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Learn the basic and not-so-basic theater words that you should know if you are in the performing arts industry. Or simply to satisfy your curiosity on what kind of language theater professionals use!




Ad lib

Acting or performing without having prepared one’s words or actions beforehand. Usually done in cases where an actor forgets his or her lines or something goes wrong during a production.


Against type

Playing the role of a character that’s different from the usual roles performed by an actor or actress. The opposite of typecasting.


Am dram

A production performed by non-professionals; short for amateur dramatics.


Amateur theatre

Theatre that is performed by amateurs or non-professionals.



A character in a play or performance who opposes or stands in the way of the protagonist.



A style of performance in which it is intended for the audience to be aware of the play as acting rather than reality.



The stage area between the curtain and orchestra pit.



A line said to the audience that is not intended to be heard by the other character.


Avenue staging

A type of staging where the audience sits on either side of the stage.





A shift or directional change in the acting tactic during an opera or play. It may consist of a short pause.



Slang for ‘stage’.


Break a leg

A wish of good luck said to actors before a performance.


Brechtian acting

A style of performance in which the audience is intentionally alienated from the characters so as to keep them aware that they are watching a play and not reality.




Call times

When individual actors are expected to be at the theatre, prior to make up and dressing. Call times are different for each actor so as to avoid crowding of dressing rooms and make-up artists.



Slang for headsets used to communicate during theatre performances.



The actors in a performance.



The pre-production process in which actors are chosen for each individual character in a performance.



A narrow, elevated platform that extends into the audience.


Character actor

Actors or actresses who tend to play secondary rather than leading roles.



When an actor naturally turns their body towards the audience to allow them to get a better sightline of the stage and scene.


Cold reading

A readthrough of a script or play without preparation, usually in an audition.


Community theatre

A performance where the actors are non-professionals or amateurs.



When an actor breaks character and laughs on stage.



Improvising lines or blocking, without breaking character, when a mistake happens on stage.



Moving from one side of the stage to another, usually diagonal, point.



When lights and sounds are run through to check for errors, usually without actors onstage.


Curtain call

The end of a performance when actors bow and acknowledge the audience applause.

Curtain Call is a must in the glossary of theater words!

When actress Elisabete Matos, actor Marcello Giordani, and conductor Nicola Luisotti were bowing during the curtain call for La Fanciulla del West. Photo by Ralph Daily.




Death role

When a character dies during a performance.



Another word for the stage.



The lines of a script in which two or more characters are having a conversation.


Digital multiplex

A standard for communications protocols often used to control stage lighting and effects.



The person who provides the vision that guides and manages the entire production.



Occurs in Brechtian performances, where actors intentionally exaggerate their movements and behaviour to remind the audience that they are watching a performance and not reality.



Short for digital multiplex, a communications protocol.



The area of the stage towards the front.



A playwright or author.



The person responsible for ensuring a play or performance remains historically accurate and true to the intended vision of the playwright.

Here’s a list of a few famous dramaturges around the world.



Short for dress rehearsal; a rehearsal conducted prior to the official performance with actors dressed in character.


Dress circle

A balcony or gallery level that sits above the main seating or stalls in a theatre.


Dress rehearsal

A run through of a play with actors dressed in full costume.


Dry tech

The practice of changing the scene settings on a stage without the presence of actors.




Emotional memory

A form of method acting in which an actor draws from their own personal memories to better communicate the emotions of their character.



When more than one actor is called to exit the stage.


Exeunt omnes

When the whole cast is instructed to exit the stage.



Occurs when an actor goes off stage.




Fit up

When the stage is being set up or prepared for a show.


Fourth wall

An imaginary wall that sits between the audience and the stage. When a character speaks directly to the audience, it is considered breaking the fourth wall.


French scene

The parts of a performance between the entrance and exit of a character.


Front of house

The parts of a theatre or venue that includes ushers, concession stands, and so on.


Full house

When all seats in a theatre are full or at capacity.





A part of a theatre that sits above the other seating, usually at the back or sides of a venue.



Someone who performs the singing parts for another actor.


Ghost light

A safety light that is left lit overnight and when the stage is not in use.



The four basic elements needed to consider when performing a character; stands for Goal, Obstacle, Tactics, and Expectation.




Half Hour (USA)/ The Half (UK/AUS)

Usually half an hour before performance begins, a scheduled time in which all actors should be at the theatre.



An actor who exaggerates, overacts, or steals the spotlight from other actors.



Used to describe the theatre venue as well as the audience and performers.





The break between the acts of a show or performance.



Occurs when an actor performs without a script or prior preparation.



Exaggerated or unrealistic, often stereotypical acting.



The act of leaving the stage.


The Italian Run

The action of reciting one’s lines quickly; considered helpful in remembering lines.




