Theatre Terminology Learning the Ropes

Theatre Configuration

A proscenium configuration, or proscenium arch, is the typical "picture frame" stage configuration, where the audience is on one side and the stage is on the other.

ACMA Main Stage
Thrust Seating

In a thrust seating configuration, the audience is on three sides of the stage, and the action is "thrust" into the audience. There might be some scenery on one side of the stage.

Proscenium Stage
In the Round

With theatre "In the round", actors are surrounded by the audience on all sides. Scenery is very minimal, and usually consists of furniture that can be moved on and off stage.


An amphitheater is an open or outdoor performance space.

The apron is the stage floor between the front edge of the stage and the front curtain.

Acting Terms and Tools

Active listening is to derive meaning and your character's motivation through listening to the other actor(s) and their lines.

When characters speak to the audience and the other characters in the scene supposedly do not hear them, it is called an aside. Asides are often found in Shakespeare.

Blocking is the planned movements and actions that take place onstage.

To cheat out is to slightly turn yourself towards the audience while playing a scene.

On book is when someone has a script in hand, onstage or offstage, ready to read the line to someone who has forgotten it.

Off book is when an actor is completely memorized, and does not need the script.

Calling line is when an actor who has forgotten the line, calls to someone offstage who is on book, ready to give the line.

A chorus is either a group of actors that speaks their lines together and comment on or narrate parts of the play (typically found in Greek plays) or an ensemble of singers in a musical other than the principals.

To cross is to move across the stage.

To counter-cross is to move in the opposite direction and/or out of the way of another actor who is crossing the stage.

Your diaphragm is the muscle below the rib cage that helps with the volume and projection of your voice.

Breaking character is when you drop the character you are playing during performance.

actors stand downstage

Downstage: the area of the stage closest to the audience

A dramaturg evaluates scripts and researches the historical elements of the play being produced.

An ensemble of actors works together to create an artistic whole rather than a focus on individual actors.

Foil characters contrast sharply with the main character/protagonist.

The fourth wall is the imaginary wall through which the audience views a play. To break the fourth wall is to address the audience directly, showing that the character(s) know that the audience is there and that they are in a play.

A read-through or table read is when the cast and crew sit around a table to read through the script and take notes. This is the first thing you do when you start performances, as it familiarizes the cast and crew with the play if they weren't already familiar.

Motivation is the reason a character behaves the way they do.

Objectives are a character's goals.

Goal, objective, target

Picking your up cues means to start speaking right after the cue line, or line before yours, so there is little to no dead space between the cue line and your line. This helps the action of the play flow quickly and keeps the audience entertained.

A monologue is when one actor speaks for a long period of time to the other characters on stage.


Auditors are the people conducting the audition.

Closed auditions are only open to union members or those represented by an agent.

When you audition without having read the script, it is a cold reading.

Your slate is when you say you name, your piece and your agency at the beginning of an audition.

Raising the stakes is making the objective, or goals, more important to the character, and fighting for your goals harder, thus making the conflict more interesting to the audience.

Raise the stakes!
Styles of Theatre

Comedy of manners is a comedic style of theatre that mocks the upper-class.

Commedia Dell'Arte

Commedia Dell'Arte involves improvisation and archetypal characters. The action is typically very physical and exaggerated, there are stock jokes for each character, and the actors often wear masks with familiar features for each of the characters they play.

Epic theatre dramatically encourages the audience to consider political and social issues.

A farce is an exaggerated, physical comedy in which events escalate until they are nearly unbelievable.

Kabuki Theatre

Kabuki theatre is stylized Japanese drama.

A melodrama is an overly dramatic play that focuses more on overly emotional acting and high-stakes action than character development or real problems. Soap operas are very melodramatic, for example.

A tragedy is a form of drama based on human suffering that invokes an accompanying catharsis or pleasure in audiences.

Catharsis is the process of releasing emotions.

A comedy historically has a happy ending. In our modern definition, we expect them to be funny as well.

Technical Terms

Strike is when the set is taken down. When costumes or props are put away, they have been struck.

Talk about strikes.

If someone says "hold," freeze all action onstage and be silent. You will hear this often in teching for a show, either for tech adjustments or because something is unsafe.

If someone yells out "going dark," be prepared for an immediate blackout. Stay where you are and stay silent.

If you hear that something is "coming in," watch your head; something is about to be lowered onto or above the stage. This warning is usually accompanied by a stage direction of where the object is being flown in.

If you hear "stage clear," be prepared to vacate the stage, most likely for a large object being flown in. This is usually used in conjunction with "coming in" and a stage direction to send a warning to a certain part of the stage.

If someone mentions a "cue," they will most likely be referring to lighting cues, which are the moments for each lighting scene. If you do a cue-to-cue, you are doing a relatively quick run that goes from light change to light change.

Stage Directions
A diagram for stage directions with the apron in the front

The apron is the front of the stage, usually a rounded platform along the curtain line.

Center stage is in the middle of the stage between stage left and right and downstage and upstage.

Horizontal stage directions are respective to the actors, therefore stage left is to their left and stage right is to their right.

Vertical stage directions are respective to the audience, therefore downstage and upstage are forwards and backwards for the actors.


Created with images by creatorfromthebasement - "theater ancient monument" • CharmaineZoe's Marvelous Melange - "Mastbaum Theatre, Phildelphia, PA in 1929 - Proscenium arch and drapes" • Gabriele Barni - "Old theatre" • D-Stanley - "Roman Amphitheater" • - "A "Sunny" personal tape player" • SocialAlex - "Wooden Toy Blocks" • Wicker Paradise - "Power of Books Glass-Topped Side Table" • dickuhne - "we don't know" • nyaa_birdies_perch - "chorus group "sakura"" • nightowl - "railroad crossing signs" • usfpasj - "DUST_Downstage_Line" • katerha - "Oh no, Jessica's plans were foiled again." • Unsplash - "architect desk office" • mickrh - "target archery arrow" • NathanReed - "P1060066" • geralt - "board school perfection" • r.nial.bradshaw - "nikonONE-TOUCH-200_158-015" • em_diesus - "Comici della commedia dell'arte" • GanMed64 - "Ebizo Ichikawa XI, Kabuki, Sadler's Wells Theatre, London - 11 June 2010" • skeeze - "george raft frances drake actor" • skeeze - "george burns gracie allen comedy team" • keijj44 - "softball girls softball athlete" • skeeze - "lightning strike night" • igb - "Lucky Strike" • BruceEmmerling - "atlantic city new jersey taj mahal" • Akrodym - "billiards sphere blue"

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