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A glossary of teatre terms
Category: Arts > Teatre
Date & country: 05/08/2007, UK
Words: 165

Above the title
In advertisements, when the performer's name appears before the title of the show or play. Reserved for the big stars!

Sound term. A piece of equipment which ampilifies or increases the sound captured by a microphone or replayed from record, CD or tape. Each loudspeaker needs a separate amplifier.

In a traditional theatre, the part of the stage which projects in front of the curtain. In many theatres this can be extended, sometimes by building out over the pit (qv).

Assistant Director
Assists the Director (qv) by taking notes on all moves and other decisions and keeping them together in one copy of the script (the Prompt Copy (qv)). In some companies this is done by the Stage Manager (qv), because there is no assistant.

Assistant Stage Manager
(ASM) Another name for stage crew (usually, in the professional theatre, also an understudy for one of the minor roles who is, in turn, also understudying a major role). The lowest rung on the professional theatre ladder.

The part of the theatre in which the audience sits. Also known as the House.

Backing Flat
A flat (qv) which stands behind a window or door in the set (qv).

Not the musical instrument! A rail along which a curtain runs.

An aluminium pipe suspended over the stage on which lanterns are hung. Also the place where you will find actors after the show - the stage crew will still be working!

Barn Door
An arrangement of four metal leaves placed in front of the lenses of certain kinds of spotlight to control the shape of the light beam.

A long row of floodlights (qv), wired as three or four circuits.

Beam Spread
Lighting term: the area that a given lantern covers. It is usually expressed as the angle that the beam subtends at the focal plane: the smaller the angle, the narrower the beam.

Lighting term: a type of lanetrn which produces a parallel beam of light. In construction rather like a car headlamp, being a sealed-beam unit. Also known as a PARCAN or PARBLAZER.

Those members of the cast who are on-stage when the curtain goes up. The call (qv) "Overture and beginners" is a signal to the orchestra to start the introductory music and to the cast to get into position on-stage.

Ultra-violet light. Can be in bulb or, more usually, tube form.

Lighting term: switching all lights out at once, leaving the stage in complete darkness. See also DBO.

Black curtains at the back and sides of the stage.

The setting of the actors' positions and moves at the beginning of rehearsals. Occasionally known as plotting, but this term is usually reserved for use in lighting.

Another name for a control desk, either lighting (most usually) or sound.

Book (The)
A copy of the script, kept by the Stage Manager, which includes all cues (qv) and notes. Also known, usually in amateur theatre, as the "prompt copy."

Box Office
The place where the tickets are sold. Also used colloquially to mean the size of the audience ("What's the box office like tonight?")

Box Set
A set (qv) which consists of three walls, around a proscenium arch (qv) stage. The proscenium opening is the fourth wall. Also known as a "room set".

Generally, some sort of instruction to the company: a rehearsal call is an instruction to attend a rehearsal at a particular time; time calls are given just before each performance ("Ladies and gentlemen, this is your thirty minute call"); treasury call is pay day in the professional theatre. Note that time calls are all related to the "Beginniners" call, not to the actual time of starting the...


The list of characters in a play and the actors who play them. Also, as a verb, to allocate parts to members of a company.

To make an action on stage look realistic without actually doing what you seem to be doing; e.g. an actor looking towards the audience in the general direction of the person he is talking to, is cheating.

Lighting term: to lower the brightness of a lantern (qv) to zero.

Chief Electrician
(Usually abbreviated to Chief LX) He is head of the department which is responsible for the maintenance and rigging of the lighting, and the operation of the lighting plot. In act, he is usually responsible for the maintenance and repair of anything electrical in the theatre, from the stage lighting to the light in the gent's toilet! His crew are variously known as LX, electrical daymen, electric...

Devises and rehearses the dance routines, following the concept laid down by the Director (qv).

A (now discontinued) brand name for a lighting gel or filter. Still used by old-timers (like me!) generically.

Backdrop scenery painted on fabric. Cloths can be on a banjo (usually in the amateur theatre), can be rolled up, or can be flown (qv).

Colour Changer
A remotely controlled means of changing a coloured filter over the lens of a lantern. There are three kinds: a wheel, a semaphore (like the old- fashioned railway signals) and a scroller which uses continuous, usually dichroic, filters. Scrollers are the preferred option in the modern theatre.

Colour Frame
A frame which fits over the front of a lantern to held a coloured filter or gel. They can be made from metal (preferred) or a kind of cardboard.