Leading lady

The actress playing the main female role in a performance or play.


Leading man

The actor playing the main male role in a performance or play.



The curtains set up to frame the audience’s view of a stage and hide the offstage areas.



The lighting crew, including designers, electricians, operators, and so on.





When one or more actors remain onstage while others exit.



To block another actor; can also refer to as covering of the face.



Curtains used to frame the stage and block offstage areas from audience view.


Method acting

A style in which actors try to genuinely experience or feel the emotions of a character, first pioneered by Konstantin Stanislavski.



When one person performs a set of lines during a performance, either to himself or to another character.



The goals or desires of a character that usually begins the progression of a story in theatre.



The act of exaggerating facial expressions so as to attract the attention of the audience.





A goal or desire that comes to a character during a scene, usually temporary.



Something which occurs in opposition to a character’s intention, creating a sense of conflict and drama.



Refers to overacting or exaggerated acting; stands for Over the Top.


Orchestra (USA) / Stalls (UK)

The seating closest to the stage, located in the lowest part of the theatre.


Orchestra pit

A sunken area in front of the stage where musicians perform.



Refers to the whole cast.



The result of a character achieving their goal or objective.




Packed house

When all the seating in a theatre is full or at capacity; a full house.



Used in Greek theatre to refer to the walls on the sides of the stage.



A role or character.



The part of the theatre behind the orchestra pit, usually underneath the balconies.


Places (USA) / Beginners (UK)

A call to stage to bring the actors that are in the first part of a play.


Preferred reading

A preferred interpretation of a script or play, usually decided by the author.



When the actors perform in the same space as the audience, with no divide between the stage area and audience section. Generally the audience are allowed to wander through the area and interact with the performance.



When an actor forgets their lines and is reminded of the next line.



Objects used on stage as part of a performance; short for property.



Refers to proscenium arch.


Proscenium arch

The arch that frames the area between the stage and audience in some theatres.



The main character of a play or performance.



The performance of just half a dialogue in which the actor is not addressing the audience directly. Usually used with performing just questions or answers.




Raked stage

The inclination of a stage to help form perspective.


Read through

A rehearsal or practice of an entire play that just involves reading lines.



A practice of an entire play from start to finish.





The entire text involved in a play, including stage directions and dialogue.


Sense memory

A technique in method acting in which an actor recalls memories of physical sensations to help conjure emotional memory.


Signs of character

The different elements that help develop a character’s personality, motivation, or emotion to an audience.


Signs of performance

The different elements in acting, such as movements, expressions, and tones of the actor, that help to build a character.


Site specific

When a play is created or modified to take advantage of the specific characteristics or personality of a performance space – usually not a traditional theatre but spaces like a warehouse, bunker, etc.


Sold out

Occurs when either all the tickets have been sold or more than the number available.



Occurs when an actor verbalises their thoughts so that the audience can gain an insight.



Short for Standing Room Only.



Refers to the section of the theatre where the orchestra sits.


Stage direction

The instructions within a script that direct the actors, settings, and so on.


Stage left

When facing the audience, the left side of the stage.


Stage right

When facing the audience, the right side of the stage.


Standing ovation

When the audience stands and claps at the end of a performance.


Standing room

A specially designated space where audience members can stand and watch a performance, usually when all other seats are unavailable.
Standing room only

When all the seats in a performance have been filled and the audience can only stand to watch the show.



The act of removing set items or disassembling the stage and returning equipment to storage, leaving the stage as it was prior to the show.


Stock character

A stereotypical character you’ll find in most performances.



The part of an extra or another role that doesn’t require much performance or speaking.


Supporting cast

The actors who play in secondary roles.





Refers to the drapery that separates the audience and stage.



Slang for a member of the technical crew, e.g. sound or lighting.


Tech rehearsal

A rehearsal of a performance in which only technical elements are practiced, e.g. just sound or lighting.



The venue where a performance takes place.


Theatre in the round

A theatre set up in which audiences are placed on all sides of the stage, rather than simply in front.

A perfect example of a Theatre in the round. Picture by Tony Webster.

A perfect example of a Theatre in the round. Picture by Tony Webster.




A stage that extends into the audience so that they are seated on three sides, typically used in Shakespeare performances.



Occurs when an actor often plays just one type of character and usually becomes associated with that role.





An actor who learns the role or script of another so that they are ready to substitute them in case of emergency.



The part of the stage towards the back, furthest from the audience.





When something appears to be real or true.




Walkdown (UK) / Curtain Call (USA)

When the actors bow at the end of a performance.



Refers to both the costumes used by actors as well as those responsible for designing and dressing them.


Wardrobe mistress/master

The head of the costume department.



The backstage areas towards the left and right hand side, not visible to the audience.


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