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Common Theatre Terminology


Some of our actors are children of theatre-folk who have been brought up within the theatre and have a natural love of it.


Others discover it at school or through friends and pull their families into this magical world.


At Actually Acting Youth Theatre we often use theatre terms and it occurred to me recently that not all of our families necessarily understand what we are talking about!


So I’ve written a little glossary. Please feel free to add anything I have missed in the comments.


Act

Plays are often divided into acts. Plays generally have between one and three acts, which are often made up of different scenes. At Actually Acting, we produce 2 one act plays per production, each with a different cast (often junior/senior but not always). They are performed together, with an interval between.

Audition

When a director is casting a show, they usually have a formal audition so they can get an idea of the type of talent that is available for the production. Sometimes the actors are required to learn a monologue from the play or are teamed up with another actor to perform a scene.

At Actually Acting, our auditions are the first step of the learning journey, and an integral part of our learning process. As the rehearsal period is so short, we hold auditions to get to know our actors before it all starts. We also want to know if they are able to learn lines, be focussed and committed, and are able to take direction (both accepting changes and acting upon them).

We also want them to get to know us. This way, it isn't so daunting to come along to the read through when the whole cast meet for the first time. It may seem nerve-wracking, but we work closely with our students and support them every step of the way. This experience teaches young actors valuable life skills they will use again and again. Job interview anyone?

​Please read our auditions page for more information about the process.

Assistant to the Director

This role is imperative at AAYT due to the short nature of the rehearsal period. The Assistant is to give support, expertise and be a second responsible adult for the cast throughout rehearsals and performances. They provide a second opinion on the action as well as working specifically with actors who need more support - be it accent work, physicality or vocals. Auditorium

The space within the theatre where the audience sits (or stands) for the duration of a performance. Sometimes it is referred to as the house.

Backstage

This refers to the area in the theatre which is unseen by the audience.

Blackout

This term is used to describe a moment during a performance when all of the stage lights are turned off. Often we use a “Blueout” which is a very faint blue light so the actors can see where they are going, this is safer for our younger performers.

Blacks

Crew wear all black clothing during a performance. This is because it's the colour that will be least obtrusive during scene changes. Cast sometimes wear blacks onstage if they play a neutral character.

Blocking

Blocking is a major part of the rehearsal process. It refers to the process of arranging the moves of the actors on stage. It is expected that actors will bring a pencil and write their blocking down on their scripts, referring to it (and changing where necessary). It can also refer to when actor blocks another actor onstage, or blocks their ideas in an improvisation.

Box office

This is the designated area of a theatre's front of house where prospective audience members can show their pre-purchased tickets, buy programmes and buy extra tickets.

Break a leg/chookas There is a superstition which suggests that it is bad luck to wish an actor good luck prior to a performance so the terms “break a leg” or “chookas”are commonly used in its place.

Bump in This is the process of preparing the theatre for a particular production. It includes building the set, introducing props and costumes, and rigging the lights.

Bump out This is the process of dismantling the set at the conclusion of a production. It includes the removal of all set pieces, costumes, and lighting and general cleaning of the theatre. Our actors need only assist with costume returns and occasionally helping carry furniture to the crew's cars.

Call A call is the name given to the time that a performer is required to be at the theatre.

Cast The performing members of a play or musical.

Casting This is the name given to the process of selecting actors to play the different roles in a play.

Company This refers to the cast, the crew, and other people who are connected with a show.

Costumes The items of clothing that are worn by the actors onstage are called costumes.

Large theatre companies have a wardrobe department who design and create the costumes. We don't! As a low budget company, we ask actors to bring their own clothes from home or source from friends/family if suitable, but we never ask actors to purchase anything.

Shoes and undergarments are always the actor's responsibility.

Cue The directive given to do something during rehearsals and/or the performance. They include physical, vocal, sound and lighting cues, and are used by actors and crew. It's very important for cast to give the correct cue at all times, especially for the tech.

Cue to Cue (Top and tail) This is the process that is often adopted during a technical run. It means that most of the dialogue and action are omitted and the cast jumps between technical cues and entrances/exits so that the lighting and sound cues may be perfected. We call it a “top and tail”

Curtain Call When a performance has finished often the actors acknowledge the audience's applause by coming on to the stage, smiling and bowing. They also acknowledge the crew who made it happen, both in the lighting box (tech) and backstage, for the Stage Manager and other crew.

