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
M.C. Abbreviation for master of ceremonies.
MAHL STICK A short stick used by scenic painters to steady the hand by resting its padded end against the surface being painted.
MAIN STAGE or MAINSTAGE The principal performance space for a theatre company.
MAKE FAST To tie a rope line, or to tie off, in order to secure a flat, curtain, or other stage object.
MAKEUP or MAKE-UP 1) verb. To change the appearance of one's face and other exposed surfaces of the body for acting through cosmetics, false hair, etc., as in "Where do we go to make-up?" 2) noun. The cosmetics themselves, as in theatrical makeup. Thus, make-up table, make-up room, make-up kit (a portable box for carrying make-up supplies).
MANUSCRIPT The unprinted text of a dramatic composition, often in the handwriting of the author. Some scripts are available from publisher/agents as photocopies of typewritten or computer printed pages. Normally this indicates an older or seldom-performed title. The word "script" is a shortened form of this word, but now refers to the printed text.
MARIONETTE A puppet controlled by strings.
MARKING OUT Sticking tapes to the floor of the rehearsal space to indicate the groundplan of the scenery. Also for marking position of furniture etc. within a set.
MAROON An electrically detonated pyrotechnic device giving the effect of a loud explosion. Made from gunpowder encased in stout cardboard or string. Must be used within a metal bomb tank. Originally developed in the second half of the last century to simulate the sound of cannon. It was often used to call out the volunteer lifeboat crew in an emergency.
MARQUEE A canopy or roof that projects over a theatre entrance towards the street, usually bearing a sign that advertises the names of the theatre, current production, actors, etc. Now, often used to mean only the sign.
MASK 1) A covering worn by an actor to conceal his/her face or head. 2) To conceal part of the stage from the audience, by means of a masking piece.
MASKING Neutral material or designed scenery which defines the performance area and conceals the technical areas. (e.g. Masking flat)
MASKING TAPE Paper-backed tape used to mark out the boundary of a surface to be painted or sprayed.
MASKS OF COMEDY AND TRAGEDY The masks represent two of the nine Greek muses. Comedy is represented by Melpomene [mel-po-men-ee] and tragedy by Thalia [thay-lee-a]. In Greek mythology, the nine muses were goddesses of the arts and sciences, and were daughters of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. Melpomene, the goddess of tragedy, is usually shown holding a tragic mask, the club of Hercules and a wreath of vine leaves. Thalia, the muse of comedy, is depicted holding a comic mask, a shepherd's crook, and a wreath of ivy. The muses were worshiped throughout ancient Greece.
MASQUE Originally, a procession of masked figures in medieval performances; later, an entertainment (particularly the first half of the 17th century) presented as part of a special celebration, with or without dialogue, usually mythological or allegorical, with music, songs, dances.
MASTER 1) An overall control on a lighting or sound control board. The Grand Master takes precedence over all other controls. See Submaster. 2) An original (e.g. Master tape, master plan) which should be used only to make a copy from which to work. 3) A Department Head (e.g. Master Carpenter, Master Electrician).
MASTER OF CEREMONIES The person who announces the various parts of a program.
MATRIX OUTPUT Set of outputs on a mixing desk which allows the user to preset a number of output configurations. e.g., on a 8 x 8 matrix, each of the 8 group outputs from the channels can be routed to any or all of the matrix outputs.
MD or M.D. 1) Musical Director. Often the conductor of a musical, or the person responsible for the musical content of a production. 2) Mini Disc. See Digital Recording.
MELODRAMA A play that is sensational, implausible in characterization, dialogue, and situation, usually with struggles between exaggerated heroes and villains, ending happily in the romantic triumph of virtue. Thus, "melodramatic," meaning to overplay or overwrite a dramatic scene.

A play in which past events, as the protagonist recalls them, become the principal portions of the dramatic action. Examples include The Glass Menagerie and Dancing at Lughnassa.

