A-Z of Theatre Terms
This glossary contains useful words and phrases that actors might use in Adopt an Actor.
A person employed by the theatre to perform in one or more of the plays of the season. At the Globe, actors rehearse for approximately six weeks working with directors, designers and professionals specialising in text, movement and voice.
The actor’s representative who helps the actor find auditions and work. The agent, not the actor, negotiates a contract with the theatre. This contract contains the agreement on both the actor’s wages and billing (where the actor should appear in the cast list/ programme - at the Globe, the actors are listed in alphabetical order). Only after an agreement has been reached can the theatre speak to the actor.
A permanent position within the theatre infrastructure, the artistic director is responsible for all matters concerning the artistic output of the theatre. Dominic Dromgoole is the Artistic Director of the Globe.
Some directors have an assistant director. They work very closely with the director and assist in any way that is appropriate. Each director tends to use the role of assistant director differently, the job may involve helping cast members with character or text work, or working on smaller scenes while the director is rehearsing with other cast members. The assistant director may also gather research materials for the actors and director. There are many different editions of Shakespeare’s plays and the assistant director is often responsible for cross-referencing all of these editions with the version of the play that the actors are using in the rehearsal room.
The roofed space above the stage where sound effects are created. It is from the attic that the actors would be lowered through the trap door onto the stage. It is also used as a rehearsal space, and to store props.
When actors audition they have an informal chat with the interviewers and then usually perform two speeches. Whether an actor is hired can depend on the strength of this performance; however the director may also take into account the actor’s suitability for their company in terms of both its ethos and the actor’s compatibility with the other company members.
At the Globe this term describes the area behind the frons scenae, though in other theatres this term can also be used to refer to all the departments working behind the scenes on a production. At the Globe, this backstage area is called the Tiring House.
This refers to the planned movements of the actors onstage.
An Elizabethan term used to describe the scraps and off-cuts of material left over after costumes or clothes have been made up.
The time at which an actor is due at the rehearsal room or theatre. During the rehearsal period an actor’s call time will vary from day to day, depending on the order in which the director wishes to rehearse scenes. When the play is in performance, the actor’s call time is always at least 35 minutes before the beginning of the performance.
Planned movements to music. Each production has a dedicated choreographer who helps to develop dances, jigs, or any other types of movement performed in the play.
Colour Blind Casting
When actors are cast in roles without consideration of their ethnicity.
The actors, technical crew and stage managers make up the company for each production.
The person responsible for dealing with all issues regarding the smooth running of all companies, which involves liaising between the actors, production team and management.
Laughing inappropriately on stage.
Journalists who come to see the performance and then write a review for their publication. Some actors feel that reading them, whether they are good or bad, brings bad luck. The stage manager will keep copies of the reviews for the actors to read if they want to.
For many reasons, a director may choose not to use a text in its entirety. The lines removed from the play are known as the cuts.
The person responsible for the overall look of the production, from the set right through to the make-up. At the Globe, set design is often kept to a minimum because the painting on the front of the tiring house (the frons scenae) cannot be changed. Designers can use different floor coverings, curtains across the frons scenae, or design various props, but the stage crew must be able to change the set in one hour because there are two different performances each day.
The person in overall artistic control of the production.
The space in the central opening which can be hidden by curtains that are pulled away to ‘discover’ a surprise event, object or moment, such as Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess in The Tempest. It is big enough to hold a bed and several actors or a small cast making up an army.
Member of the costume team who helps the actors get changed into their costumes before the performance and assists them with any quick changes they need to make during the show.
The final rehearsal before the production opens. This usually consists of a run of the play, complete with lighting, sound and costume. In essence, it is a complete performance, but without a paying audience.
When actors forget their lines on stage, they are said to have ‘dried’.
Similar to producer but without the responsibility for raising capital. At the Globe the executive producer works with the artistic director to support and facilitate the creative process. Unlike a producer, they have no profit incentive.
A book made up of printed sheets that have been folded in half, to make four pages. Folio editions of Shakespeare’s plays contains all 36 of his plays plus his other printed works. Shakespeare’s own Quartos (see below), acting versions of the plays (cue scripts) and printed Quarto editions were combined by editors to create the text of the first folio edition (printed in 1623). However there are often many differences between the Folio and Quarto editions.
The back walls of the Globe stage that is decorated with mythological symbols and figures, and is often draped in hangings.
These four privileged seating areas on either side of the stage were the second most expensive seats in the original Globe and were decorated lavishly. In the reconstructed Globe, these boxes have recently been decorated with stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses as part of a research experiment into painting the Globe.
