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
SAFETY CHAIN Chain or wire fixed around lantern and lighting bar or boom to prevent danger in the event of failure of the primary support (e.g. Hook Clamp). A requirement of most licensing authorities.
SAFETY CURTAIN A fireproof curtain that can be dropped downstage of the tabs to separate the audience from the stage in the event of fire. A Safety Curtain is required by most licensing authorities for theatres over 500 seats. The regulations also require that it is raised and lowered at least once in view of each audience (usually during the interval). Usually made from sheet metal and electrically operated, used to be made from iron faced with asbestos and lowered using a hydraulic damping system.
SAMPLING The technique of recording a sound digitally (translating the analogue audio waveform into a series of electrical ones and offs that can be manipulated by a computer) for subsequent processing, editing and playback.
SAND BAG Attached to an unused spot line to stop it running back through the pulleys, and to enable it to fly in without fouling adjacent equipment.
SCALPER Someone who buys scarce tickets to a popular production and re-sells them to the highest bidder.
SCENE 1) A full-length play normally is divided into acts, and each act is divided into scenes. Typically a new scene depicts a different location or different day or time. The term also is used to describe any portion of a dramatic work taken by itself as a unit of action. 2) Scenery, a stage setting. 3) The location in which a dramatic action is supposed to occur. 4) Location or situation, as in "to set the scene."
SCENE DOCK High-ceilinged storage area adjacent to the stage, sometimes used for building and storing flats and other scenery.
SCENE SHIFT A movement of scenery by stagehands to change a stage setting between scenes.
SCENE SHOP The area where scenery is built or repaired.
SCENERY The elements of a stage setting, especially those made of wood and canvas, or any other material used to construct platforms, flats, walls, doors and backdrops.
SCENIC PAINT Traditionally, a mixture of glue size, water and pigment. Modern practice has also adopted PVA (emulsion glaze) as a bonding medium which can be used when scenery has got to be washed and used again.
SCOOP Lighting instrument designed to cast unfocused light over a large area.
SCREEN (PROJECTION) Many types of projection screen are available. Some are multi-purpose, some only for front projection, some only for back projection. If a screen is not self-supporting, it often has eyelets around the outside edge which are used to "lace" the screen onto a larger frame.
SCREW EYE A threaded metal ring screwed to the rear of a flat for securing a stage brace.
SCRIM A coarse gauze-like material used as a drop. When lighted from the front only, the scrim appears opaque. As light is brought up behind, it becomes more transparent--totally so when front light is cut off. Used unpainted to diffuse a scene played behind it. When painted, a gauze is opaque when lighted from the front and becomes transparent when the scene behind it is lighted. Many different types of gauze are available; Sharkstooth gauze is the most effective for transformations, because it is the most opaque. Vision gauze is used for diffusing a scene, to create a dreamlike effect.
SCRIPT The printed text of a dramatic work.
SEASON 1) The annual period when the theatre is most active, often from September to June, or June-August for a summer season. 2) A series of productions for the year, as in "the season includes 3 dramas, two comedies, and a musical."
SECOND STAGE A term used to describe a smaller playing area than the main stage, often for experimental or specialized theatre.
SECURITY DEPOSIT Charged for rental materials to ensure their safe return. The fee is refunded upon return of the rental materials, minus any shipping/handling charges, outstanding balances, damage or loss of material. Rented materials must be returned free of pencil marks (always use pencil to mark rental materials; pen won't erase and you may lose your deposit.
SEGUE (Pronounced "segg-way") Musical term for an immediate follow-on. Often used as jargon for any kind of immediate follow-on.
SEND 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 "Auxiliary Output"
SEQUENCING An act of recording digitally and manipulating the MIDI information required to remotely play a synthesizer keyboard or similar device.
SET 1) To prepare the stage for action. (verb) 2) The complete stage setting for a scene or act, usually referring to the combination of flats, platforms, doors, windows, furniture and accessories. (noun) 3) To fix, through rehearsal, the general pattern of lines and movements to be followed by the actors, as in "This section is set, but we need to work on the final moments of act two."