MEZZANINE A seating area just above the orchestra, or the forward part of such an area; the first balcony.
MIC (pronounced "Mike") Abbreviation for microphone.
MIC LEVEL SIGNAL Low level audio signal produced by circuitry in microphone. Needs boosting either by a pre-amp or a mixing desk before it can be amplified. Susceptible to interference over long cable runs.
MICROPHONE Device for converting sound into electrical pulses which can then be amplified or recorded onto tape. Signals from a microphone are very low level and are amplified in the mixing desk to line level.
MIDI Acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Control system for linking musical instruments or other electronic equipment and computers together and storing the control signals the equipment produces for subsequent playback.
MILK To work hard to get as much response as possible from the audience to one's acting; thus, to milk a scene dry for laughs, tears, or applause.
MIMESIS Imitation, as to mimic reality.
MINSTREL 1) A musical entertainer in a dramatic performance, particularly in medieval and Renaissance performance. 2) A performer in a minstrel show.
MINSTREL SHOW A kind of comic stage entertainment popular in the U.S. from the middle of the 19th century into the close of the 1920s, typically consisting of dialogue, songs, and dance in a set pattern, imitating African American manners and speech, performed usually by white actors in blackface. The cast included an interlocutor, as master of ceremonies and straight man; two end men as comedians; and a chorus seated in a semicircle.
MIRACLE PLAY A type of play--usually medieval--based on biblical or other sacred stories; more accurately, a play dealing with the miracles associated with a saint.
MIRROR BALL Lighting effect popular in ballrooms and other dance halls. A large plastic ball covered with small mirror pieces. When a spotlight is focused onto the ball, specks for light are thrown around the room. Usually motorized to rotate.
MISE EN SCENE The stage director's arrangement of all the elements that comprise the stage picture, including scenery, actors, lighting, costumes. From a French expression meaning "made into a scene."
MIXDOWN The process during which a multitrack recording is balanced and transferred to two tracks (stereo) for playback or reproduction.
MIXER A device with a number of input channels where each sound source is provided with its own control channel through which sound signals are routed into two or more outputs. Many mixing desks can also change the quality of the sound. A Powered Mixer has an amplifier built into it. Sound sources of varying levels are accepted which can be amplified if necessary.
MODEL A scale model provided by the set designer to help all the technical departments to co-ordinate and plan a production. Used as a reference when building, painting, dressing and lighting the set.
MONITOR 1) An onstage speaker which allows a performer to hear the output of the PA system, or other members of a band. 2) A video display screen.

A speaker/loudspeaker normally used off stage, rather than in the audience area. It allows a musician, sound engineer, crew or cast member to hear what the audience is (or should be) hearing.

MONOLOGUE or MONOLOG A dramatic performance or reading by one person alone. Many auditions require actors to prepare monologues (often one comic and one serious) as a way of determining the actor's emotional and vocal range.
MORALITY PLAY An allegorical (representational) play, with characters personifying abstractions, originally (in medieval times) serious and theologically instructive; later often dealing with non-theological topics.
MUG In acting, to use exaggerated facial expression, usually in a comedy. Thus, "mugging" "to mug," and "a mugger." The term comes from a slang word for the face.
MULTICORE Flexible electrical cable composed of several well-insulated cores covered in a strong PVC or rubber covering. Enables a number of different circuits to be carried down one piece of cable. Both lighting and sound multicores are available.
MULTIPLEXED (MUX) SIGNAL 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 is the digital USITT DMX512) 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 (e.g. blown lamps). D54 uses a stream of analogue voltage levels and was the Strand standard before DMX512 arrived.
MUMMER'S PLAY or MUMMERS' PLAY A British folk drama of death and resurrection, performed in medieval times.
MUSE Thalia is the Muse of Comedy and Melpomene is the Muse of Tragedy. Muses were minor Greek gods who were thought to inspire artistic endeavors.
MUSIC HALL A British term for a vaudeville or variety theatre, in which performers take turns in entertaining an audience.
MUSICAL COMEDY A type of theatre that entails a light comedy plot, dances, songs, spoken dialogue. The term is American, and the style came to prominence after 1914, and has never died out.
MUSICAL DIRECTOR In a musical, the person with overall responsibility for everything relating to the music.

A branch of musical theatre, in which the essentially light story takes on more heavily dramatic overtones, often with social and political issues. There is an effort to link all songs and dances to the characters, plot, and setting, as opposed to music for entertainment alone. Examples include Show Boat, Carousel, Gypsy, Company, and Evita.

MYSTERY PLAY 1) A play (usually medieval) based on a biblical story, more particularly, a play dealing with the life of Christ. 2) A play based on the detection of a crime.
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