The green room is situated next to the dressing rooms and is a place where the actors can relax before they go on stage.
At the Globe, the stage is surrounded by a yard where spectators can stand to watch the performance. These spectators are known as groundlings. The groundlings have the best view of the Heavens.
The roof over the Globe stage, painted with stars, moons, and signs of the zodiac. This image reflects the Renaissance belief in the influence of the movements of the stars upon the world below.
The area underneath the stage where the stage trap door leads. It might be used for graveyard scenes by Shakespeare’s company, as a tomb or a place from where devils or witches appear.
A regular pattern of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables in a metric line of verse. There are five stressed syllables in one line of iambic pentameter – ‘pentameter’ comes from the Greek ‘pentametros’ (penta = five + metron = measure). Iambic pentameter resembles the rhythms of normal English speech. Noting which words are emphasized in this pattern often provides clues about the meaning of a line because often we stress the words we want the world to hear! Blank verse is written in this form.
This combines song, dance and game and was often performed at the end of the play in Shakespeare’s time as a way of bringing together the players and audience.
A scene or idea explored through performance but without script or preparation. Often used as a rehearsal technique to explore character, motivation, and plot.
In the round
A form of staging in which the audience is seated surrounding the stage instead of on one, two, or three sides. The Globe stage is technically a ‘thrust’ stage, where there is an unequal amount of seating on three sides. However, there is also seating for approximately twelve people in the Lords Room, above and behind the stage. This means that the actors do have audience all around them as they perform.
There is no lighting rig at the Globe. Afternoon performances are lit by the daylight that enters the roofless ‘O’ of the theatre. In the evening, special lights illuminate the whole theatre to recreate daylight: the actors and audience can still see each other and there are no lighting ‘effects’ such as spotlights.
A run of the play in which actors speak their lines but do not physically act out each scene. A line run can be used to help the actors explore the rhythms and pace of the play, or to focus their performance when resuming a run of a play after a break.
Lord Chamberlain’s Men
The Company of players Shakespeare joined in London. Shakespeare became a ‘sharer’ in the company, which involved sharing a portion of both their expenses and profits. When King James I became the Company’s patron in 1603, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the King’s Men.
located on the upper stage gallery, to the left and right of the musicians’ gallery; these were the most expensive seats in Shakespeare’s playhouse. Today, no one sits in the Lords’ Rooms, as they are used for stage action, but the name has remained.
Each day the actors have movement classes. They will be encouraged to develop an awareness of their bodies and to explore how they can be used to communicate essential information about character and the story of the play to the audience. Actors will also think about movement with specific reference to the Globe Stage.
An afternoon performance.
Meet and Greet
On the first day of rehearsals the Company receives a formal welcome from the Artistic Director, and are introduced to other members of staff at the Globe.
This term describes points when a play makes a self-conscious reference to its status as fiction, often by using a play-within-a-play to draw the audience’s attention to the role of the actors, dramatic techniques and the process of rehearsing and performing a play.
The person who controls the musical aspects of a production. They are responsible for coordinating the musicians and leading them in performance. For each production there is either a composer who creates an original score for the play, or an arranger who adapts pre-written music. All music at the Globe is performed live.
The balcony above the main playing space. To the left and right of the Musicians’ Gallery are the Lords’ Rooms.
This term to a realistic technique of acting, most commonly seen in television productions.
Off the book
The term used to describe the point at which actors have learnt their lines and no longer need to read from the script.
On its feet
A term used by actors to describe the process of physically acting a scene rather than simply reading the text or improvising around it. Actors and directors often refer to putting a scene ‘on its feet’.
This is a term used to describe a production that explores methods used in Elizabethan or Jacobean theatre. Strictly speaking, the term Original Practices defines a particular approach used by the Globe when Mark Rylance was Artistic Director. Under Dominic’s direction the Globe is continuing to explore some of these techniques.
These support the roof over the stage. They are made from wood but are decorated to look like marble. When Mark Rylance was Artistic Director he often called them the ‘Pillars of Hercules’. This is a reference to the Greek hero who, during the course of his labours, was tricked by Atlas into holding the Globe on his shoulders. It is likely that Hercules was also pictured on a sign for the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s time (see Hamlet II.2). Venus (goddess of love) is painted on one pillar and the other shows Mars (god of war). Harmony is painted between them on the frons scenae.
This is when critics are invited to watch the performance, and is officially the first night of a run.
