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 Link
D.C. or DC
D.L. or DL
D.L.C. or DLC
D.R. or DR
D.R.C. or DRC
DAISY-CHAINING Connecting items of equipment together by linking from one to the next in a chain. Used for connecting demux boxes to dimmers, etc.
DARK Said of a theatre that is closed, or with no performances scheduled. Some theatres go dark temporarily during production periods, when the next show is in preparation on stage. Thus, "Shows run Thursday through Sunday, and we're dark Monday through Wednesday."
DAT Digital Audio Tape
dB Abbreviation for decibel
DBO Dead Blackout
DE-RIG The process of removing lighting instruments & cabling from flying bars or grid (rigging)- returning the venue to its normal state, or as preparation for the next production.
DEAD 1) A prop or scenic piece that has been used, but is no longer needed until the next performance. 2) Used to describe a flat or curtain that hangs with the bottom edge level on the stage floor, as in "dead hang."
DEAD HANG To fly an item without a counterweight.
DEATH AT THE BOX OFFICE A dramatic piece or actor that is unlikely to succeed with the public, or one that is known to be unpopular.
DEBUT An actor's first appearance, whether at the beginning of his/her career, or in a new theatre. Thus "Making his Acme Little Theatre debut is John Kelly."
DECIBEL Relative measurement for the volume (loudness) of sound. Also used to measure the difference between two voltages, or two currents.
DECK 1) Stage floor. 2) Tape deck.
DEEP A stage or acting area that is long in measurement from front to back.
DELIVERY The manner in which an actor presents or utters his/her lines.
DEMUX BOX Interface unit between the serial digital output of a memory lighting control desk to the parallel analogue signal understood by a dimmer.
DENOUEMENT In a dramatic work, the falling action after the climax, the unwinding of the complications of the plot.
DEPARTMENT One of the principal divisions of the stage staff, headed by a company official--such as wardrobe, scenery, lighting. Thus, department head.
DEUS EX MACHINA In the ancient Greek and Roman theatre, this referred to a god that provided the resolution of the play (literally, "a god from a machine."). In modern drama, sometimes used to mean an unlikely resolution of the problem posed in a play.
DEVELOPMENT 1) In dramatic construction, the events after the exposition that complicates the plot; a logical series in cause and effect. 2) In characterization, a change and expansion in character traits within a dramatic piece.
DI BOX Interface unit to convert the high impedance unbalanced output of an instrument (e.g. Electric guitar) into a low impedance balanced signal of low level suitable for connection to the microphone input of a mixing desk. Usually has an output jack socket so that the instrument's unprocessed signal can be passed direct to the musician's amplifier. DI = Direct Injection.
DIALOG or DIALOGUE Lines in a stage entertainment or dramatic work, usually those in which at least to persons take part (as opposed to monologue). Thus dramatic or stage dialogue.
DICHROIC FILTER Glass color filters which reflect all light except that which is the color of the filter, which passes through. Normal gels absorb the unwanted colors, turning the light into heat. Diachronic filters run cooler, and produce a much cooler beam of light. Longer lasting, but a lot more expensive.
DICHROIC LAMP Low voltage display lamp with a reflector that lets heat pass through it, rather than reflecting it. Results in a much "cooler" light.
DIFFUSE To spread light softly, often by use of a diffusing medium.
DIFFUSION/DIFFUSING MEDIUM A filter used to soften the edges of a light beam. Different strengths of diffuser (sometimes called "frost") are available from many color filter manufacturers.
DIGITAL Many electronic devices use digital logic. Information is handled in separate bits (either ON or OFF) rather than continuously variable analogue signals. Most computer lighting boards give a digital multiplexed output, and most new sound equipment is digital.
DIGITAL DIMMER Dimmers that can respond directly to the digital multiplexed output of the lighting desk. The technology also permits the dimmer to report faults and other data back to the control board.
DIGITAL RECORDING 1) ADAM : (Akai Digital Audio Multitrack). 12 track recording onto Video 8 tape. 16 bit, 44)1 or 48kHz sampling rate. 2) DAT (Digital Audio Tape) Cassette-like system which has much higher quality than standard audio cassettes. Widely used in gathering sound effects, for news gathering, and for playback of music. 3) DCC (Digital Compact Cassette) Rival to DAT which also plays standard audio cassettes. 4) Mini Disk : Uses computer disk technology, rather than tape. A laser heats an area of magnetic disk which is then written to by a magnetic head. When cooled, the magnetic information is read from the disk by laser. Tracks can be named, and are instant start. Very theatre-friendly system. 5) Direct to Disk : Uses the hard disk present in most PCs as the recording medium.
DIM To decrease the stage illumination, as in "Dim the spot."
DIMMER Electrical or electronic device that controls the amount of electricity passed to a lamp, and therefore the intensity of the lamp.
DIMMER RACK A number of individual dimmer circuits mounted in a cabinet.
DIN Deutscher Industrie Normen. European standard covering audio connectors and tape equalization characteristics.
