theatre, employed for a specified period to train others (usually university students) in acting or other theatre arts.
ASBESTOS CURTAIN Now obsolete. The fire or fireproof or safety curtain.
ASIDE A speech or monologue, usually fairly short, to convey a character's thoughts or other information to the audience, while in the presence of other characters, some or all of whom are supposed not to overhear. A stage convention and frequently a stage direction. Often used in melodrama.
ASM Assistant Stage Manager
AT LIBERTY Having no current acting engagement, out of work, available for casting.
AT RISE At the moment when the rising curtain first discloses a scene.
ATMOSPHERE 1) The mood, the general emotional quality, of all or part of a dramatic piece or of its representation. Hence (of lighting, scenery, etc., created to establish a mood) atmospheric, atmospheric lighting, etc. 2) The normal background sound at any location.
ATTENUATE To reduce the intensity of a sound signal.
AUDITION 1) A try-out hearing, usually competitive, of an actor or other performers seeking employment or to be cast in a play. Hence, to audition for, to be auditioned. 2) A reading aloud of a dramatic work to prospective investors.
AUDITORIUM The part of the theatre accommodating the audience during the performance. Sometimes known as the "house."
AUTOCAD The term given to the industry-standard CAD (Computer Assisted Design) software program for architects and designers. WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) contains a cut-down version of Autocad, along with visualisation tools.
AUTOMATED LIGHT A lighting instrument in which certain functions such as panning, tilting, focusing, dimming, beam shaping and coloring, etc., are motorized and remotely operated from a control console. Sometimes called an "intelligent light."
AUTOMATION 1) Facility available on larger sound mixing desks allowing channel muting or even fader moves to be taken under the control of a computer to ensure accurate and repeatable mixing. 2) Describes the method used instead of stage crew for moving bits of set around shows with a big budget.
AUXILIARY INPUT A route back into the sound desk for a signal sent to a piece of outboard equipment via an auxiliary send. Auxiliary Output
AUXILIARY OUTPUT An additional output from a sound desk which can be used for foldback or monitoring without tying up the main outputs. Each input channel will have a path to the Aux buss. Also used for feeding a signal to an effects processor. Also known as "Return." Auxiliary Input
AVANT GARDE Any fresh leadership in theatrical production, but more especially a realistic movement toward greater freedom in expression. Daring, unusual. From the French expression meaning "advanced guard" or "vanguard."
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