WARNING: What follows are definitions shaped from the experience and opinions of the author.
In other words, quote in a paper at your peril.
(Terms that are displayed as a "COLOR" are links that will jump to its definition within the Glossary.)
ABOVE (adj): UPSTAGE of an ACTOR or SET PIECE, away from the audience. One is ABOVE a table if the table is between oneself and the audience. Opposite of BELOW.
ACOUSTICS (n): The behavior of sound and its response to a specific environment. The nature of a room -- the materials of which it is comprised, as well as its physical shape -- can determine good or poor ACOUSTICS.
ACT (n): The larger division of a PLAY, comprised of SCENES. There is no proscribed number, but Shakespearean DRAMA tends towards five ACTS, while modern DRAMA tends toward less. An ACT, like a SCENE, is an indication from the PLAYWRIGHT that something to be considered in and of itself has taken place.
ACT (v): To take part in the craft of ACTORS. Acting exists somewhere between make-believe and schizophrenia, and is a far more difficult ART than the best make appear. Anyone who doubts this should start crying hysterically right now.
ACTOR (n): One who takes the idea of another person, both literally (the initial conception of the writer) and figuratively (the ACTOR'S own notion of a character), and makes the idea their own by physically embodying whatever facets speak to the ACTOR and DIRECTOR. The more aspects that can be touched upon, the better the portrayal, and thus the more genuine and appropriate the role. Hamlet is considered one of the greatest roles, because the CHARACTER speaks to so many intricacies of human nature, and gives an ACTOR room to flourish.
AD LIB (v): Unless it is called for (which is rare), an ACTOR'S last resort should they "go dry" (forget lines while performing), or when an entrance is mistimed. Basically, ACTORS say or do whatever comes to mind and seems appropriate, until they remember their lines or an entrance is salvaged, or another ACTOR delivers their own next line out of pity. (Meanwhile, the PLAYWRIGHT
and DIRECTOR turn inside-out in their seats, as the AUDIENCE whispers about the recent decline in their work.) That said, should anyone AD LIB in a scene involving IAMBIC PENTAMETER, the results can be worth the admission price ("Ah, marriage. We've all been there, right?" -- H. Harper in GOCA, 4/26/03).
ANGEL (n): Someone who agrees to underwrite the costs of a PRODUCTION. Like Lucifer, they often aspire to a higher level of overall involvement.
ANTAGONIST (n): The counterpart of a PROTAGONIST in DRAMA, the ANTAGONIST is a largely negative force, who though like the PROTAGONIST drives the action, seeks to do so in a manner detrimental to the hero. But, like a purely sympathetic PROTAGONIST, an utterly unsympathetic ANTAGONIST is boring and predictable. (See ANTIHERO.) Shylock, in The Merchant of Venice, is a prime example of a sympathetic, though malevolent, ANTAGONIST.
ANTIHERO (n): The most interesting character: a hero who might well do something bad, or a villain who might well do something good. The ANTIHERO's motivations mirror LIFE most closely, as we are never sure what will happen until it has happened.
ARISTOTLE (n): The seminal Greek philosopher whose Poetics is considered a sort of ancient primer on THEATRE. ARISTOTLE believed the primary purpose of THEATRE is CATHARSIS, which is plausible, but also that plays should be limited in terms of time (one day), location (one place) and action (one story). These disproved limitations are known as "The Unities," and are acknowledged in academia, but rarely observed in reality.
ART (n): A precise balance of space and negative space, with an idea interwoven.
ASIDE (n): A theatrical device where an ACTOR speaks a line or lines "heard" only by the audience -- the other ACTORS react as though nothing has been said. See the first line spoken by Hamlet.
AUDIENCE (n): The only unpredictable aspect of THEATRE for which no methodology of control or temperance has evolved.
AUDITION (n): How ACTORS "try out" for a role. A necessary evil leaving far more disappointed than happy. ACTORS usually have a prepared MONOLOGUE, which they feel best showcases their talents. Or, they might be asked to read from whatever play is being performed, which is a bit cruel given that ACTORS prefer to inhabit characters rather than meet them briefly.
BLACK COMEDY (n): A darkly humorous method of telling or portraying a story. Out of favor in an age where finding reason for offense is an industry unto itself. A Fish Called Wanda is a good example -- the more dead dogs, the blacker it gets.
BLOCKING (n): An enormous part of THEATRE that if done well, is unnoticeable, except when used to illustrate a point, using motion as a metaphor. It is the reason people do not run into one another on stage, as the DIRECTOR and PLAYWRIGHT predetermine movements.
BOOK (THE) (n): Usually kept by the STAGE MANAGER, it is a copy of the final SCRIPT, with all various cues noted with utmost precision. Immediately prior to opening night, it could be kidnapped and held for ransom.
CALL (n): The time a certain group of actors is supposed to be in a certain place. Honored more often than not in the breach.
CAST (n): The group of ACTORS that portrays the characters of a given PLAY.
CAST(ING) (v): The decision that leads to one being included in the above.
CATHARSIS (n): An ideal purpose of THEATRE. A profound spiritual, mental, and/or emotional release brought about by a well-written, well-performed story; one which touches so deeply that it takes root, and must be yanked free.
