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
F.B.O or FBO Abbreviation for Fade to blackout (or fade to black). Blackout
FABULOUS INVALID The theatre, always amazingly vital despite its chronic financial and artistic setbacks.
FADE An increase, diminishment or change in lighting or sound level. Fader
FADE IN To increase the illumination of the stage gradually through the use of dimmers.
FADE OUT or FADEOUT To decrease the illumination of the stage gradually through the use of dimmers, until the stage is totally dark. Also a noun: fadeout.
FADER Vertical slider which is used to remotely set the level of a lighting or sound channel. Fade
FAKE (verb) 1) To ad lib, as in "to fake it." 2)To omit lines or business, or to execute business than it would take in real life.
FALSE PROSCENIUM A frame formed by scenic canvas or vertical flattage within the proscenium arch. Used to reduce the size of the opening when putting a small set onto a large stage.
FALSE STAGE Special stage floor laid for a production. For example to allow trucks guided by tracks cut into this false floor, to be moved by steel wires running in the shallow (2 or 3 inch) void between the false floor and the original stage floor. A false stage is also required for putting a revolve onto a stage.
FARCE A broadly comic dramatic work based on ludicrously improbable events, unsubtle in idea or characterization. Farce is typically fast and funny, with a great deal of action. By its very nature, farce commands an intense outpouring of energy, impeccable timing and a total immersion of the actor into his role
FAT A role, lines, or business offering an actor the opportunity to shine, or show what he/she can do. Thus, "a fat part."
FEE A royalty fee is charged per performance, with the amount depending on whether the producing company is professional or amateur. (See Amateur Rights, Professional Rights.) Some representatives charge a straight fee, with no distinction as to the number of seats or performances. Others charge one fee for the first performance and a lesser amount for each successive performance. Still others charge a fee based on the number of seats in the house, ticket price, number of performance, and company status (professional or amateur). There are three basic fees in licensing a musical: A royalty fee (per performance); a rental fee; and a refundable security deposit.
FEED 1) A power supply to a piece of equipment or installation is termed a "feed". Sound equipment and sensitive computer equipment should have a clean feed - that is, a supply that is free from interference from other equipment. 2) To help another actor get full effect from significant speech or action through the one's own preparatory speech or action. Thus a "feed line."
FEEDBACK A sharp whistle or rumble heard emanating from a sound system. It is caused by a sound being amplified many times. (e.g. a sound is picked up by a microphone and amplified through the speaker. The microphone picks up this amplified sound and it is sent through the system again). Feedback can be avoided by careful microphone positioning, and can be reduced by use of Equalization to reduce the level of the frequency band causing the feedback. Also known as "howl."
FIBER OPTIC A method of directing light down a very thin glass fiber. Fiber Optics are used mostly in communication, but find theatre applications in star cloths which are black backcloths with the ends of optical fibers poked through, to create a mass of pin pricks of light. A large bundle or harness of fibers may be fed from one light source, sometimes with a motorized color or flicker wheel.
FIBERGLASS A combination of a glass mat and a resin which can be formed into a strong shell. Used in prop-making.
FIELD Refers to the spread of light intensity across a beam. Most profile instruments have an adjustable field. A Flat field has an even distribution, a peak field has a "hot spot" in the center of the beam. A flat field is essential when using gobos.
FILL LIGHT Light that fills the shadows that key light creates.
FILTER 1) See Color. 2) Electronic device to isolate and redirect specific frequencies in a speaker system. Color
FINALE The last song, the closing ensemble of a musical production.
FINALETTO Rarely used as a term now, but meaning the last song or closing ensemble of the first act of a musical (to distinguish it from the finale or grand finale.
FIRE CURTAIN Short for fireproof curtain. Safety curtain
FIRE EXIT Particular exit(s) from a building designated by local authority fire officer to be the correct means of escape from a part of the building in case of fire. It is the responsibility of all staff and performers to ensure that all fire exits are kept clear, unlocked and accessible at all times.
FIREPROOF CURTAIN The foremost curtain in the proscenium arch, made of a nonflammable material on a steel frame, used to protect the auditorium if fire breaks out on or behind the stage. Safety Curtain
FIREPROOFING Treatment given to fabric, lumber, drapes etc. to retard flammability. Many scenic materials require regular re-application of fireproofing treatment.
FIRST NIGHT or FIRST-NIGHT Opening night. Thus, "first-night audience."
FITTING Costume Fitting
FLASH BOX A small box containing the socket into which a pyro cartridge is plugged. Also known as a flash pod.
FLASHTHROUGH Method of checking whether lamps are functioning properly by flashing them on one at a time. It is good practice to flash lamps to 70%, rather than Full to preserve lamp life.
FLAT A lightweight timber frame covered with scenic canvas. Now usually covered with plywood or hardboard, and consequently not so lightweight. Most theatres have a range of stack flattage made to a standard size, and re-used many times. A Rail is a horizontal batten within a flat. A Stile is a side or vertical piece within a flat. A Sill is the bottom rail of a flat.
FLIES Fly Loft
FLOAT In British terminology, a truck used for transporting scenery from theatre to theatre. Hence, any travel from theatre to theatre, and by extension, a theatre junket or trip that takes in multiple theatres.
FLOOD 1) Short for floodlight. 2) Verb: To increase the beam size of a focus spot by moving the lamp and reflector towards the lens. "Flood that a bit, please !" Floodlight
FLOODLIGHT Often simply, a "flood." A large, powerful light, typically one of several used to illuminate a stage, or the exterior of a building. Floodlights are basic theatrical lighting instruments, consisting of primarily of a reflector box and a lamp, usually attached to a yoke to allow the instrument to be hung. They are often used in the theater for color washes, or left uncolored for use as work lights.
