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
PACE The speed at which a dramatic performance, or any part of it, is played. Pacing may involve speaking the lines more quickly, but often is improved by reducing pauses between lines. Often used to describe a show: "The pacing was off."
PAINT FRAME Large vertical wooden frame from which cloths are hung for painting. The frame is often winchable for easy access.
PANTOMIME In acting, expressive movement of the body, without words. Often shortened to "mime." In Britain, pantomime refers to a spectacular entertainment with songs and dances, and a plot drawn from nursery rhymes or fairy tales, often performed during the Christmas season.
PAPER THE HOUSE Marketing technique. Giving away tickets to a performance (e.g. Opening Night) to make a show seem to be selling better than it actually is.
PAR Short for Parabolic Aluminized Reflector lamp. A lamp containing a filament, reflector and lens in one sealed unit. Used in Parcans to produce a high intensity narrow beam of light. Par lamps are available in many different sizes and powers. Par sizes available include 16, 36, 38, 56 and 64) (The number refers to the diameter of the lens, in eighths of an inch). The most common for theatre use are Par 64s rated at 1000W (1kW), although other wattages are available.
PARALLEL 1) The folding frame that forms the base of a readily portable platform. 2) The opposite of 'series' when referring to wiring two loads into one outlet.
PARAMETRIC EQ Equalization control where the range of frequencies to be boosted or cut can be selected. Allows the "fine-tuning" of the equalization.
PART An actor's role.
PATCH PANEL A board consisting of rows of sockets into which plugs can be connected to route sound signals or power for lighting circuits.
PATCHING 1) To cross-connect lighting circuits around the stage area to a chosen dimmer. Connecting instruments to dimmers. 2) Using a cross-connect panel which enables any stage lighting channels to the control desk to control any dimmer or group of dimmers. Some large lighting boards have the facility for soft patching - a totally electronic way of patching. Some Rock Desks have a pin patch which allows groups of dimmers to be allocated to a particular control channel. Also applies to routing of sound signals.
PATRON A supporter of the theatre, especially a paying member of the audience.
PATTER A set of amusing lines, rapidly spoken or sung by an actor; also the words for such lines.
PERFORMING EDITION The published text of a dramatic work, with alterations from the standard text to match the actualities of stage production, often including staging information.
PHOTOFLOOD A lamp used by photographers which gives a bright white light. Because it has a thin filament, it gives a good flash effect (e.g. lightning), but has a relatively short life, so should not be left on for any length of time.
PICK-UP 1) Device which, when attached to an acoustic musical instrument, converts sound vibrations into an electrical signal. 2) A way of describing the directional sensitivity of a microphone. An omnidirectional microphone has equal pick-up from all around, a Cardioid microphone is more sensitive from the front, a Hypercardioid has very strong directionality from the front. A figure-of eight microphone picks up front and rear, but rejects sound from the sides.
PIN HINGE Hinge with removable pin used to join two pieces of scenery together (i.e. one half of the hinge is on each piece of scenery).
PIN SPOT A instrument focused very tightly on a small area (e.g. an actor's head) 2) A luminaire used widely in disco installations, consisting of a low voltage Par 36 lamp with a fine beam in a metal case with built in transformer.
PINK NOISE Random sounding audio noise containing all frequencies in the audio spectrum tuned to the response of the human ear. Used with a Spectrum Analyzer to set equalization equipment for a large PA installation. However, the human ear is still a better judge of how a system sounds.
PIPES The bars on which scenery and instruments are flown.
PIT Short for "orchestra pit." The area housing the orchestra. Originally, a lower section between the front of the stage and the audience, although now describes any area around the stage housing the musicians.
PITCH In acting, the height to which a voice is raised in tone. Also, to raise or lower the voice, not in volume, but according to the musical scale.
PLACES! A call to the actors to take their positions on, or just off the stage, as needed for the opening curtain.
PLAN A scale drawing showing a piece of scenery, lighting layout etc from above. Lighting plans are usually drawn onto the theatre's groundplan.
PLAY 1) A dramatic composition that tells story by means of dialogue, for an audience. 2) To act, act the role of, perform in. 3) Said of a script that is actable, or that is well received, as in "It played well."
PLAYBACK 1) The part of a computerized lighting control desk which enables the operator to recall cues from the electronic memory. 2) The results of a recording session.
PLAYBILL or PLAY-BILL A theatrical program. At one time, programs and posters were printed on a single sheet of paper (in the case of a program, on both sides). Such a printed sheet was called a "bill."
PLAYWRIGHT A person who writes plays. Note that the word ends with "wright," not "write." "Wright" means "a maker or fashioner of," as in "millwright," "shipwright," "wheelwright."
Playwrite Incorrect spelling for playwright (which see).
PLOT 1) A succession of unfolding dramatic situations. 2) List of preparations and actions required of technical crews during the performance (e.g. Sound Plot = list of sound cues and levels in running order.) The term also refers to a plan. (e.g. Light Plot = scale plan showing lighting instruments)
PLOT LINE Dialogue essential to the unfolding of the plot of a dramatic piece.
PLY Short for plywood.
POINT CUE A cue inserted during/after plotting between two existing cues. (e.g. 8.5 is inserted between cues 8 and 9 and cues by the stage manager as 8A). Most computer lighting desks have the ability to either insert an additional cue in a sequence, or to link to another cue out of the sequence, and then link back again. Inserting cues into a plotted sequence on a manual lighting desk is more awkward, because it is a running plot (where only the changes between cues are noted down).
POINT UP To stress certain lines, movements, or gestures, by directing the attention of the audience to something of dramatic importance, as in order to create suspense.
POSITION The place where an actor stands at any given moment.
