Help! I tried out for a show and I got a part! I’m really excited, but as I am reading the script, I see a bunch of terms that I don’t understand …. upstage, downstage, aside … what does it all mean?
Congratulations and welcome to theater! There is a whole set of terminology that goes along with learning dialogue and being on stage. Here’s a list to get you started! Break a leg!
AD LIB – Spoken words (sometimes witty comments) said out loud that are not in the script. They can also be given “off the cuff” when another actor forgets a line.
AFFECTIVE MEMORY – (Or “Remembered emotion”) Memory that involves the actor personally, so that deeply rooted emotional experiences begin to respond. The actor’s instrument begins to awaken and he becomes capable of the kind of living on stage which is essentially reliving.
ANTAGONIST – The antagonist opposes the action. This means it is the main character that creates obstacles and challenges for the protagonist.
AUDITION – A tryout for a film, TV or stage role. Usually auditions involve reading from the script, but can also require improvisation, singing and/or dance.
ASIDE – A part of dialogue that is directed directly to the audience or away from your scene partner as an internal thought. Very common in restoration comedies and Shakespeare.
BACK TO THE TOP/TAKE IT FROM THE TOP – The verbal cue for performers to return to the mark where they started the scene.
BEAT – A deliberate and slight pause (short or long) in dialogue or an action. Most normally in dialogue to emphasize emotion or thought. This is a very complicated concept. Stay tuned … next month you will learn more about beats, beat changes, and why they are important!
BIO – Short for “biography”. A resume in narrative form, usually for a printed program or press release.
BLOCKING – The movement of the performance. Where you walk, sit, cross the stage, enter, exit, etc. A director will usually ‘block’ a scene early in the rehersal process. Blocking can range from being very general (enter here, exit there) or very specific (pick the pen up on this line, sit on the sofa at this line, etc.)
BOOTH – The area in the theatre with the light and sound boards. Usually in the back of the theatre facing the stage.
CALLBACK – Any follow-up interview or audition.
CALL TIME – This is the time that you are called to be either at the theatre, typically and hour and one-half or so before the show starts..
CASTING – The process of selecting and hiring actors to play the roles and characters in a production. In film, the lead roles are typically cast or selected by the director or a producer, and the minor or supporting roles and bit parts by a casting director.
CENTRAL CONFLICT – The oppositional force between characters that directly affects or motivates the action of the plot.
CHARACTERIZATION – The actor using their craft to explore and develop the specific qualities of a character.
CHEAT – The actor’s adjustment of body position away from what might be absolutely “natural” in order to accommodate the audience; can also mean looking in a different place from where the other actor actually is.
COLD READING – Acting done with the script in your hand, unmemorized or partially memorized. Usually you will have less than one day to prepare.
CONFLICT – An essential and vital element of acting that involves the obstacles and struggles (inner and outer) that a character must overcome to reach their objective.
COSTUME FITTING – Just like it sounds. You will be fitted for your costume by the costume designer or assistant. Usually you will be measured early in the rehearsal process and fitted with your costume later. This can be an especially long process for period costumes.
COSTUME PARADE – At some point in the rehearsal process the actors will all ‘model’ their costumes or costume for the director. He/She will then either approve or discuss changes with the costume designer.
CUE – The action, line, or phrase of dialogue that signals your character to move or speak.
CUE-TO-CUE – A tech rehearsal where to save time, action and text is cut out between cues.
DEADPAN – A specific type of comedic device in which the performer assumes an expressionless (deadpan) quality to her/his face demonstrating absolutely no emotion or feeling.
DIALECT – A distinctly regional or linguistic speech pattern.
DIALOGUE – The scripted words exchanged by performers.
DOWNSTAGE – The front of the stage, towards the audience. (Theatre stages used to be raked on an angle tilting towards the audience. That is where the term originates.)
DRESS REHEARSAL – Rehearsal with all technical aspects and costumes and makeup.
DRESS THE SET – Add such items to the set as curtains, furniture, props, etc.
DRY TECH – A rehearsal, usually without actors, when the director, stage manager and designers work out all the light and sound cues.
EMOTIONAL RECALL (or Emotional Memory) – The emotions from an actor’s memory (long or short term) of personal experiences that are used to connect the actor to the character, and meet the emotional needs of the situation in the play or film.
EPILOGUE – A speech or short scene that sometimes follows the main action of a play.
IMPROVISATION – Setting out to do a scene with no pre-planned or written idea. A process leading to spontaneous discovery that allows the actor to find real, organic impulses within themselves.
IMPULSE – A natural response that an actor responds to in the moment.
INDICATING – Showing what your character is feeling or doing without really feeling or doing, leading to a false and shallow performance.
INNER ACTION – A physical action verb chosen by the actor in the pursuit of an objective. It always begins with the word “to” i.e. to attack, to soothe, to tickle.
INNER MONOLOGUE – A character’s active, imaginative inner thoughts while the actor is playing a role.
INSTINCT – A compelling or powerful impulse.
INSTRUMENT – The actor’s collective working of the body, voice, mind, and imagination.
LIGHT BOARD – Either manual or computer operated. Operates the stage lights.
LIGHT CUES – A change in the stage lighting.
LOAD-IN – The process of bringing the set into the theatre and assembling set pieces.
MARK – The exact position(s) given to an actor on a set to insure that he/she is in the proper light and camera angle; generally marked on the ground with tape or chalk.