SET PIECE or SET-PIECE A piece of scenery used in a set that is not flown, but stands independent within a stage setting, such as a tree, rock, or gate.
SETTING The designing and staging of the locale and background of a play. Sometimes referred to as the stage setting.
SFX Abbreviation for Sound Effects
SHEAVE The wheel in a pulley which carries the wire or rope.
SHIN BUSTER The lowest lantern on a lighting boom. Named because of the proximity of sharp parts of the lantern to the flesh of the lower leg.
SHOW RELAY A network of speakers carrying the sound of the show, and sometimes stage managers calls, to the furthest reaches of the theatre.
SHOW REPORT A written report by stage management giving problems, running times, show staff and audience numbers for the previous days' performance(s). Copies are circulated to the technical departments and management staff.
SHOWBOAT or SHOW BOAT A boat on which dramatic or musical entertainments are performed, usually on a river. Historically, showboats were built on barges, pushed or towed by the more familiar multi-storied steamboats.
SHOWCASE A production intended to display the talents of performers for prospective employment, or for publicity.
SHUTTER Accessory for a lighting instrument. Usually a metal blade that can be used to shape the edge of the beam. Shutters (normally four) are located in the gate at the center of the lantern. Similar in effect to barn doors.
SIGHT GAG A visual source of comedy, resulting from situation, business, or props.
SIGHTLINES or SIGHT LINES A series of lines drawn on plan and section to indicate the limits of the audience vision from extreme seats, including side seats and front and back rows. Often marked in the wings as a guide to the actors and crew, so as not to be seen by members of the audience.
SILK A special type of diffusion filter which stretches the light in one direction. Especially useful for lighting large cycloramas with a limited number of lanterns, or for lighting an elongated object (e.g. a staircase) with one lantern.
SINGLE PURCHASE Counterweight flying system where the cradle travels the same vertical distance as the fly bar. The counterweight frame therefore occupies the full height of the side wall of the stage.
SLAPSTICK or SLAP-STICK A rough, noisy comic style. The term comes from the use in burlesque and vaudeville of a pair of lath paddles fastened together at one end, and used to "slap" noisily another comic.
SLEEPER A show that is an unexpected success.
SLIGHTLY RESTRICTED A term used when applications for a dramatic work are being accepted on a case-by-case basis because of current or future major city tours.
SMOKE or FOG MACHINE Electrically powered unit which produces clouds of white non-toxic fog (available in different flavors/smells) by the vaporization of mineral oil. Specially designed for theatre & film use. Vital for revealing airborne light beams.
SNAP LINE Chalked piece of string which, when stretched tight and "snapped" is used for marking straight lines on stage or on scenery as a painting aid.
SNUB To seize the lines on a flying piece to prevent it's movement, either with another rope or with a mechanical line locking device.
SOFT EDGE or SOFT-EDGE Said of stage lighting that is not sharply defined, and which gradually diminishes towards the boundaries of the area towards which it is directed. Used also to describe a lighting unit that throws such illumination, such as a soft-edge spotlight.
SOLILOQUY A solo speech, or monologue, usually fairly long, to convey a character's thoughts to the audience, either while alone on the stage, or in the presence of others who are supposed not to hear him.
SOUBRETTE A minor female role, such as a maid, in comedy.
SOUND CHECK A thorough test of the sound system before a performance. This will include checking each speaker cabinet individually, and each playback device. In the case of a live concert, this is the session.
SOUND CUE A cue for the commencement of a sound effect.
SOUND EFFECTS 1) Recorded: Often abbreviated to FX. There are many sources for recorded sound effects, most recently on Compact Disc. May form an obvious part of the action (train arriving at station) or may be in the background throughout a scene (e.g. birds chirping). 2) Live: Gunshots, door slams, and offstage voices (amongst many others) are most effective when done live.
SOUND REINFORCEMENT Amplifying a voice just enough so that it can be heard, without the audience being aware that it is being amplified.
SPEAKER Short for loudspeaker
SPECIAL A lighting instrument used for a very specific purpose, rather than as part of a system such as an area light or color wash.
