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Glossary of Theater Terms

Glossary of Theater Terms

Our glossary of theater terms is organized by first letter, below. It is primarily verbal; if you’re looking for something with a little more action, we highly recommend the Theatre Development Fund’s Theatre Dictionary, a glossary comprised entirely of videos, as well!

Acoustics
qualities that evaluate the ability of a theater to clearly transmit sounds from the stage to the audience.
Act
main division of a drama, ACTS may be further divided into SCENES.
Actor
a performer in a play; may be male or female.
Adaptation
a reinvention of an existing story or play. Includes turning novels into plays, plays into musicals, or making changes in language or plot.
Ad-lib
making up a line not originally in a play, usually done when an actor forgets a line or someone misses an entrance.
Antagonist
the adversary of the main character; provides the obstacle the protagonist tries to overcome.
Arena Stage
stage placed in the center of a room with audience seating surrounding it, also known as theater in the round.
Aside
a brief remark made by a character and intended to be heard by the audience but not by other characters.
Atmosphere
tone or mood established by events, places, or situations. Example – the foreboding atmosphere of the words, “Fair is foul and foul is fair.”
At Rise
refers to the action taking place as the curtain rises.
Audition
a brief performance of either a monologue or a short scene done by actors for the director of a play in order for the director to decide which actor he or she wants to cast in a particular role.

Backstage
refers to the areas not a part of the actual stage, but restricted for actors and crew members. Usually includes the green room and the dressing rooms, and frequently offices and scenic shops as well.
Booth
the small room set up for the management of the technical elements needed during a play, usually set behind the audience with a window facing the stage. The Stage Manager calls the show from here, and the sound and light board operators run the audio and lighting equipment from here as well.
Break a Leg
a superstitious good luck wish exchanged by actors who feel that saying “good luck” is a jinx.

Call
the time at which an actor is supposed to be at rehearsal or performance.
Callback
a second or third audition used to further narrow the field of actors competing for a particular role in a play.
Cast (verb)
to assign parts to the actors in a play.
Cast (noun)
group of actors in a particular play.
Casting Call
a large audition where many actors are seen by the director and/or casting director
Character
a person in a play created by the playwright and represented by an actor.
Choreographer
the artist in charge of creating the dances and/or movements used by actors in a play.
Climax
the moment of highest tension or suspense in a play; the turning point after which all action moves to a resolution.
Comedy
a humorous play which either offers a light, celebrational view of life or which makes its point through sharp ridicule and satire. Usually has a happy ending.
Comic Relief
a humorous scene or speech in a serious drama which is meant to provide relief from emotional intensity and, by contrast, to heighten the seriousness of the story.
Costumes
the clothes worn by actors in an a play designed to fit the era, mood, and personality of the characters as well as enhance the overall design look of the production.
Costume Designer
the artist in charge of creating the look of the costumes for a play.
Costume Shop Manager
the person in charge of realizing the vision of the costume designer in actual clothes, responsible for maintaining the costumes and wigs during the course of the production.
Critic
a writer who reviews plays.
Crossover
a hidden passage, often behind the scenery, through which actors can go from one side of the stage to the other without being seen by the audience. Used if actors need to exit on one side and make their next entrance from the opposite side.
Cue
the last words or actions that come before another actor’s speech or entrance; a light, sound or curtain signal.
Curtain
end of a scene; closing of a curtain to depict the end of an act or scene.
Curtain Call
the process of actors taking their bows, receiving applause, and/or being reintroduced to the audience at the end of a play.

Dance Captain
member of the cast in charge of working with the dancers to maintain the quality of the dance numbers, make sure dancers are properly warmed up before performance, and teach understudies and new cast members existing numbers.
Designer
a person who conceives and creates the plans for scenery, costumes, lighting, sound, makeup, hairstyles, props and other technical aspects of a performance.
Dialect
a speech pattern which is distinctive, or the use of a cultural accent on stage.
Dialogue
conversation between two or more actors in a play.
Dialect Coach
person responsible for working with a cast on correct pronunciation and dialect usage.
Director
a person responsible for initiating the interpretation of the play, enhancing that interpretation with the concepts of the designers and making all final decisions on production values; tells the actors where to move and how best to communicate the interpretation of the play to the audience.
Downstage
front area of the stage, nearest to the audience.
Drama
the playscript itself; the art of writing and staging plays; a literary art form different from poetry or other fiction.
DRAMTIS PERSONAE
cast of characters in a drama or, more generally, participants in an event.
Dresser
person in charge of assisting actors with their costumes, wigs, and makeup during a production.
Dressing Room
the place where actors take their costumes, wigs, and makeup on and off. Sometimes dressing rooms are communal, one for men, one for women, sometimes actors have a dressing room all to themselves or to share with just one or two other actors. Dressing rooms often contain (or are in close proximity to) toilets, sinks, showers, and sleeping areas.

Exeunt
stage direction meaning “they exit.”
Exit
Stage direction telling an actor to leave the stage; Also the area on the stage or set where the actor leaves.
Exposition
dialogue which gives the audience the background information it needs to follow the action of the play; most will occur early on in the play.
Entrance
The movement of an actor onto the visible areas of the stage. Also the area on the stage or set through which the actor appears.

Fight Choreographer
the artist in charge of staging fight scenes, can include swordplay, other weapons, or barehanded combat.
Floor Manager
person in charge of running the show from backstage, gives actors cues to enter, handles props, manages the run crew, and is in charge of setting the stage before and after the performance.
Foreshadowing
a hint of what is to come in the story. This is often used to keep the audience in a state of expectancy.
Freytag’s Pyramid
three elements of drama, according to Gustav Freytag, German drama critic: rising action, climax, falling action. Rising action – conflict becomes clear and action rises as obstacles are presented; climax – high point of interest, turning point in a play; falling action – conflict is worked out.