FLOODLIGHT or FLOOD LIGHT A lensless lighting instrument that produces a broad non-variable spread of light. Floodlights ('floods') are used in battens, or singly to light cycloramas or large areas of the stage.
FLOOR PLAN Plan
FLUORESCENCE The property of some materials to glow when subjected to Ultra-violet light. The materials degrade the UV wavelengths into longer and therefore visible reflected rays.
FLY To lift or raise a set piece or lighting bar up and out of sight--or, in some cases, a person, as in "Peter Pan." In order for this to work, there needs to be an open area above the stage with enough head room to store items that are "flown." This is known as "Fly space" or the "flies." Fly Loft
FLY BARS The metal bars to which scenery and lamps are attached for flying above the stage.
FLY GALLERY High working platform at the side(s) of the stage from which the flying lines are handled. Often are also the site for socket panels for connecting flown lighting apparatus to dimmers, and also sometimes a lighting position.
FLY LOFT Extension of the stage walls up to allow scenery to be flown up until it is out of sight of the audience. Known as the "flies". The ideal fly tower should be more than twice the height of the proscenium arch, and is said to have "full flying height".
FLY SPACE Fly Loft
FLYING Fly
FOCUS 1) To adjust a lighting instrument in terms of beam spread or direction. 2) In acting, to turn and face another actor, an object, etc. and give it one's entire attention. 3) In directing or technical work the area or person designed to draw the audience's attention. In a large musical number, for example, the focus is often the lead performer. (Thus, to steal focus, is to do something that diverts audience attention from the intended object of focus.) In a set design, a stairway, doorway, couch, or other object is positioned as the focus of the scene.
FOCUS SPOT Term for both Fresnel and PC type lamps with adjustable beam size.
FOCUSING The process of adjusting the direction and beam size of lamps. Does not necessarily result in a "sharply focused" image.
FOH Front Of House, usually referring to staff such as house manager, box office, etc.
FOLLOW SPOT A spotlight mounted so that it can turn to follow an actor moving across the stage.
FOLLOW-ON CUE A cue that is timed to follow an original cue so quickly that it does not need a separate cue number. Often abbreviated to f/o.
FOOT A FLAT To hold a foot, with the sole on the floor, against the bottom of a flat, while another person, moving under the flat, pushes it up or lets it down.
FOOTLIGHT or FOOTLIGHTS Now obsolete. A lighting unit with a reflector, installed in a strip on or in the floor, parallel to the curtain line, and usually in front of it, shielded from the auditorium side. Modern lighting equipment renders footlights virtually obsolete except for period/special effects.
FORESHADOW To hint, in dialogue or by other means, that some later dramatic action will occur.
FORESTAGE or FORE-STAGE That part of the stage which projects from the proscenium into the auditorium. Sometimes called an apron.
FOUL Said of ropes, cables, scenic pieces, etc, hanging from above, when they become tangled.
FOURTH WALL From the observation that the traditional box set has three walls (left, right, back) and an invisible fourth wall--the proscenium through which the audience views the action. Thus "Breaking the Fourth Wall," when a fictional character shows awareness of the play in which they "exist" and the audience watching that play.
FREEZE In acting, to keep motionless, especially while the audience laughs, or to create a stage picture at the start or end of a scene.
FRENCH BRACE Brace
FRENCH SCENE A "scene" division within a play marked (as in French drama) by the entrance or exit of an actor. In American and English drama, directors often break up a long scene for the purposes of blocking, rehearsal or character work. Using the entrance/exit concept, they dub these "French scenes."
FREQUENCY (Measured in Hertz - Hz - cycles per second) The number of times a sound source vibrates each second. A high frequency (HF) sound has a higher pitch and is uni-directional. A low frequency (LF) sound has a lower pitch and is omnidirectional.
FRESNEL Pronounced "Fruh-nell") A type of lamp which produces an even, soft-edged beam of light through a Fresnel lens. The lens is a series of stepped concentric circles on the front and pebbled on the back and is named after its French inventor, Augustin Jean Fresnel (1788-1827).
FRONT LIGHT 1) A lighting unit placed somewhere in the auditorium for the illumination of the front of the stage. Thus, "front lighting."
FRONT OF HOUSE 1) Every part of the theatre in front of the pros arch. Includes foyer areas open to the general public. 2) All lamps which are on the audience side of the proscenium and are focused towards the stage.
FRONT OF HOUSE CALLS Announcements made by stage management or FRONT-OF-HOUSE staff calling the audience into the auditorium, or informing them when the performance begins. Calls are normally made at the Half (35 min. before curtain up), the Quarter (20 min before), the Five (10 min), and calls normally accompanied by bar bells at 3, 2 and 1 minutes before the performance begins. Call
FROST A diffusing filter used to soften the edges of a light beam. Different strengths of diffuser are available from many color filter manufacturers.
FULL DROP Any drop curtain other than a cut drop. Cut drop
FULL STAGE A stage used in its entirety for setting and acting.
FULLERS EARTH Hydrous aluminum silicate, used in chemistry as a filter and as a binder when mixing powder paint for use on textiles.
FULLNESS Draperies made up with deep "gatherings" have fullness - usually requiring not less than 50% additional fabric, measured at head and foot.
FUSE Protective device for electrical equipment (e.g. dimmers). The fuse link will melt when excess current flows, preventing damage to people or equipment. Every piece of electrical equipment has at least one fuse in its associated circuit.
FUTURE RELEASE A play or dramatic property that is not yet available for license; in fact, it may not even been assigned to an author's representative. Release
FUZZ LIGHT A lamp with a revolving mirror and a colored plastic dome. Gives a "police light" effect. Usually 12 Volt or 240 Volt operation.
FX Special Effect(s)
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