Come down
In the theatre, a show does not finish; it comes down, i.e. the curtain "comes down" to end the show.

Company Manager
The person in charge of a touring company when it is on the road.

Short for the "prompt corner"; the place from which the Stage Manager controls the show. From here he has communication links to all parts of the the theatre and gives cues (qv) to all departments. The corner can be on either side of the stage but traditionally it is on the left (i.e. the prompt) side. Perversely some theatres have the prompt corner on the "opposite prompt" (OP) side of the st...

Not a dead body in a thriller! An actor who gets an unintended and uncontrollable fit of laughter on stage is said to "corpse".

Cross Fade
Lighting term: fading one lantern (or group of lanterns) up while fading another down.

Compact Source Iodide: a type of discharge lamp, usually used in follow-spots, which, although very small (often no bigger than a finger nail), gives a very bright, white light. A 2K CSI lamp will give the same power as a 5K tungsten. These are, needless to say, very expensive.

An instruction given by the Stage Manager to one of the technical departments to take some action; e.g. LX cue 7 is the seventh instruction in the play to the lighting department. Also used in the sense of the point at which an actor must enter or speak.

Curtain Call
Taking a bow in front of the audience at the end of a show. Usually abbreviated to "curtain".

A free-standing piece of scenery, e.g.a tree, cut out of board into the correct shape and painted.

Also known as a cyc. A very large piece of white fabric, tensioned on two or more sides, which covers the entire back wall of the stage. It can be lit in various colours or have slides or gobos projected onto it.

Sound recording term: digital audio tape. A very high quality audio recording method in which sound is digitally recorded on tape (often video S-VHS tapes are used).

Lighting term. Dead blackout: a sudden, instantaneous switching off of all lights.

Deputy Stage Manager
(DSM) The deputy to the Stage Manager (qv). He usually runs the corner (qv) and is therefore responsible for the minute by minute running of the show.

Designs all aspects of the production: set, costumes, wigs, make-up etc.. Not, however, responsible for lighting design, although he will work closely with the Lighting Designer (qv).

See "Board"

A production is said to die if it fails to please the public and so is taken off. In the much less polite circles of the variety world, a show or act which fails to draw applause is said to "die on its arse".

A piece of equipment for varying the amount of electricity sent to a lantern, thus varying its brightness. Sometimes (inaccurately) used for the fader which controls the dimmer. Originally dimmers were variable resistors but now are either thyristors or triacs, i.e. they work electronically rather than by physically moving a resistor along a coil of wire. The verb "to dim" can be used to mean in...

Electrical socks set into the floor of either the stage or the wings (qv), and, usually, covered by little trapdoors.

In control of all aspects of the production.(S)he develops the concept of the production, briefs the designer and lighting designer, plots the actor's moves, rehearses the actors, etc. etc. etc..

One actor taking more than one part in a play.

Towards the audience.

One whose job it is to help an actor (or actors) in quick changes of costume.

Verb: an actor who forgets his words is said to "dry". Can also be used as a noun.

Down stage left: towards the front of the stage on the left-hand side as you look at the audience.

Down stage right.

Effects Spot
A spotlight (qv) which projects a slide, or a still or moving picture, i.e. of rain or clouds, onto the stage or, more usually, the cyclorama.

Sound and lighting term: to increase (fade up), decrease (fade down) or eliminate (fade out) gradually the brightness of a lantern or the volume of a sound.

Fit up
Not something done by the police (allegedly!), but actually building up the set (qv) on-stage.

An oblong frame of timber, covered with either canvas or hardboard and painted, which forms part of the set. There are also door flats, window flates, even fireplace flats. Canvas flats, being lighter and easier to move around, are the preferred option, but schools often go for hardboard-covered flats which are more hardwearing.

A rather old-fashioned term for Footlights (qv).

A floodlight: a lantern which gives a wide-spreading, unfocused beam of light. These can be symmetric (i.e. casting the light equally in all directions) or asymmetric (casting it more in one direction than the others). The symmetric flood is probably the cheapest stage lantern - and the least useful!

Verb: scenery which is raised into the roof (flown out) or lowered on the stage (flown in). The apparatus for doing this consists of a series of ropes and pulleys in the "fly tower" (a very high roof space) and they raise or lower the scenery by means of a counterweight system or by directly pulling on "hemp lines". The men who operate the "flies" are called "flymen" and the area in which ...

Verb used in lighting: to point the lanterns (qv) in the right direction and set the correct beam-spread and edge.