Ghost Writer
person hired by an author to write on his or her behalf-receives no public credit.
Green Room
a small lounge backstage where actors can relax and get ready to go on.

Half-hour
the usual call for actors to be at the theater, thirty minutes before curtain.
House
the audience or the theatrical building.
House Manager
the employee in charge of the audience during a performance, trains ushers, runs the concessions, and troubleshoots seating problems.

Imagery
term used to describe words or phrases that appeal to the five senses. Figurative language may create images, but not all images are figures of speech.
Improvisation
to make up as you go along; often used as a rehearsal technique to make actors more comfortable with their characters; may be a part of some performance situations.
Irony
a contrast between what is and what appears to be. Two types of irony are— VERBAL IRONY when a character says one thing and means another; DRAMATIC IRONY when the audience knows something that the character does not


Lighting Designer
artist in charge of creating the lighting effects for a play.

Makeup
cosmetics, wigs, hair colorings, or other items applied to the actors to change or enhance their appearance.
Melodrama
play with exaggerated plot and emotion.
Metaphor
a figure of speech that implies or states a comparison between two unlike things which are similar in some way. Unlike similes, metaphors do not use “like” or “as.” Example: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player. / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more.
Monologue
long speech spoken by one actor without interruption.
Motivation
a character’s reason for saying or doing something; actors search for this in studying their role and use voice and movement to relay it to the audience.
Movement Coach
a person familiar with the ways people physically relate to one another in different historical periods, as well as general historically and culturally accurate movements. (How to properly use a fan, how women walk while corseted, where and how men and women might stand in relation to one another, etc.)

Narrator
one who tells the story; speaks directly to the audience.

Offstage
areas on the stage which are not seen by the audience, like the wings or the crossovers, where action can take place and be heard by the audience, or where actors can wait for their entrances.

Paradox
a statement that seems contradictory but is at the same time profoundly logical. It may be used to emphasize a particular theme or idea. Example: “So foul and so fair a day I have not seen.”
Playwright
author of a play.
Plot
the story of the play.
Prop
any moveable item used on the set of a play or handled by an actor.
Proscenium
A type of stage in which an arch frames the playing area; the stage is at one end of a room and the audience sits in front of it, watching the play through the arch, almost like a picture frame which contains the action to that area.
Proscenium Arch
opening in the proscenium through which the audience views the action of the play.
Protagonist
the main character; the person whose success or failure the audience is most concerned with.
Put-in Rehearsal
a special rehearsal called when an understudy is going to go on, so that the rest of the cast has an opportunity to get used to the presence of a different actor.


Rehearsal
the time period before a play opens involving the practice of the dialogue, movement, rhythms and interpretations of the play.
Run Crew
people in charge of moving scenery and props onstage during a performance, and helping create live audio or visual special effects.

Scene
a small unit of a play in which there is usually no shift of locale or time.
Scenic Artist
a painter or machinist who reproduces the scene designer’s drawings in full scale on the stage.
Scottish Play/Scottish King
used while in a theater to refer to Macbeth, the saying of which is supposed to be bad luck.
Script
the written words and stage directions created by a playwright.
Set
the scenery of the play; depicts time, place and mood.
Set Designer
the artist in charge of creating the world in which the play will live, usually in drawings and scale models.
Simile
A figure of speech that states a comparison between two essentially unlike things which are similar in one aspect. Similes are introduced by “like” or “as.” Example “His virtues / Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued, against / The deep damnation of his taking off.”
Soliloquy
A speech given by a character alone on the stage. The purpose of the soliloquy is to let the audience know what the character is thinking and feeling.
Sound Board Operator
the person who discharges the correct sounds or music at the appropriate moment in the play.
Sound Designer
the artist responsible for the creation of the sounds heard during a performance, including music and special effects.
Stage Business
small pieces of action; often humorous; put into a scene to heighten its appeal or suspense.
Stage Directions
information written into a script which tells the actors when and where to move, or describes the intent or mood of action, may also describe scenery or props.
Stage Left
side of the stage on the actors’ left as they face the audience.
Stage Right
side of the stage on the actors’ right as they face the audience.
Stage Manager
person who coordinates all aspects of the production during a performance, runs or calls the show.

Theme
a major principle or ethical precept the play deals with.
Thrust Stage
a stage set at one end of the room which extends out into the audience area; audience surrounds the stage on three sides.
Tony
awards given annually by the American Theatre Wing for outstanding contributions to the theater; officially the Antoinette Perry Awards.
Tragedy
a type of drama of human conflict which ends in defeat and suffering. Often the main character (dignified, noble) has a tragic flaw (weakness of character, wrong judgment) which leads to his or her destruction. Sometimes the conflict is with forces beyond the control of the character–fate, evil in the world.
Translation
taking a play in one language and converting it into another.

Understudy
an actor who has memorized all the lines and action of an actor in a play, so that if the original actor falls ill or cannot perform, there is someone prepared to take his or her place at a moment’s notice.
Upstage
the part of the stage farthest from the audience. Also, to steal the scene from another actor by moving upstage, forcing the downstage actor to turn his or her back on the audience.


Wings
the areas of stage right and left, hidden from the audience, where actors can enter or exit, do quick costume changes, receive or discard props, or speak lines meant to be heard as if from another room.