Glossary of Technical Theatre Terms


A flammable solvent used in some prop/costume-making processes. Used by make-up artists to remove skin adhesive from the netting of wigs and moustaches by immersing the item in an acetone bath, then removing the softened glue residue with a stiff brush. Also one of the primary components of some nail polish removers.

Redundant term, in use theatrically between approximately 1884 and 1960 in the UK, it originated on the railway system. The Baggage Master is part of a touring theatre company, and is responsible for all personal and company luggage, and has to check all luggage (including props, costumes, scenery etc.) is packed and ready when the show leaves for a new venue.

The bias of a piece of woven fabric is at 45 degrees to the grain of the threads. See also GRAIN.

The upper part of a womans dress, close-fitting and covering the chest and back above the waist.

Treatment given to freshly painted or newly made props, scenery or costume, to make it look either aged, lived-in, or less "new". Often involves spattering with paint to add interest and texture to areas lacking it.
Breaking Down Props and Costumes

Form of Ancient Greek clothing.
Wikipedia entry

During the run of a show, costumes need to be regularly cleaned.
A show that uses modern costumes may require no specialised care, and cleaning could be part of the duties of an ASM, or on a larger show, a Costume Assistant, or Wardrobe Manager.
On a show with period costumes, or more delicate costumes, an 'inner shield' or 'costume shield' is sometimes used, which is an easily washable removable inner costume layer, which is worn between the actors underclothing and the main costume. The main costume, which may require dry cleaning, can be cleaned far less frequently.

The science behind the way colour works can help lighting, costume and set designers to make their work as vibrant (or dull) as the play requires. See the link below for information. 
Choosing and Using Colour

Coined in 1984, the term refers to the enthusiasm of some film/fantasy/anime fans who dress up as their favourite characters and attend conventions celebrating the form. 
Many cosplayers make props and detailed costumes to wear, making use of prop-making skills, as well as make-up and costume design. 

First meeting between the actor and his/her costume. Enables wardrobe staff to ensure a correct fit, and to enable the actor to see if all necessary movement is possible.

(USA) Term for a store of theatre costumes, particularly where there are costume hire facilities.


A workshop used for the making of costumes. 
The Costume Shop will usually contain sewing machines, overlockers and other related machines, a large table for laying out patterns and cutting material, plenty of costume rails for storage, mirrors and costume dummys to 'wear' the costumes to see how they look, plenty of boxes containing bits and pieces such as measuring tapes, buttons, elastic, threads of many colours etc. 

A stiffened or hooped petticoat worn to make a long skirt stand out, named after a type of stiff open-weave fabric made from cotton and horsehair

(French) A quick costume sketch or illustration, showing the shape / design of an item of clothing on a figure. 

Member of the costume team that supervises the construction of costumes that are made from patterns. They are also responsible for creating the patterns from the Costume Designers' sketches / designs. 

Sometimes believed to be an acronym of 'dressed resembling a girl' this term for a male performer playing a woman originates from around 1870, and is thought to refer to the way long dresses dragged across the floor.
Although in Shakespearean times boy actors played the role of girls/women on stage, the term 'Drag' does not seem to have been used until much later, and no Shakespearean stage directions were written 'Enter DRAG' (meaning Enter Dressed As a Girl'), as is sometimes claimed. As women didn't appear on stage at all in Shakespeares' time, the instruction would not be necessary - it was illegal for women to appear on stage professionally until 1661.

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.

A coloured substance which chemically bonds to a substrate / material to modify the colour of that material.

Electro-luminescent Wire. Requires an alternating current power supply of between 90-120 volts, but this is usually generated by an oscillator circuit powered by a few AA batteries. The wire is very efficient and robust. The weak points tend to be the connections between the wire and the power supply, so ensure these are well-protected if the wire is being used in/on a prop or costume.

(Costume) An enclosed easily transportable costume rail with removable side which enables large shows to manage huge quantities of costumes, wigs etc easily.

The direction & visibility of threads in a piece of woven fabric. 
See also BIAS.

Prior to 17th century actors dying on stage, a green baize cloth was laid down on the stage to save their costumes from needing cleaning. This was also a useful anticipation builder for the audience, especially if the cloth was laid during the interval halfway into the performance.
See also GREEN ROOM.

(Greek) A himation was a type of clothing, a mantle or wrap worn by ancient Greek men and women from the Archaic through the Hellenistic periods (c. 750–30 BC).
It was usually worn over a chiton and/or peplos, but was made of heavier drape and played the role of a cloak or shawl. When the himation was used alone, without a chiton, and served both as a chiton and as a cloak, it was called an achiton. The himation was markedly less voluminous than the Roman toga. It was usually a large rectangular piece of woollen cloth. Many vase paintings depict women wearing a himation as a veil covering their faces

(Greek) Platform shoes worn by heroes of Greek theatre to raise them above other characters.

Radio Mic Pouch, from Canford Audio (UK) A small fabric pocket that can contain a radio microphone transmitter pack. The pocket is often made of a slightly elasticated material (e.g. lycra) in black, and is attached to an elastic belt, or has a belt loop built in, if it's to be worn on the outside of a pair of trousers under (e.g.) a jacket. 
Mic Pouches from Canford Audio, UK

Although the term literally "placing on stage" in French, the Mise en Scene refers to much more than the setting of a performance or event. The term describes all of the visual aspects of a setting - props, lighting, costume as well as set design, and how the details can contribute to the telling of the story.

