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40 Theatre Terms Every Thespian Should Know

You nearly missed your call time, were thrown into a cold read and are hoping for a callback for that audition… and your non-theatre friends have officially stopped listening. As with any industry, the theatre is full of jargon that can sound pretty silly to the outside world.

This week, Theatre Nerds is rounding up 40 terms that we think every thespian (as well as their perplexed friends and loved ones) should know. Start studying!

1. BLOCKING – Rather than standing in front of someone so that they can’t get by, ‘blocking’ in the theatre world refers to the exact placement on a stage where an actor needs to be during a scene.

2. CALL TIME – The time in which an actor must be present at the theatre for an audition, rehearsal or show. No phones are involved with this kind of call.

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3. COLD READING – Put your tissues away. This simply means to read a script with little to no preparation. No rehearsing for you – you’re going in cold!

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via GIPHY

4. CURTAIN CALL – That magical moment after a production when the cast comes out for a bow and applause.

5. DOWNSTAGE – The front of a stage where performers are closest to the audience.

6. DRAMATURGY – A study of the context in which a production takes place. Generally, a bunch of actors (or a person assigned to the role of dramaturg) research a play’s specific era, location, societal beliefs, traditions, etc. to gain a better understanding of the world where the story is set.

7. DRESSER – A stagehand who aids in keeping costumes neat and tidy, as well as helping performers during costume changes. Not to be confused with a piece of furniture.

8. ENCORE – That epic musical number that occurs after audiences have applauded the finale of a show and cast members have given a closing bow.

via GIPHY

9. FOURTH WALL – Sounds like something from the Twilight Zone but is really the conceptual barrier between actor and audience member. Performers that “break the fourth wall” address the audience.

10. FRINGE – Thespian lingo for theatre that is out of the box, avant garde and experimental.

11. FRONT-OF-HOUSE – Areas of a theatre or performing arts venue where the public can be. Antonym: backstage.

12. GHOST LIGHT – A light that stays illuminated on a stage when the auditorium is otherwise unoccupied. Naturally this term was coined by a thespian and therefore super dramatic (and creepy).

13. GOBO – A fancy term for light-based projections that are used during a theatrical production.

14. LOGE – A section of boxed balcony seats located in a theatre.

15. METHOD ACTING – When actors try to achieve complete emotional understanding of their character (i.e., adjusting their lifestyle to align with a role as part of the rehearsal process).

16. OFF BOOK – When actors can finally toss the script aside because they have their lines memorized.

17. OPEN AIR THEATRE – An outdoor theatre.

18. ORCHESTRA – While even non-theatre folks know that the orchestra can refer to live instruments accompanying a show, the term also defines a venue’s main floor seating.

19. PROSCENIUM – The arch or boarder that frames a stage.

20. QUICK CHANGE – A really, really, really, really, really, really fast costume change.

21. RUN THROUGH – When a cast rehearses their entire show from beginning to end.

22. SCRIM – A piece of cloth that’s used as a backdrop on-stage (often lit from behind to create the scene).

23. SITZPROBE – A magical rehearsal where singers and musicians unite to run through musical numbers together.

24. SOLILOQUY – When a character expresses internal thoughts or emotions verbally for the benefit of the audience. Basically, when a character talks to themselves.

25. STAGE DIRECTION – When a play’s text includes instructional movement or gestures.

26. STAGE DOOR – The secret place where theatre nerds fan-girl and get Playbills signed after a show.

via GIPHY

27. STAGE MANAGER – (Noun) A magical device usually fueled by caffeine that brings order to chaos. (We even put it on a shirt.)

28. STAGE MOM – Those super-moms that aid their thespian offspring in line running, costume sewing, prop making, shoe shopping, choreography watching, snack supplying, makeup applying, fundraising and more. (We put that on a shirt also.)

29. STRIKE – When the run of a show is done and everyone involved congregates to destroy the set. Tears are probably shed.

30. SUPERNUMERARIES – While this word reminds us of superheroes, it is the Individuals who are onstage during a show to fill in crowd scenes but aren’t actually actors, singers or dancers. (They may have superpowers as well.)

31. SWING – A thespian ninja who has the ability to jump into multiple roles as an understudy at any given moment.

32. TECHIE – A loving term of endearment for those who make the magic happen offstage (aka theatre technicians who work with lights, props, sets, etc.)

33. THEATRE-IN-THE-ROUND – A theatre with seats surrounding every side of the stage. They are also known as arena stages.

34. THE BARD – What ultra-theatre nerds call William Shakespeare.

35. THRUST STAGE – A stage that “thrusts” into the auditorium; there are seats surrounding three sides.

26. TYPECAST – When you’re just ALWAYS cast in a nerdy role. Or ALWAYS the villain. Or ALWAYS that cool sidekick who owns a hairless cat.

37. UNDERSTUDY – It’s like substitute teaching but one step closer to winning a Tony.

38. UPSTAGE – The back of the stage farthest from the audience.

39. UPSTAGED – This word also refers to that theatre kid who constantly tries to outshine everyone. *Cue Beyoncé’s “Diva”*

via GIPHY

40. WINGS – The area to the sides of the stage where all things important happen: quick changes occur, props await their moment in the sun, and performers enter onstage.

Have a thespian term you want to include? Share it with us in the comments below!

Written by Kailey Hansen

Kailey received her B.A. in English, studied Shakespeare in London and interned at an opera house.

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  1. Rigging-the act of hanging lights, speakers, chandeliers, and mics and praying they don’t fall down.
    Safety Cable-magical device use digital by riggers just in case the clamps fail
    Catwalk-a very bad place to be if you’re afraid of heights.

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