Glossary of Technical Theatre Terms – Beginners


ACT
1) Subdivision between sections of a play. A short play is a 'One-Act-er', a play with one interval has two Acts etc. Acts are subdivided further into Scenes. 
2) The thing Actors can do which makes them different from Techies (!!).

ACTING AREA
That area within the performance space within which the actor may move in full view of the audience. Also known as the playing area
This term is also used to describe the smaller subdivisions of the main stage area which are lit separately by the lighting designer (e.g. 'The stage is split into 6 acting areas, 3 downstage and 3 upstage').
(Also the name of an early Strand down-lighting floodlight - known as 'Ack Ack').

AISLE
A passage through seating.

APRON STAGE
The Apron is a section of the stage floor which projects towards or into the auditorium. In proscenium theatres, the part of the stage in front of the house tabs, or in front of the proscenium arch, above the orchestra pit. Also known as Forestage. German: vorbühne (literally, forestage). 
In a 'Prosc Arch' theatre the additional stage area usually results in some of the seats, particularly in the Upper Circle having an impaired view, resulting in 'the domino effect' when patrons have to lean forward, to see someone on the apron. When designing a theatre, the sightlines were not geared to serving an actor forward of the footlights.

ARENA
Form of stage where the audience are seated on at least two (normally three, or all four) sides of the whole acting area.
See END ON, THRUST, IN THE ROUND.

ASM
Assistant Stage Manager.

AUDITION
Process where the director or casting director of a production asks actors / actresses / performers to show him/her what they can do. Sometimes very nerve-wracking, but auditions can be a fairly painless process if handled properly. Performers are often asked to memorise a monologue from a play they like to perform for the director. Books full of suggested monologues are available. You may be asked to do a 'Cold Reading' which tests your own response to a piece of text you've not prepared.

AUDITORIUM
The part of the theatre accommodating the audience during the performance. Sometimes known as the "house". From the Latin Audio - "I hear".

BACKSTAGE
The part of the stage and theatre which is out of the sight of the audience. The service areas of the theatre, behind, beside or underneath the stage. Also refers to the personnel who work in the technical departments that work to create the performance, alongside the actors and musicians. 

BEGINNERS
A call given by Stage Management to bring those actors who appear in the first part of a play to the stage. e.g. "Act One Beginners to the stage, please". The actors/actresses are then called by name.
A similar call is given after the interval (e.g. "Act Two Beginners to the stage please"). See also HALF, QUARTER.

BLACK BOX
A kind of flexible studio theatre where the audience and actors are in the same room, surrounded by black tabs (curtains). Doesn't necessarily describe the audience layout, which can be easily reconfigured.

BLACKOUT
1) Complete absence of stage lighting. Blue working lights backstage should remain on and are not usually under the control of the board, except during a Dead Blackout (DBO), when there is no onstage light. Exit signs and other emergency lighting must remain on at all times.
2) The act of turning off (or fading out) stage lighting (e.g. "This is where we go to blackout")

BLACKS
1) Black clothing worn by stage management during productions.
2) Any black drapes or tabs, permanently or temporarily rigged. Used for masking offstage and technical areas.
Running Blacks are full stage width black tabs with a split half way, which are usually fitted to a tab track so that they can be opened and closed horizontally AND flown in and out. The tab track control can either be operated from stage level or from a fly floor (when they're flown out). Hard Blacks are black-covered scenic flats used as masking. 
Blacks flown vertically at the edge of the stage are known as LEGS. Blacks across the top of the stage are BORDERS.

BLOCKING
The process of arranging moves to be made by the actors during the play, recorded by stage management in the prompt script. Positions at the start of scenes are noted, as are all movements around the stage (using terms such as 'Gardener X DSL' meaning the Gardener crosses to downstage left.) It must be described in minute detail, but simple enough to enable anyone to read and understand it. As well as being used to 'run the show' the prompt book is also used for the rehearsal of the understudies. 
Stages which are not end-on must often use alternative notation, sometimes based on the clock face or the points of a compass.
Blocking Notation

BOOK FLAT
Two flats hinged together on the vertical edge, to be free standing, and normally used as a backing for a doorway or window. They should always be 'run' with the hinged edge leading, to prevent them opening up. Book flats are free-standing when angled open, allowing quick setting and compact storage. Booking describes the action of opening or closing a book flat.

BORDER
A narrow horizontal masking piece (flattage or cloth), normally of neutral colour (black) to mask the lighting rig and flown scenery from the audience, and to provide an upper limit to the scene. Often used in conjunction with LEGS.
Spanish: Bambalina

BOX OFFICE
Part of the theatre front of house area where audience members can buy tickets. Most Box Offices are now computerised, and offer phone reservations. Some offer online (internet) bookings also. 
Also known as the Ticket Booth. 