DISCHARGE LAMP A high-powered source of light produced by means of a discharge between two electrodes. An arc light, for example uses a discharge between two carbon rods which are manually or automatically fed together as they are burnt up. The use of this type of lighting is restricted to non-dimming applications such as followspots and projection, where dimming is achieved by mechanical means. Many of the new generation of moving lights use discharge lamps and diachronic filters.
DISCOVER To reveal a scene, a person, etc., to the audience, often by the opening of a curtain or bringing up stage lighting. Thus, "Barnes is discovered upstage left, smoking."
DISSOLVE UNIT Interface connected between two or more slide projectors and a tape player. Synchronization signals recorded onto the tape are detected by the dissolve unit and fade up the lamp in one slide projector while changing the slide in the other, and then vice versa, producing a dipless crossfade between the two images.
DISTORTION Noisy and unpleasant sound reproduction, usually the result of overloading sound equipment. Reducing the levels can remedy the situation.
DISTRIBUTION BOARD System of interconnected fuse carriers and cabling that routes an incoming power supply to a number of different outputs.

    All modern lighting desks use this serial form of communication with dimmers. All the information from the desk is transmitted along a single pair of cables to the dimmer where a de-multiplexing unit (demux box) decodes the string of data and passes the correct piece of information to the correct dimmer.
    The industry standard protocol (language/standard) for multiplexing has the digital USITT DMX512 (introduced in 1986, based on RS485 data protocol). However, new protocols are continually being added to keep up with more demanding equipment.
    SMX is a communications protocol which enables digital dimmers to 'report back' to the desk on any faults (eg blown lamps).
    RDM (Remote Device Management) is an emerging upgrade to DMX512 which will include bi-directional communication between controller and device.
    DMX512-A (officially ANSI E1.11) is a standard developed at ESTA, which is backwards-compatible with DMX512, but has stricter safety parameters and offers some upgrades of functionality.
    Among the older protocols (pre-DMX512) are D54 which uses a stream of analogue voltage levels and was the Strand standard, and AMX 192 (US Standard, introduced around 1975) which can control up to 192 channels and uses a 4-pin XLR connector. (AMX stands for Analogue Multiplex).

DOCK A place (often a raised platform) for the loading or unloading of materials.
DOLBY Trade name for a series of noise reduction systems that have become standard on many tape playback machines. Many film soundtracks are produced using this process. Different varieties are found from Dolby B on most personal cassette players, to Dolby SR and Digital, the current state of the art for films.
DOLLY A small wheeled platform used to move heavy items. (E.g. a piano dolly).
DOMINATE A SCENE 1) In acting, to occupy an outstanding position on the stage, as the position farthest upstate, or on the highest plane of several levels. 2) A particularly strong actor who, intentionally or not, is the prime focus of a scene.
DONUT A metal plate with a hole in the middle inserted in the color runners of a lamp to sharpen focus (in the case of a profile) or reduce spill.
DOOR FLAT A flat with an opening for a door unit.
DOORSKIN A flexible thin plywood used for covering flats, also known as luaun or Philippine mahogany. Use is declining due to the fact that it is sourced from environmentally unsustainable resources in the Brazilian Rainforest.
DOUBLE To play two parts in one production; an actor who does so. Thus, doubling.
DOUBLE PURCHASE Counterweighted flying system where the cradle travels half the distance of the fly bar, leaving the side wall of the stage under the fly floors clear of flying equipment. The cradle of a double purchase system needs twice as many counterweights as that of a single purchase system balancing the same weight.
DOUBLE TAKE An actor's comic response to a surprising event or action: one expression, followed after a pause by another, as he pretends to recognize the significance belatedly.
DOUBLE-CAST To cast two actors in each part, either to provide an understudy, or to permit their appearance in alternate performances. Thus, double-casting.
DOWN Short for down stage.
DOWN CENTER A stage position or area, center and downstage. Also a stage direction, as "Mary, move down center." Sometimes abbreviated as D.C. or DC.
DOWN LEFT A stage position, left (audience's right) and downstage. Also a stage direction, as in "Mary, move down left." Sometimes abbreviated as D.L. or DL.
DOWN LEFT CENTER A stage position, downstage of left center position. Sometimes abbreviated as D.L.C. or DLC.
DOWN RIGHT A stage position or area, right (audience's left) and downstage. Sometimes abbreviated as D.R. or DR.
DOWN RIGHT CENTER A stage position, downstage of right center position. Sometimes abbreviated as D.R.C. or DRC.
DOWN STAGE or DOWNSTAGE 1) The entire front half of the stage. Thus, 'downstage wall,' 'downstage entrance.' 2) Any part of the stage considered as a position in relation to something or someone farther back, as in "Mark moves right, downstage of Mary."
DOWNLIGHT A light from directly above the acting area.
DOWNSTAGE 1) The part of the stage nearest to the audience (so-named from the lowest part of a raked stage). 2) A movement towards the audience (in a proscenium theatre).
DRAMA 1) A representation on a stage by actors before an audience. 2) A piece of writing, particularly one of marked emotional intensity, intended for stage representation. The opposite of comedy.