1) Motley is traditional costume of the court jester in Commedia dell'Arte, consisting of a patchwork of coloured diamonds. 
2) The Motley Group was a collective of costume and set designers working in London and the USA between 1932 and 1976. The group consisted of Margaret Harris, her sister Sophia Harris, and Elizabeth Montgomery. Their papers are held in the Illinois Library Digital Collections. 

Term used by costume designers. Describes a (simple) technique to carry out a quick costume change by simply adding a costume on top of an existing one. This layering technique depends on the costume being light-weight and/or the original costume not being too bulky. Once the result of the quick change has been seen by the audience, it may be necessary to remove the original costume or refit the new costume, especially if the actor is involved in choreography, to avoid overheating. 

Pinking Shears (Amazon) Scissors with sawtooth edges as blades which produce a uniformly zigzagged edge instead of a straight cut. The edge reduces the likelihood that the woven cloth will fray. 

1) A change of costume that needs to happen very quickly takes place close to the side of the stage. Costume designers need to know about the need for a quick change so that the costume is made incorporating elements such as velcro and zips rather than buttons. A quick change room is often erected at the side of the stage to enable changes to take place in privacy. Dressers may be available to help the actors with very quick changes. 
2) A type of performance which is based around hugely impressive transformations from one costume to another, involving intricate choreography and misdirection. 
Quick Change performers - David and Dania

Area adjacent to the stage containing lighting, a mirror and a costume rail in which actors can make costume changes quickly, sometimes with the aid of a dresser. It may be a separate room, or a booth in the wings made of drapes for privacy. 

Definition coming soon

Member of the wardrobe department who operates sewing machines and carries out other sewing tasks.

The edge produced on a piece of woven fabric which prevents it from unravelling. 

Silamide is a pre-waxed two-ply twisted nylon thread. It has a great texture and is strong and resiliant. It can be used for all beadweaving stitches including loom work and bead embroidery.
Sold on cards of 40 yards (approximately 36.5 m). (Definition from Robins Beads - see link below)

1) To light the cyclorama or a piece of upstage set in such a way that the actors are cast into shadow. Can be a very dramatic effect.
2) (Trade Name) A range of 2000W lanterns manufactured by CCT in the UK.
3) The outline of a costume is called the silhouette.
CCT Silhouette in the Backstage Heritage Collection

SKIP (Costume/Props)
A large wicker basket or box, often wheeled, which stores costumes and/or props for touring.

A clothing pattern based on exact measurements of a particular person. The sloper can be used with any existing pattern to ensure a perfect fit.

Stagecraft refers to any technical aspect of theatre production (and also sometimes refers to film / TV production). It includes working in technical areas such as lighting, sound, scenic construction, costume & prop construction, stage management and makeup. It usually does NOT refer to the creative / design aspects of those technical areas.

The Stitcher is a member of the costume construction team, who works with the Cutter on assembling/constructing costumes. 

Standard costume items which can be used in a number of different performances. Many theatres and theatre companies have a stock of costume items from past productions, which can be reused and adjusted / adapted for future shows. 
See Sustainability. 

1) To disassemble a stage set ("strike the set") (e.g. "How many crew do you need for the strike?") In amateur theatre, the strike at the end of a run of shows is sometimes followed by a strike party. 
2) To remove props from the stage. ("Strike the armchair after scene 1", "Make sure the mushroom prop is struck after the forest scene" etc.). 
3) The act of turning on a discharge lamp (e.g. "Make sure you strike the followspot at the half")

Gel Swatch Books - Rosco Supergel and Lee Filters A sample of fabric to demonstrate the material to use on a costume or set design, or a sample of lighting gel. A catalogue of all the gel colours made be a particular manufacturer is called a SWATCH BOOOK.
Rosco Supergel website

A technique for handcrafting a durable lace from a series of knots and loops. Can be done by hand or using a needle. 

A technique used by costume designers to enable a quick change easily by layering costumes. Underdressing involves having another costume variation on underneath a previous costume. The costume change involves removing the top layer of clothing to reveal the new costume underneath. 

Seam Unpicker / Ripper (from Amazon) Small cutter designed for unpicking a sewn seam or for ripping the seam open. Useful for undoing alterations to a costume following a production.

Trademark. The concept of hook and loop fasteners was invented in the late 1940s, and the company Velcro was founded in 1952 in Switzerland. 
Velcro website

The appearance of reality. In scenic or costume design, the level of detail required depends entirely on the distance of the audience from the set / performers. An impressionistic approach can be used where the audience are a long distance away, with no loss of verisimilitude.

The general name for the costume department, its staff and the accommodation they occupy.
German: Kleiderschrank

Actor-by-actor, scene-by-scene inventory of all the costumes in a production, with a detailed breakdown into every separate item in each costume.

IATSE Scheme in the USA where a touring theatre or dance company would send their local wardrobe crew requirements to the next venues on a tour, to ensure there were enough union staff available to run the show. 
The scheme was originally based on physical cards, but converted to an electronic system in 2013.
See also Yellow Card. 
White Card Forms on IATSE website