BOX SET
Naturalistic setting of a complete room built from flats with only the side nearest the audience (the fourth wall) missing.

BREAK A LEG
A superstitious and widely accepted alternative to 'Good Luck' (which is considered bad luck). More available at the link below.
More on Break A Leg

CALL
1) A notification of a working session (eg a Rehearsal Call, Band Call, Photo Call)
2) The period of time to which the above call refers. (eg "Your call for tomorrow nights show is 6.55pm")
3) A request for an actor to come to the stage because an entrance is imminent (these are courtesy calls and should not be relied on by actors - eg "This is your call for the finale Mr Smith and Miss Jones")
4) An acknowledgement of applause (eg Curtain Call)
5) The DSM on the book is said to be "calling the cues".
6) The Colour Call is a list of lighting gel required for the lighting rig.
7) The Final Call is also known as The Half - 35 minutes before the performance starts, and the latest time when the cast and crew should be in the theatre.

CALLBACKS
Following an audition, the director may ask to see a shortlist of actors again - they are called back for an additional audition to enable the director to make her/his decision.

CAST
The members of the acting company.

CASTING
The process of the director choosing actors to perform the characters in the play.

CENTRE CENTRE
End-On Stage Layout Plan (theatrecrafts.com) (CENTER CENTER in the USA) - the position in the centre of the stage space. Downstage Centre (DSC) is the position at the front of the stage, Upstage Centre (USC), and Centre Stage (CS) or CENTRE CENTRE is the centre. House Centre / House Center is the centre line of the auditorium (which is usually the same as that of the stage).
Blocking Notation

CENTRE LINE
Imaginary line running down the stage through the exact centre of the proscenium opening. Marked as CL on stage plans. Normally marked on the stage floor and used as a reference when marking out or assembling a set. A chalked snap line can be used to mark the line in the rehearsal room and on stage.
Known in the US as CENTER LINE.
House Centre / House Center is the centre line of the auditorium (which is usually the same as that of the stage).
See also SETTING LINE.

CLEARANCE
Message passed to Stage Management from the Front of House Manager that the house is ready for the performance to begin. (ie everyone is in their correct seat and there are no coach parties coming through the doors). Announced as 'We have Front of House Clearance'.

COMPANY
The cast, crew and other staff associated with a show.

COSTUMES
Clothes worn by the actors onstage. The responsibility of the WARDROBE DEPARTMENT.

CUE
1) The command given to technical departments to carry out a particular operation. E.g. Fly Cue or Sound Cue. Normally given by stage management, but may be taken directly from the action (i.e. a Visual Cue).
2) Any signal (spoken line, action or count) that indicates another action should follow (i.e. the actors' cue to enter is when the Maid says "I hear someone coming! Quick - Hide!")

CUE TO CUE
(also known as 'Topping and Tailing')
Cutting out action and dialogue between cues during a technical rehearsal, to save time. (e.g. "OK, can I stop you there - we'll now jump to the end of this scene. We'll pick it up from Simon's line "And from then on it was all downhill" in a moment. OK - we're all set - when you're ready please.")

CURTAIN CALL
At the end of a performance, the acknowledgement of applause by actors - the bows.
Hungarian: tapsrend.

CYCLORAMA
Usually shortened to just cyc (pronounced sike). The Cyclorama is a curved plain cloth or plastered wall filling the rear of the stage or TV studio. Often used as a sky backing to a traditional set, or as the main backing for a dance piece etc. The term is often loosely applied to a blue skycloth, or any flattage at the rear of the stage. Although strictly a cyc should be curved, most cycs are flat with curved wraparound ends. A more effective backing can be obtained by hanging a sharkstooth gauze just in front of the plain white cyc which gives a hazy effect of distance.
From Greek Cyclos (circle) and Horama (view or vision).
See also BOUNCE, ISORA. The German equivalent term is operafolie.

DARK
A venue that has been closed to the public. Some theatres go dark temporarily during production periods, when the next show is in preparation on stage. To keep the audience (and their money) coming in, some venues show films or have other activities not involving the stage.

DIALOGUE
The spoken text of a play - conversations between characters is dialogue. See MONOLOGUE and DUOLOGUE.

DIRECTOR
There are many types of director.
Broadly, the role involves being responsible for the overall artistic vision of a production.
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR - Normally in charge of the programming of a venue. May also direct shows.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - Manager in charge of the administration of a venue.
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR - In charge of the technical requirements of a production.
(The term LIGHTING DIRECTOR is used in the UK for a TV Lighting Designer).