SPIDER Adapter to connect many lighting instruments to one multicore cable. Consists of multi-pin connector, short length of cable, then a number of sockets related to the number of circuits in the cable.
SPIKE To mark the position of an item of set/furniture on stage, using chalk, paint, or tape. Sometimes called a spike mark.
SPILL Unwanted light onstage.
SPINE In the Stanislavksi method, the dominant trait in the character assumed by the actor.
SPOTLIGHT General term for any lantern with a lens system.
SQUELCH Control on a radio microphone receiver for fine-tuning the reception according to the surroundings.
STAGE BUSINESS Incidental activity performed by an actor for dramatic or comic effect. This might include writing a letter, lighting a pipe, having trouble with a door, checking a mirror, etc.
STAGE CONVENTION Any action that would be odd in real life, but accepted as normal on stage, such as a stage whisper, ensemble singing, spotlighting, the use of verse, mistaken identities, soliloquies, etc.
STAGE DIRECTIONS The printed instructions to actors and/or directors found in published plays, as in "John pauses and considers Mary's words, then walks to the window and peers out."
STAGE ELECTRICIAN Member of the electrics staff whose responsibility it is to set or clear electrics equipment during scene changes. May also carry out color changes on booms, etc.
STAGE LEFT Actor's left when facing the audience.
STAGE MANAGER The Head of the stage management team comprising the deputy stage manager (DSM) and assistant stage manager (ASM). The DSM is normally "on the book" calling the cues from the prompt corner. The ASM supervises props. Depending on the needs of the production, there may be a team of stagehands, usually casual employees.
STAGE RIGHT Actor's right when facing the audience.
STAGE SCREW A large screw which is screwed through the "foot" of a stage brace to secure it to a strong wooden floor. Only suitable for use in theatres with non-precious wooden floors.
STAGECRAFT or STAGE CRAFT Skill in--or the art of--producing or participating in the production of a dramatic piece, especially in the technical area.
STANISLAVSKI or STANISLAVSKY Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski (1863- 1938) created a performance technique that had an enormous effect on contemporary American acting, and he developed a system of actor training that became widely accepted throughout the world. Stanislavsky decided that a technique was needed that would guide the actor and create a "favorable condition for the appearance of inspiration." His system does not consist of a fixed set of rules but of practical approaches to the physical and mental preparation of the actor and to the creation of a character.
STATE In lighting terms, a lighting "picture" ; each lighting cue results in a different state (or a modified state).
STEAL or STEAL FOCUS An actor's seizure of the attention of the audience when he has no right to it, as by unfairly moving upstage center so that he commands the best position, forcing other actors to turn their backs to the audience
STEP A control on some lighting effects boards which enables the operator to "step" through a chase effect in time to music, etc.
STEP ON THE LAUGHS To proceed to another line too soon after a joke or punch line, cutting short an expected laugh.
STOCK COMPANY An acting company whose members play all the roles in a series of plays, as opposed to casting each play separately.
STOCK RIGHTS Royalty paid for a play used by a stock company.
STOCK SCENERY A variety of scenic units that a theatre has available in storage and can be used and reused for productions.
STRIKE To take down a set after a production has closed. The use of the word "strike" in the theatrical sense of taking down scenery was recorded more than one hundred years ago--although builders had used the word as early as the 17th century to mean "remove" and sailors to mean "lower" (a mast or sail) in the 14th century. Today, it is usual to strike a set directly after the final performance, and there is good reason for doing so--a full complement of workers, both cast and crew.
STROBE Short for stroboscope. A device giving a fast series of very short intense light flashes which can have the effect of making action appear intermittent. Because strobe lighting can trigger an epileptic attack in sufferers, the use of a strobe must be communicated to the audience before the performance begins. Regulations exist governing the maximum length of time for which a strobe can be used.
SWAG A particularly artistic way of drawing a set of tabs (drapes) diagonally up at the same time as flying them out.
SWING A member of the company of a musical who understudies one of the leads and is also in the chorus, but doesn't have a character name in the chorus.
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