Theatrical Terms - the Real Story
Dateline: 220th June, 1999
Like most human activties, theatre has a language all of its own, a jargon which the initiates use to separate themselves from outsiders. In amateur theatre (Alright, I'll be honest, in all theatre), the real meaning is often a couple of layers down. For instance, there is the process known as blocking, the setting of basic moves by the director at the beginning of the rehearsal period. New actors soon learn this meaning: it takes them much longer to learn the real meaning of the word!
So that's what this article is all about: the real meaning of all those theatrical terms you'll hear bandied about in amateur and professional theratres throughout the English-speaking world.
(Thanks to Jim H of Hawaii for sending it to me and to Chris Polo, the original author, for giving permission to reprint it.)
The time that passes between a dropped cue and the next line.
A hand-carried object small enough to be lost by an actor 30 seconds before it is needed on stage.
The individual who suffers from the delusion that he or she is responsible for every moment of brilliance cited by the critic in the local review.
The art of moving actors on the stage in such a manner as not to collide with the walls, the furniture, the orchestra pit or each other. Similar to playing chess, except that the pawns want to argue with you.
A rehearsal taking place early in the production schedule where actors frantically write down movements which will be nowhere in evidence by opening night.
Any show with which you were directly involved.
Every show with which you were not directly involved.
Rehearsal that becomes a whole new ball game as actors attempt to maneuver among the 49 objects that the set designer added at 7:30 that evening
The rehearsal when everything that was supposed to be done weeks before finally comes together at the last minute; reaches its grand climax on dress rehearsal night when costumes rip, a dimmer pack catches fire and the director has a nervous breakdown. Also known as hell!
An obstacle course which, throughout the rehearsal period, defies the laws of physics by growing smaller week by week while continuing to occupy the same amount of space.
That shining moment when all eyes are focused on a single actor who is desperately aware that if he forgets a line, no one can save him.
The night before opening when no rehearsal is scheduled so the actors and crew can go home and get some well-deserved rest, and instead spend the night staring sleeplessly at the ceiling because they're sure they needed one more rehearsal.
An opportunity for the actor with the smallest role to count everybody else's lines and mention repeatedly that he or she has the smallest part in the show.
Room shared by nervous actors waiting to go on stage and the precocious children whose actor parents couldn't get a baby-sitter that night, a situation which can result in justifiable homicide.
An area of the stage which the lighting designer has inexplicably forgotten to light, and which has a magnetic attraction for the first-time actor. A dark spot is never evident before opening night.
Appendages at the end of the arms used for manipulating one's environment, except on a stage, where they grow six times their normal size and either dangle uselessly, fidget nervously, or try to hide in your pockets.
Individual responsible for overseeing the crew, supervising the set changes, baby-sitting the actors and putting the director in a hammerlock to keep him from killing the actor who just decided to turn his walk-on part into a major role by doing magic tricks while he serves the tea.
Individual who, from the only vantage point offering a full view of the stage, gives the stage manager a heart attack by announcing a play-by-play of everything that's going wrong.
- among experienced community theater actors, a battered tackle box loaded with at least 10 shades of greasepaint in various stages of desiccation, tubes of lipstick and blush, assorted pencils, bobby pins, braids of crepe hair, liquid latex, old programs, jewelry, break-a-leg
greeting cards from past shows, brushes and a handful of half-melted cough drops;
- for first-time male actors, a helpless look and anything they can borrow.
The part of an actor's brain which contains lines, blocking and characterization;
activated by hot lights
The part of an actor's brain that keeps up a running subtext in the background while the forebrain is trying to act; the hindbrain supplies a constant stream of unwanted information, such as who is sitting in the second row tonight, a notation to seriously maim the crew member who thought it would be funny to put real Tabasco sauce in the fake Bloody Marys, or the fact that you need to do laundry on Sunday.
Group of individuals who spend their evenings coping with 50-minute stretches of total boredom interspersed with 30-second bursts of mindless panic.
Any play which its director describes as "worthwhile," "a challenge to actors and audience alike," or "designed to make the audience think". Critics will be impressed both by the daring material and the roomy accommodations, since they're likely to have the house all to themselves.
Any play which requires various states of undress on stage and whose set sports a lot of doors. The lukewarm reviews, all of which feature the phrase "typical community theater fare" in the opening paragraph, are followed paradoxically by a frantic attempt to schedule more performances to accommodate the overflow crowds.
Individual willing to undertake special projects that nobody else would take on a bet, such as working one-on-one with the brain-dead actor whom the rest of the cast has threatened to take out a contract on.
Any large piece of furniture which actors will resolutely use as a safety shield between themselves and the audience, in an apparent attempt to both anchor themselves to the floor, thereby keeping from floating off into space, and to keep the audience from seeing that they actually have legs.
Immediately following the last performance while all cast and crew members
are required to stay and dismantle, or watch the two people who own
Makita screw drivers dismantle, the set.
Copyright 1998 Mike & Chris Polo
The Community Theater Green Room