Defining theatre terminology
The theatre is a magical place. For some, they cannot wait to get out there in front of an audience. For others, there is a special kind of beauty to working behind the scenes. The theatre has its own language, too. During our recent summer drama camps, students learned a few of these terms and just for fun, I’m going to share some of the Theatre Dictionary with you.
Down is Front. Yep, Down is anything at the front of the stage, closest to the audience. Up, therefore, is Back, furthest away from the audience. Why? Because a long time ago, the stage used to be “raked” on an angle, instead of the audience area being tiered. So literally, if you walked toward the audience, you were walking “Down the Stage”. Imagine your dance recital on that stage!
Right is Left and Left is Right. Sure… because when we say Stage Right, we mean from the point of view of the performer, facing the audience. Which, of course, is the audience’s Left. Makes sense, right? Or left? Now I’m confused… As a side note, dance teachers very often face their students when teaching, and they have to reverse directions too. Standing in front of a class, traveling to my right, and saying with all certainty “move left” was my life for many years. So much so that when I started driving and someone told me to turn, I would think “wait, is that Dance Teacher’s Right, or Normal Person’s Right?” causing no end of confusion.
A Strike is a lot of work. Usually if someone goes on Strike it means they stop working, but in the theatre, it means the process of taking everything apart at the end of a show. Which means lots of road cases to load and a about million miles of cable to coil.
When someone says “move those Legs” they don’t actually want you to hurry. They’re asking you to change the position of the curtains on the side of the stage, between which are created the Wings. You can’t stand on these Legs, but you can stand in the Wings. But they won’t help you fly. Sounds logical.
The House is not actually where you live. Unless you work in theatre, and then some days it feels like it. The audience seating area is referred to as the House, as is the size of the audience. So, if I ask what the House Count is, I want to know how many people are attending the show, but if I say Open the House, it means it’s time to let the audience in.
Marking is a means of identifying locations. Marking the stage means putting special tape on the floor to indicate where objects will go or people will stand. Sometimes Center is marked so performers know their place relative to the rest of the space. Corners or x’s are marked so that the stage crew know exactly where to place the set piece so no one runs into it in the dark.
The Apron is not what Grandma wears over her dress. It is a section of the stage floor that goes toward the audience, in front of the House Curtain. In most theatres this is where someone would stand to speak before the show starts, thus hiding the set behind the curtain. At Horizon Stage, it’s the area that most musicians tell you is “a great dance floor!” and goes right up to the front rows in all three sections. We also call it the “baby mosh pit” when we do our Munchkin Matinee shows, because that’s where all the toddlers get up and bust a move.
And what’s with “Break a Leg”? Why would you wish this on anyone? It’s actually a superstitious and widely accepted alternative to 'Good Luck' (which is considered bad luck to say). There are many theories about where this phrase came from, none that can be verified of course, but if you’re bored one day, look it up on Dr. Google. Some of them are good for a chuckle.
Last one. This one is a term, but it’s also associated with another superstition. It’s referred to as Dark. It seems pretty easy to figure out; it’s an absence of light. True. Sort of. Because even if there is a blackout on stage, there will be a light on somewhere backstage or in a booth. Imagine walking around your house completely in the dark – no streetlight through the window, no stove clock display, no light in the fridge when you open the door… oh maybe that’s just me needing a midnight snack… Sorry. Anyway, you get the point, it would be dangerous to be completely dark. The other meaning for Dark is those days when there is no production or rehearsal in progress. Many Broadway theatres are dark on Mondays, ensuring that cast and crew get a day off. Now for the superstition part. Even when no one is in the theatre, and everyone has gone home, most theatres will never go entirely dark. One light is left on, usually at center stage, but not always. It’s sometimes called the Ghost Light. While it certainly has more practical reasons, the legend is that it is left on so the theatre ghost will feel welcome, and won’t cause any mischief.
Feeling well versed in theatre lingo now? I hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the language, simply for fun. Have a great weekend!
-Brandi Watson, Theatre Manager