Performances before the first night (press night) where there is a paying audience. These are not considered part of the run. These performances are the conclusion of the rehearsal process and provide the actors with the chance to experiment on stage in front of an audience. During the previews, the running time and pace of the performance become apparent, and the director may make cuts, or change the production in other ways as a result of this information.
An entity or individual who leads the production process. They decide on a project, raise the capital, engage the creative team and artists, plan logistics, plan and execute a marketing strategy, monitor and respond to box office intake, provide management support to the company. Also, the producer must ensure that the business aspects of this process make coherent financial sense and that the project will succeed. The producer usually enjoys a profit incentive.
The individual responsible for co-ordinating all elements of the production process including liaison between technical and performance crew. They ensure the design and technical aspects of the production do not exceed their budgets and that the performance itself is safe for the actors and crew members.
The final week of rehearsal during which all aspects of the production come together. The technical and dress rehearsals take place in production week.
This refers to a type of staging where the audience is not seated and can move around, viewing the performance from different perspectives.
The cue script. Cuts are marked in pencil, just in case the lines are re-instated. The deputy stage manager will write all the actors’ movements in it, and use it to prompt in rehearsal. This is also sometimes referred to as ‘the book’.
Properties (abbreviated to Props)
Items required during a scene that can be carried on and off. ‘Rehearsal props’ are used before the actual performance to help actors become accustomed to using their props on stage, and to prevent the performance props from becoming lost or damaged.
A book made from printed sheets that have been folded in half twice to make eight pages. Many of Shakespeare’s plays were printed individually in Quarto form and such editions are sometimes referred to as first and second Quartos or the first and second editions. The Good Quartos are those that used Shakespeare’s own play scripts as their source.
The initial reading of the play by the company. The actors usually, but not always, sit in a circle and read the play from beginning to end. This marks the start of the rehearsal process.
In the last stages of rehearsal the play is re-rehearsed to adjust scenes where necessary in order to prevent the cast from getting too comfortable with the play and to keep the production fresh.
The total number of performances of a production.
The text of the play.
A small microphone placed on stage which transmits the audio of a performance to speakers backstage in the Green Room and dressing rooms. This is so that the actors can hear when they need to prepare to go on stage. In Shakespeare’s time, no such relay was possible and the whole cast had to wait in the tiring house during the show.
The stage manager is the person in charge behind the stage, coordinating the actors and the stage management team. They are present at all rehearsals, responsible for keeping ‘the book’ and for organising actors’ calls for the following day. At the Globe, there can be up to four stage managers per production.
Stage Right/ Stage Left
The sides of the stage from the actor’s point of view. For example, stage right is always on the audience’s left-hand side.
This refers to the technique of acting developed by Russian actor Constantin Stanislavski, which encouraged actors to use the process of inquiry into the character as a catalyst for the creative development of their role.
Technical Rehearsal (abbreviated to ‘tech’)
The first rehearsal where all the different parts of the production are brought together. The musicians perform live for the first time and the actors are in full costumes and use their performance props. All the sound cues are tested, at theatres other than the Globe lighting cues will be tested as well. The technical rehearsal is lengthy, often taking place over several days, as it will stop and start repeatedly.
This is the part of the rehearsal process where the actors can work with a specialist in order to fully understand the text.
The building at the back of the Globe stage where the actors wait when they are not on stage (where they retire), and also where they change their costumes (their attire). During a performance, the tiring house staff can consist of two production stage managers, two technical stage managers and people from the wigs, props (design), and wardrobe departments.
Literally, trap doors. At the Globe, there is one in the floor of the stage and one in the Heavens from which actors can be raised up or lowered onto the stage.
An actor who prepares to perform a role that has already been cast just in case the original actor is unable to perform. Those actors who understudy a major part often have smaller roles in the same play. There are no understudies at the Globe.
A body of writing that uses a regular metre and is separated from other lines by a space. Shakespeare uses blank verse which is a line of iambic pentameter that ends in an unrhymed or ‘blank’ syllable.
Each day, the actors have voice classes. On the most basic level this helps them to strengthen and develop their voices. The specialist will also help them to develop any accents they have to use, and to convey a sense of their character through their speech.
An entrance to the auditorium. At the Globe, these are the doors into the yard from the piazza.
A set of physical and vocal exercises used by the actors to relax, focus, and prepare their bodies and voices before a performance.
The open area, without seats, at the centre of the Globe Theatre, directly in front of the stage. Up to 700 people can stand in the yard to watch a performance. These members of the audience are referred to as ‘groundlings’.