DOOFER
An object or tool that you're not sure of the correct name for. For example, 'Pass me the doofer so I can sort this thingy'.

DOWNSTAGE
End-On Stage Layout Plan (theatrecrafts.com) 1) The part of the stage nearest to the audience (the lowest part of a raked stage). [See Diagram]
2) A movement towards the audience (in a proscenium theatre).

DRESS REHEARSAL
A full rehearsal, with all technical and creative elements brought together. The performance as it will be 'on the night'.
German: hauptprobe (final rehearsal)

DRESSING ROOMS
Rooms containing clothes rails and mirrors (often surrounded with lights) in which actors change into their costumes and apply make-up. Dressing Room doors have a list of the actors contained within. See also GREEN ROOM.

FLAT
A lightweight timber frame covered with scenic canvas, or plywood. Flats are used to provide a lightweight and easy to move and re-configure backdrop to a stage set. Flats sometimes have windows or doors built into them to provide extra flexibility, for use in realistic settings. Masking flats are used to hide areas the designer does not want the audience to see, or to provide actors with an exit, or somewhere to store props.  
(UK) A flat is supported by a stage brace and brace weight, connected to the flat using a screw eye. 
Hardboard is sometimes used, but is unnecessarily heavy and will lose it's shape in time. Most theatres have a range of stock flattage made to a standard size, and re-used many times.
A Rail is a horizontal batten within a flat.
A Stile is a side or vertical piece within a flat.
A Sill is the bottom rail of a flat.
See also BOOK FLAT, HOLLYWOOD.

FRONT OF HOUSE (FOH)
1) Every part of the theatre in front of the proscenium arch. Includes foyer areas open to the general public.
2) All lanterns which are on the audience side of the proscenium and are focussed towards the stage.
The backstage areas of the theatre are known as Rear of House (ROH).

GET-IN
The process of moving set, props and other hardware into a theatre prior to the fit-up. (aka LOAD IN (US) and BUMP IN (Aus.) and PACK IN (NZ.))

GET-OUT
Moving an entire production out of the venue, and into either a large waste-disposal skip, or into transport. Usually preceded by the strike. (aka Load out (USA) or Bump out (AUS.) or Pack Out (NZ).)

GREEN ROOM
Room close to the stage (i.e. the green) for the actors to meet and relax before or after going on stage. See the link below for some possible derivations of the term.
More about Green Room

HALF
The Half is a call given to the actors half an hour before they will be called to the stage for the beginning of a performance. It is given 35 minutes before the advertised time of commencement (in the UK). On Broadway, the Half is given 30 minutes before the start time.
Subsequent calls given are the 'quarter' at 20 minutes (UK), 'the five' at 10 minutes (UK) and 'beginners to the stage' at 5 minutes before curtain up (UK). See also FRONT OF HOUSE CALLS, QUARTER.
Also known as Final Call.

HOUSE
1) The audience (eg 'How big is the house tonight ?')
2) The auditorium (eg 'The house is now open, please do not cross the stage')

INTERVAL
Break between sections of a performance. During a play, the interval is normally half way through a standard length performance (approx 1 hour each half) and is usually 15 or 20 minutes in duration. Known in the US as an INTERMISSION.

MARKING OUT
Sticking tapes to the floor of the rehearsal space to indicate the groundplan of the scenery. Also for marking position of furniture etc. within a set. Always be aware that some tapes may damage or mark some wooden floor surfaces! (sometimes known as the markup).

MATINÉE / MATINEE
Afternoon performance of a show. (From the Latin for 'of the morning', but who does theatre in the morning?)

NODA
UK National Operatic and Dramatic Association, for amateur theatre producers, performers and crew.
http://www.noda.org.uk

OFFSTAGE
1) A movement towards the nearest side of the stage from the centre. (e.g. 'Focus that spot offstage a bit please')
2) The area out of sight of the audience (e.g. 'Get that donkey offstage !')

OPEN
The start of the run of a show in a venue. (e.g. 'When does the new musical open at the Variety Theatre?' or 'The show opened a few weeks ago - it's had some great reviews'.)

PARODOS
Parodos (also parode and parodus, plural parodoi, Ancient Greek) is a term used in the theater of ancient Greece, referring either to a side-entrance, or to the first song sung by the chorus after its entrance from the side wings.

PRESET
1) Anything in position before the beginning of a scene or act (eg 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.

PROFESSIONAL*
Normally used for someone who's regularly paid for a particular job (as opposed to an amateur, who does it for fun). A professional attitude is essential when working in the theatre - this means you have to behave as if you were being paid. The theatre world is a very small community - if you behave badly or upset someone, it's highly likely you'll meet them again, and they will remember you!