PRACTICAL Noun. Any object which appears to do onstage the same job it would do in life, or any working apparatus (e.g. light switch or desk lamp). An electrified prop.
PRATFALL or PRATTFALL A stage fall on the buttocks, with humorous exaggeration.
PRE-RELEASE A dramatic work that has been awarded to a specific publishing house and is in the typesetting, proof, or printing process, but is not yet listed for licensing.
PRESENTATIONAL A style of acting and staging that relates directly to the audience, instead of attempting to represent actual life realistically in every detail (representational).
PRESET 1) Anything in position before the beginning of a scene or act (e.g. Props placed on stage before the performance, lighting state on stage as the audience are entering.) 2) An independently controllable section of a manual lighting board which allows the setting up of a lighting state before it is needed. Each preset has a master fader which selects the maximum level of dimmers controlled by that preset.
PREVIEW A function on some memory lighting control desks with video mimics. Preview enables the operator to see the levels of dimmers and other information in a lighting state other than that on stage.
PRIMARY COLORS The primary additive colors of light are red, green and blue, and the subtractive colors are cyan, magenta and yellow.
PRINCIPAL An actor who has an important or leading role; sometimes used to refer to actors with speaking parts, as opposed to walk-ons.
PRODUCER The person who arranges for the production of a play or musical, especially the financing and management.
PRODUCTION 1) Collectively, the staging of a play or musical in general, including financing, management, direction, acting, costuming, lighting, makeup, scenic design and construction. In essence, the produced work, presented to an audience. Thus, "the play" can mean the printed work, whereas "the production" always means the work as presented to the public.
PRODUCTION DESK Table in the auditorium at which director/designer etc sit during rehearsals (especially technical rehearsals). Usually has its own lighting and communications facilities.
PRODUCTION MANAGER Responsible for technical preparations, including budgeting and scheduling of productions.
PROFESSIONAL As opposed to nonprofessional or amateur, the term refers to people or a production, in which all who take part earn their living in the theatre.
PROFESSIONAL RELEASE A play licensed only to professional companies.
PROFESSIONAL RIGHTS A professional company is one that pays a salary to actors, directors, designers and other staff, whether or not the company is profit or not-for-profit. Rights for professional companies are normally based on a percentage of the gross, with an up-front payment against profits. The payment--based on seating capacity and ticket prices--is credited toward the total royalty due at the end of the run, typically based on 8-10% of the gross box office receipts, to be calculated and reported weekly.
PROFILE 1) The body position of an actor whose right or left side is turned toward the audience. 2) A shaped piece of scenery added to the edge of a flat instead of a straight edge. Also known as a cutout. 3) A type of instrument with at least one plane-convex lens which projects the outline of any chosen shape placed in its gate, sometimes with a variable degree of hardness/softness. Profiles include four beam-shaping metal shutters, a gate to take an iris or gobo and an adjustment to make the beam smooth and even ("flat") or hot in the center ("peaky").
PROJECTION The throwing of an image onto the stage by means of light, for an optical or design effect.
PROMPT To tell an actor what speech or action is required next of him, especially if he forgets during rehearsal or performance.
PROMPT BOOK Master copy of the script or score, containing all the actor moves and technical cues, used by stage management to control the performance. Sometimes known as the "book."
PROMPT DESK The control center of the show. The desk should contain most of the following: a clock, low level lighting, a flat surface for the prompt script, communication facility to other technical departments, a phone for emergency, rear and front of house calls system and cue light controls.
PROMPTER A person who is charged with prompting.
PROP or PROPS Short for "property." Furnishings, set dressings, and all items large and small which cannot be classified as scenery, electrics or wardrobe. Props handled by actors are known as hand props, props which are kept in an actors costume are known as personal props.
Property Usually shortened to "prop" or "props." See cross-reference link for more information.
PROPPING The task, usually performed by stage management, of finding, borrowing, buying props for the production.
PROPS TABLE Table in convenient offstage area on which properties are prepared prior to a performance and to which they should be returned after use.
PROSCENIUM The opening in the wall that stands between stage and auditorium in some theatres; the picture frame through which the audience sees the play. The "fourth wall." Also proscenium arch.
PROSCENIUM STAGE A stage framed by a proscenium arch. This is the most common type of stage (others include thrust and arena.)
PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM The venue auditorium sound system. Usually shortened to "PA."
PUBLISHER More accurately, in most cases a publisher/agent. In many cases the publisher is also the representative through which one seeks a license. However, not all publishers are representatives (and not all representative are publishers). For example, Samuel French, Dramatists Play Service, I.E. Clark, and Music Theater International publish scripts and offer licenses. Book publishers such as Heinemann and Smith & Krause publish plays, but do not license productions. However, their books do include licensing information.
PULL FROM STOCK Retrieve scenic units, costumes, props, etc. from storage of a theatre company's stock from past productions for use in an upcoming production.
PUNCH LINE or PUNCHLINE A line of dialogue that carries particular emphasis for dramatic or comic effect. In comedy, a series of lines build one on the other, leading to the final line that brings the big laugh--the punch line.
PVC TAPE Plastic insulating tape used for taping cables to bars and for securing coiled cables. Neater and cheaper than gaffer's tape. Also known as LX tape.
PYROTECHNICS Chemical explosive or flammable firework effects with a manual detonation. Usually electrically fired with special designed fail-safe equipment. Types of pyro range from the Theatrical Flash (a flash and a cloud of smoke) to the Maroon (which produces a very loud bang). All pyrotechnics should be used with close reference to local licensing laws, and the manufacturers instructions. Most theatres require a professional, licensed pyrotechnician to be in charge.
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