DRAMATIC IRONY 1) The use of actions or words carrying a hidden meaning for the audience in the development of a plot. 2) A character's failure to realize a truth evident to the audience.
DRAMATIC UNITY The principle of "oneness," applicable to every aspect of dramatic writing and production, each element contributing to a single, overall effect.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE The characters in a play, usually referring a list of them. From the Latin, "persons of the drama."
DRAMATIST An author of a play, a playwright.
DRAMATIZE To convert a nontheatrical work into a play.
DRAMATURG or DRAMATURGE While the Oxford English Dictionary cites dramaturg as early as 1859, Jeffrey Sweet, co-editor of The Best Plays annual, says he first heard the term at New York’s Eugene O'Neill Center in 1970. At the O'Neill, the dramaturg was a critic on the playwright's side, and assumed to be widely read with a good grasp of craft issues, Sweet explains. The dramaturg was to ask questions of playwrights that would generate responses to answer problems in their scripts. In the last 25 years the role of dramaturg has evolved and expanded. Today, while there is no single definition, Sweet says, "in practice, the dramaturg is generally supposed to have some kind of literary bent, be capable of research, and to utter opinions which by dint of schooling are supposed to be taken seriously."
DRAMATURGY The art or technique of dramatic composition or representation. Thus dramaturge or dramaturg, dramaturgist.
DRAPERY Any soft curtain material, hung--usually loosely--as part of the scenic decoration. Thus, drapery border, drape, drape curtain.
DRAPES Stage Curtains
DRAW CURTAIN or DRAW-CURTAIN A curtain that divides in the middle so that it can be pulled to the sides of the stage.
DRAWING-ROOM COMEDY A light, sophisticated comedy typically set in a drawing room with characters drawn from polite (upper-class) society.
DRESS 1) To costume a stage production. 2) To decorate a stage with pictures, drapes, pillows, etc., in order to provide a pleasing arrangement of color, form, and texture.
DRESS PARADE Review by director/designer/wardrobe staff of all costumes worn by cast and paraded under stage lighting. Any defects, misfits etc. are noted or corrected before the first Dress Rehearsal.
DRESS REHEARSAL A full rehearsal, with all technical elements brought together. The performance as it will be on opening night.
DRESSER Person who helps actors with costume care and costume changes during the performance.
DRESSING 1) Noun. Decorative props (some practical) and furnishings added to a stage setting. 2) The act of decorating the set for performance.
DRESSING ROOM A room backstage where an actor can dress and put on makeup.
DROP A piece of scenic canvas, painted or plain, that is flown or fixed to hang in a vertical position. Sometimes called cloths (the British term). A Backdrop hangs at the rear of a scene. A Front drop hangs well downstage, often to hide a scene change taking place behind. Cut drops have cut-away open areas and are normally used as a series, painted in perspective. A Star drop (usually black) has a large number of small low-voltage lamps sewn or pinned through it which gives a magical starry sky effect. (See also Fiber Optics). A floor drop may be used to protect the stage while painting, or to mark the playing area.
DRY 1) An actor forgetting the words of his script, to go dry or dry up. 2) To record a sound without using any effect or other processing is to record it "dry." Recording with an effect is recording "wet."
DRY BRUSH To paint scenery, usually with a second color, by drawing across it with a brush that is nearly dry.
DRY ICE Frozen, solid carbon dioxide (CO2) at a temperature of -87.5 degrees centigrade which produces clouds of steam-loaded CO2 gas forming a low-lying mist or fog when dropped into boiling water. Although non-toxic, caution is required in the storage and handling of dry ice because of its extreme cold. Water is boiled in a large tank offstage, into which the dry ice is lowered in a basket. Fans and ducts then direct the gas onto the stage. Dry ice does not support life, so care should be taken that small animals, actors etc. are not below the level of the dry ice for more than a few seconds.
DRY ROUGE A powdered rouge for coloring the cheeks.
DRY RUN A practice run, usually a technical run without actors.
DRY UP In acting, to forget one's lines or business. Also, forgetfulness while acting. Also "Go dry."
DUAL ROLE Two parts in a production that are placed by the same actor.
DUBBING The process of copying a sound from one medium to another (e.g. onto videotape) or for backup purposes, simply copying sound tapes.
DUCAT 1) A theatre ticket. 2) A free admission pass. Rhymes with 'bucket'
DUMB SHOW Now obsolete. A production, or part of one, played in pantomime.
DUTCHMAN / DUTCHING Tape or strips of muslin or other fabric, used to cover the seams between flats, prior to painting. The term originates from the British & American stereotype of the Dutch as a frugal people (as in "Dutch treat.") Saving old scraps of cloth or wood to fill joints was also seen as a sign of frugality, and thus the nickname "Dutchman" or "Dutching" came into being.
DYNAMIC MIC Robust type of microphone which picks up the sound on a diaphragm connected to a coil of wire which moves within a magnet. An alternating current is induced into the wire which provides the electrical output. Most dynamic mics have low output impedances of 200 Ohms.
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