It can be more intimidating than acting for some actors!

Director

The person who has the vision for the production. They cast, plan the set, costumes, sounds (with or without designers) and block/direct the actors. They often choose the script and live it until they hand over to the Stage Manager just prior to the performances. Dialogue

This is the term used to describe the parts of a play text when there is more than one character talking. This is in contrast to a monologue, when only one character talks.

Downstage This refers to the area on the stage that is closest to the audience.

Dress rehearsal This is a full run of a performance. It is often the final rehearsal prior to opening. All elements of the performance (blocking, lighting, music, etc) are presented as they are meant to be in the final performance, and is a chance for our casts to watch each other, as they rehearse separately throughout the week.

Flat A flat is a versatile set piece. It is usually a rectangular frame that is covered with fabric or plywood. Sometimes flats are painted with background images for a particular production. We tend not to use them and adopt a “minimalist set” to keep production costs down and to keep the focus on our actors.

Fourth Wall This refers to the idea that an imaginary fourth wall has been removed from the set of a play so that the audience can watch the action, and are not part of the scene.

Front of House (FOH) The front of house is generally regarded as any areas that are accessible to audience members. This includes the foyer, the bar, the box office, and the auditorium. FOH can also refer to the staff who assist the audience, checking tickets, selling programmes and helping people to their seats.

Interval This is a short break in the performance, lasting around 20 minutes. It typically is positioned mid-way through the performance. At Actually Acting, we have our interval between the 2 one plays, each running between 30-50 minutes.

Matinee A matinee show is usually one that takes place in the morning or afternoon rather than in the evening. It is derived from a Latin word meaning “of the morning”, but in Australia it's more commonly an afternoon performance. We have ours at 2pm.

Monologue A monologue is a long speech by a single character that is uninterrupted by the other characters on stage. If the character is alone on stage when presenting a monologue, the speech is called a soliloquy.

Preset This is the term that is used to describe the process of putting all props, lighting, and set pieces in their correct location before the start of the play.

Props This refers to any items that isn't set or costumes. For example, an actor may need to bring a gun on to the stage in a particular scene. Actors are responsible for their own props, ensuring they are returned to the back stage location after using. Actors must never touch other actor's props.

Proscenium Arch This is the name given to the frame which goes around the performance space in traditional nineteenth-century style theatres. The audience looks through this frame into the dramatic world being created on stage.

Raked Stage This is a performance space that slopes up towards the rear of the stage. This was a common feature of theatres in the past but nowadays it is more common for stages to be flat and the auditorium to be raked. This improves the sight lines from most seats in the auditorium.

Run This jargon term is used in two different ways in the theatre. Firstly, it describes the length of the season of a particular production. For example “Our production of Hamlet runs for three weeks”. Secondly, it describes a rehearsal where the play, or part thereof, is practiced.

Set When this term is used as a VERB, it refers to the process of preparing the stage for the start of a production. When it is used as a NOUN, it refers to the furniture, flats and dressing for the production or for a particular scene.

Stage Manager (SM) The Stage Manager looks after backstage and ensures the play runs smoothly. They take over from the Director following the final dress rehearsal, and are responsible for the actors backstage as well as scene changes and bumping out. They can also "call" the show in some theatres.

Stage Left/Stage Right These are the most common stage directions used in the theatre. They always refer to the stage from the actor's perspective. That is, when an actor stands on stage and looks into the audience, it is his or her left and right.

Tech The term used to describe a member of the production crew.

Technical Rehearsal (Tech) This is when the lights/sound etc are incorporated into the rehearsed play. At Actually Acting, this occurs on Day 5 in preparation for the full run and performances on Day 6. We usually do “top and tail tech”. Sometimes the actors are required to wear costumes so that they can practice fast costume changes.

Theatre in the round This is a form of theatre where the audience surrounds the performance space.

Upstage This refers to the part of the stage that is the furthest distance from the audience. It also describes the process of upstaging another actor which is when one actor pulls the audience's focus from the primary action of the scene.

Wings These are the spaces which are usually on the side of the stage, out of the sight of audience members. Often they have “legs”, which are large black curtains. Actors wait here when preparing to make their entrances. Holden Street Theatres do not have wings.

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