Front of House: anything which happens on the audience side of the curtain is said to happen "front of house". The term "the house" is used to mean either the auditorium, or the audience ("We had a good house tonight"), or even the theatre itself. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is also known as "The House" (with capital letters, of course!).

A type of profile (qv) spotlight (qv) with an irs diaphragm and a handle so that it can be used to follow a performer around the stage in a beam of light of exactly the right size. Traditionally called a "lime": hence the term "being in the limelight". These produce a very bright beam of light which is more powerful than that produced by any other lanterns. Modern limes almost always use CSI l...

A series of floodlights (qv) placed on the stage floor along the front of the stage. Traditional in variety theatres, foots are nowadays rarely used.

A kind of spotlight (qv) in which the light is concentrated by a fresnel lens (a lens with concentric ridged rings). Projects a variable angle soft-edged beam. Sometimes called a frênel and given the French pronunciation.

Effects: usually sound effects in the theatre but can also refer to pyrotchnics (qv). In film, usually refers to visual (i.e. computer generated) effects.

The focal plane of a profile spot (qv) into which gobos (qv) and iris diaphragms can be placed.

A loosely-woven cloth (qv) on which a scene can be painted. When lit from the front, it is opaque and only the painted scene is seen; when lit from behind, however, it becomes transparent. Commonly used in pantomime.

A filter placed over the front of a lantern to change the colour of the light.

Get Out
(Not what the director says when he fires you. Well, not only that!) A touring theatre term: "getting out" the scenery, props etc. from the theatre onto the transport. The opposite (remarkably enough!) is the "get in".

Go Up
In theatre slang, a show does not start, it "goes up"; i.e. the curtain goes up.

A piece of metal or glass, which fits into the gate of a profile spot (qv) and projects a pattern onto the set. Gobos can be very complex. They are first fitted into a gobo holder. Holders vary in size (each type of lantern requires a different size), although the gobos themselves are of a standard size. Most basic gobos are made of metal but very complex patterns can be created on glass gobos.

A term little used nowadays, it originated (I think!) in radio. It means sound equipment and/or the sound department (from - obviously! - gramaphone).

A room backstage, often licensed, in which the company can sit and relax before, during or after a show. Once common, greenrooms are rarely found in modern theatres.

A battern (qv) placed on the floor of the stage, usually to light a cyclorama (qv). Also occasionally used to mean freestanding scenery, of a low height, running along the back of the stage in front of the back wall or cyclorama.

Half (The)
Half an hour before the first actors are due on stage (i.e. 35 minutes before the show begins). All actors must be in their dressing rooms by the Half. Traditionally the audience is allowed into the auditorium at that point. Traditionally too, the House Manager blows a whistle in the auditorium to announce the Half.

See FoH.

House Manager
In charge of everything which happens front of house (FoH (qv)): box office, ushers/usherettes, the bars, cash, etc..

House Tabs
The curtains across the front of the stage.

Old fashioned term for the female jvenile lead.

An American term for lantern (qv), what in domestic terms we mean by the word "light".

The safety curtain (qv).

A type of connector used in sound equipment; sometimes called a phone jack. There are two types, mono and stereo, found in two sizes (standard: 6.3mm and mini: 3.5mm). At one time most sound equipment used standard jacks, but now they are usually only used on line-level gear: microphones normally have XLR (qv) connectors.

Abbreviation for Juvenile Lead: the young male main part.

High stands for hanging lanterns at the side of the stage. Not for climbing!

In the theatre, the bulb which is fitted to what, in normal use, we call a light, is referred to as a lamp.

What in normal English we call a light, in the theatre is called a lantern. Actually, it's a slightly old-fashioned expression: luminaire is used more often nowadays, whereas some prefer the American term instrument.

Stage left, or the LHS as you face the audience. Also called the Prompt Side or PS.

Curtains used to cover the wings (qv).

American term for a profile spot. Originally a brand name.

See Follow Spot. Lime is an old-fashioned word, going back to the earliest days of stage lighting.

Line level
Sound term, referring to non-microphone inputs: CD, tape, MIDI.

The more modern term for Lantern.

Electrics. The title is given to the lighting department, and the Chief Electrician is known as the Chief LX.

An electrically fired thunderflash, set off in a steel tank fitted with a wire mesh top, to simulate an explosion. These are so loud that it is as well to inform the police in advance if one is to be set off (and at what time), so that they can be ready to deal with hundeds of reports of bombs going off!