PROMPT CORNER
Area, traditionally on the stage left side of the stage, from which the stage manager (or DSM) controls ('prompts') the performance, from the prompt desk.

PROPS
(Properties) 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.

PROSCENIUM ARCH
The opening in the wall which stands between stage and auditorium in some theatres; the picture frame through which the audience sees the play. The "fourth wall". Often shortened to Proscenium or Pros Arch.
In some older theatres, the Proscenium Arch is ornate and painted to contrast with the surrounding walls, to really make it stand out. Nothing outside the Proscenium Arch was part of the show.
However, as there are many different audience layouts now, many theatres (particularly multi-purpose studio theatres) have no Proscenium Arch at all, or it may not be decorated as such.
See END ON.
Italian: Boccascena

RAKED STAGE
A sloping stage which is raised at the back (upstage) end. All theatres used to be built with raked stages as a matter of course. Today, the stage is often left flat and the auditorium is raked to improve the view of the stage from all seats. A rake is expressed as a ratio (eg a 1:25 rake rises by 1cm vertically over 25cm horizontally). See also Anti-Rake.

REAR OF HOUSE (ROH)
1) The backstage and storage areas of the theatre. See also FOH (Front of House). Also sometimes known as Back of House.
2) Abbreviation for Royal Opera House, London. 
Royal Opera House

RUN
1) A sequence of performances of the same production. (e.g. 'How long is the run of this show?' or 'This show runs for two weeks')
2) A rehearsal of the whole show or a section of it (e.g.'This afternoon's rehearsal will be a run of Act II followed by notes'). Run-throughs early in the rehearsal schedule are sometimes known as STAGGERS as actors are unsure of their lines.

SET
1) To prepare the stage for action. (verb) - e.g. 'Have you set the chairs for Act 1?'
2) The complete stage setting for a scene or act. (noun) - e.g.'What's the set for the finale?' French: décors.

STAGE LEFT / RIGHT
Left/ Right as seen from the Actor's point of view on stage. (ie Stage Left is the right side of the stage when looking from the auditorium.)
Stage Right = OP (Opposite Prompt) French: Cote Jardin, Netherlands: Toneel Links (translates to Stage Left!)
Stage Left = PS (Prompt Side) French: Cote Cour, Netherlands: Toneel Rechts (translates to Stage Right!).
NB: The Netherlands, Portugal and Germany use the opposite to the rest of Europe; i.e. Stage Left UK = Stage Right. The directions are seen from the director's and audience's perspective, NOT the actors. In Portugal Isquerda (left) is the equivalent of UK Stage Right and Direita (right) is the equivalent of UK Stage Left.

TABS
1) Originally "tableaux curtains" which drew outwards and upwards, but now generally applied to any stage curtains including a vertically flying front curtain (house tabs) and especially a pair of horizontally moving curtains which overlap at the centre and move outwards from that centre.
[French = Rideau (a narrow stage curtain used for masking is Pendrillon) / Italian = Sipario].
2) TABS was a journal published by Strand Electric between 1937 and 1986, about stage lighting and other equipment produced by the company. Our sister site the Strand Archive has a complete collection of TABS journals for you to read online.

TECH
1) Short for Technical Rehearsal. (e.g. 'The Tech took 14 hours')
2) A member of (amateur) crew ('I'm the lighting tech for this show')

TECHNICAL REHEARSAL
(also known as the TECH RUN, or just TECH). Usually the first time the show is rehearsed in the venue, with lighting, scenery and sound. Costumes are sometimes used where they may cause technical problems (eg Quick changes). Often a very lengthy process. Often abbreviated to the Tech.
A DRY TECH is without actors to rehearse the integration of lighting, scenic changes etc. It follows that a WET TECH is a full technical rehearsal with actors and all technical elements, although this term isn't used as often as DRY TECH.
A PAPER TECH is a session without the set or actors when the technical and design team talk through the show ensuring everything's going to work as planned. Stage Managers can use this session to ensure all is written correctly in the Prompt Book.

UPSTAGE
End-On Stage Layout Plan (theatrecrafts.com) 1) The part of the stage furthest from the audience.
2) When an actor moves upstage of another and causes the victim to turn away from the audience he is 'upstaging'. Also, an actor drawing attention to himself away from the main action (by moving around, or over-reacting to onstage events) is upstaging.

VISUAL CUE
A cue taken by a technician from the action on stage rather than being cued by the stage manager. Often abbreviated to "Vis".

WINGS
1) The out of view areas to the sides of the acting area (known as FLÜGEL in German)
2) Scenery standing where the acting area joins these technical areas.