METHOD ACTING – A generic term used to describe the acting philosophy of using personal emotional experiences in acting, as first introduced to the Western world by Stanislavsky and furthered by members of America’s Group Theatre in the 1930’s. When used today, “The Method” most often refers to the deeply personal emotional work taught by followers of Lee Strasberg, one of the Group Theatre members, and can be summed up as: “Training the subconscious to behave spontaneously.”
MONOLOGUE – A scene or a portion of a script in which an actor gives a lengthy, unbroken speech without interruption by another character.
MOTIVATION – The Why? The reason a character pursues a particular objective or super objective.
OBJECTIVE – A character’s pursuit of a specific goal in a scene. Also referred to as the intention or driving question.
OBSTACLE – The conflict and stumbling blocks to a character’s struggle in pursuit of an action or objective.
OFF BOOK – You have your characters lines completely memorized. Usually you will have a deadline by which you need to be memorized or ‘off book’.
ON BOOK – With the script in your hand. Usually refers to the time you are working with the script taking notes on cues and blocking, and working on memorizing your lines.
PACE – The speed at which you pick up your cue and deliver the next line of your dialogue. Pace can also be the speed that creates a style for the piece.
PANTOMIME – An art form related to dance; not to be confused with “silent scenes” or a “scene without words.”
PICK UP – Starting a scene from a place other than the beginning.
PLAYBILL – A program usually containing information about the play, cast, crew, supporters, and advertisers.
PLAYWRIGHT – A person who writes or adapts properties known as plays; in most traditions, the first and most creative artist of all those who collaborate to make theatre. It is the playwright’s property that stimulates the impetus for a full-fledged production. In musicals, the writers include the writers of the music, the lyrics, and the book.
PROJECTION – A director may tell you to ‘project’ more. This means to speak so that you can be heard throughout the theatre, this does not necessarily mean more volume or shouting. It’s a technique you will learn.
PROPS – Any objects used by actors in a scene.
PROTAGONIST –The protagonist carries the action. This means it is the main character who pursues a goal that drives the plot.
READ THROUGH – For theater and some on-camera. This is usually the first rehearsal when the actors sit and just read through the script with the director.
RESUME – List of credits, in the professional world, attached to an 8×10 headshot.
‘RHUBARB’ – Background conversation by extras. So-called because extras were often asked to mutter the word “rhubarb” to produce the effect of genuine conversation, with their mouths moving convincingly. Also known as “walla”.
SCRIPT – The written form of a screenplay, teleplay, radio or stage play.
SCRIPT ANALYSIS – The close study of a play or screenplay. This incorporates all of the dialogue and stage directions to find the answers necessary to create a full and rich character and to craft a performance that serves the script. The exploration of the script may include the questions of theme, story, character, and overall elements of the play and characters.
SENSORY – Connecting the character to the body and mind through the senses; to taste, hear, feel, see, think, perceive; to know through the physical inner self, as opposed to the instinctive.
SIDES – Pages or scenes from a script, used in auditions or (if on a film set ) those scenes being shot
SIGN-IN SHEET – A sheet at the rehearsal where actors will sign
SOLILOQUY – A speech given directly to the audience, ordinarily with no one else on stage. Usually played as a direct address to the audience, sometimes played as a character thinking aloud in the audience’s presence.
SOUND CUES – Sound effects (music, doorbell, a car door, dog barking, etc.).
SPEED THROUGH – A rehearsal exclusively for lines. Actors recite their lines quickly without blocking. This is often to help the actors with memorization.
STAGE DOOR – A back entrance to the theater used by the cast and production crew. Want to catch a glimpse (or the autograph) of your favorite star after a show? This is where you want to be.
STAGE MANAGER – The person who will become your best friend. This is the person who runs the rehearsals, sets the rehearsal schedule and usually ‘calls’ the show (prompts the light and sound cues from the booth during performances). He/she is in charge of the production after opening night.
STAGE RIGHT – To the performer’s right side, to the audience’s left side. Likewise, STAGE LEFT is to the performer’s left, the audience’s right. Stage directions are for actors, not audiences, therefore they are always given from the actor’s point of view facing the audience.
STAGE WHISPER – Sounds like a whisper but is loud enough for the audience to hear.
STRIKE – After the final performance, the set is taken apart, lighting instruments are taken down and props and costumes are put away. This is called ‘strike’. Actors will be asked to volunteer to help.
SUBMISSION – An actor’s or agent’s suggestion to a casting director for a role in a certain production.
SUBPLOT – A secondary, subordinate, or auxiliary plotline, often complementary but independent from the main plot (the A story), and often involving supporting characters; not the same as multiple plotlines; aka the B story or C story.
SUBTEXT – The character’s complex thoughts, feelings, motives, etc. created and layered under the actual words and actions of the character by the actor.
TECH REHERSAL – Technical Rehearsal. This is when the director will work the set, lights and sound cues into the rehearsal process. This usually takes several days and is long and boring for the actors. Tech is very important and actors must stay focused and be patient during this process. The focus of the rehearsal is solely on the technical aspects of the show. It is for the technicians and the designers, and the ‘acting’ must take a back seat.
TEMPO – The level of speed with which the scene or play is acted out. The general effect creates a specific mood or tone to the work.
TRIGGER – An emotional or physical signal that stimulates or sparks a bonfire of emotion to break through to the surface.
TRIPLE THREAT – Refers to actors who can sing, dance and act skillfully and equally well on a consistent basis; usually applicable to performers in the musicals genre; it also could refer to a person who can act, direct, and screenwrite!
UP STAGE – (a) The area located at the back of the stage. Down Stage is the area in front of the performer. (b) To draw attention to oneself at the expense of a fellow performer.