CHARACTER (n): Very simply, what an ACTOR embodies. Simply, a quasi-imaginary personage who is used as a tool in the relation of a PLAY by the PLAYWRIGHT. Psychoanalytically, a part of a writer's LIFE to a tiny or enormous degree, not happy where it was, that insisted on being expressed on paper and STAGE.
CHEKOV'S GUN (n): Playwright Anton Chekov's astute observation that, if someone pulls a gun out of a drawer in Act I, it should go off before the curtain falls. In other words, there are some actions, which if occurring within dramatic confines, that require justification. This is one way THEATRE differs from LIFE. On STAGE, if someone has been killed, and the suspects are Mr. A, Mr. B and Mr. C in a four-person play, the murderer is one of the three, or the detective investigating the case. In LIFE, the murderer is often Mr. Q, which is the DENOUEMENT of an unfamiliar knot and thus unfulfilling.
COMEDY (n): TRAGEDY that elicits neither true sympathy nor empathy. We often laugh to keep from screaming.
COMPANY (n): A theatrical group as a whole, in all aspects and responsibilities.
CONFLICT (n): Two forces meet; both must go forward. Their options are over, under, around or through. The process is what is worth watching.
CRITIC (n): There are a number of brilliant critics. Most lend the definite impression they could, in fact, take part in the field they critique. There are some who do not lend this impression, yet possess such passion for an ART that familiarity and education passes for such ability. The rest yell at the parade as it passes. Knowledge of facts does not imply nor create understanding of ART or its origins, any more than memorizing a dictionary makes one a writer. See EVERYONE.
CURTAIN CALL (n): Where people who were screaming, stabbing or otherwise evincing anti-social behavior moments before, walk out hand-in-hand to be showered with applause. Usually followed by hard liquor and tobacco.
CURTAIN TIME (n): The time a play is scheduled to begin. Often a fanciful notion.
DENOUEMENT (n): "The unraveling of the knot," created by the various interwoven conflicts of a PLAY. The bigger the knot, the more intriguing the conclusion. The resolution.
DEUS EX MACHINA (n): Literally, "the god from the machine." Figuratively, a grad student's metaphor for a force that appears unexpectedly to bring resolution. Most literally, in classical Greek theatre, a "god" was often lowered onto the stage by a machine, to end a conflict. Modern playwrights find it more difficult to get away with divine intervention as a plot twist, much less resolution. (Imagine Christ lowered to the ground with Godot in His arms. Or vice versa.)
DIALOGUE (n): Conversation between characters, which should not sound like WRITING. The line is fine, if not razor thin.
DIRECTOR (n): Someone whose job is to take a universe contained within a ream of paper and pull both viable human beings and an interesting story from it, with the creator of said universe hovering about, trying not to make suggestions, lest those who embody said human beings sense friction and run amok. Sentences such as, "Good, but try not to do it so badly this time" can make perfect sense from a director's mouth.
DRAMA (n): Often poorly described as a serious story, a DRAMA is a story based around a conflict or series of conflicts, and their eventual resolution. There can be a thousand laughs in a drama, bearing in mind there are a thousand types of laughs. COMEDY plus TRAGEDY, usually concentrating on the latter -- LIFE on wood, behind a curtain.
ECCYCLEMA (n): One of the conventions of Greek theatre was that violence take place OFFSTAGE. Its results, however, (mangled bodies, pieces thereof) were wheeled onto the stage using these devices.
EURIPEDES (n): Last of the three great Greeks (Aeschylus and Sophocles being the first, chromatically), he is believed by yr. author to have invented modern SUBTEXT in his play The Bacchants. There is an award-winning Masters Thesis waiting to happen in this idea. Look at the entirely rational Pentheus, his reaction when personified religion comes knocking, and the intentionally unbelievably violent ending. Aeschylus and Sophocles dealt with history and myth, but never made such a contextually-premised, utterly self-aware comment. Discuss among yourselves. FORUM
FORESHADOWING (n): The PLAYWRIGHT'S challenge to find a way to indicate Jane is Nick Parker's seldom-seen niece from London, whom he plans to murder, without doing the following:
(pulling a gun from a cabinet, and pointing it at JANE)
I loathe my family. Sit at the end of the dinner table this evening -- it would be a pity to ruin the tapestry.
As an example of how tricky foreshadowing can be, did anyone expect the cat to survive The BoondockSaints? All they did was show it once, and it was like the Hand of Death was reaching down to pet it. Foreshadowing, like EXPOSITION, is tricky, and if done clumsily brings the FOURTH WALL crashing down atop all involved in the PLAY. (See CHEKOV'S GUN.)
FOURTH WALL (n): A metaphysical construct representing the "wall" between THEATRE and AUDIENCE, which is maintained by willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the AUDIENCE, made possible by adequate WRITING, ACTING, and overall execution. (John Keats referred to the phenomena as NEGATIVE CAPABILITY.) The wall is necessary, but can occasionally have a brick or two skillfully removed, often to humorous or profound effect. See ASIDE.
The "heartbeat beat" of some SOLILOQUIES
And sonnets. SHAKESPEARE'S foremost mastery.
10 beats per line: soft-hard, soft-hard, soft-hard.
It's not that hard to write iambically.
(But William Shatner speaks iambically,
Though even when his words do not conform.)
LEGITIMATE THEATRE (n): (1) Established THEATRE that senses something new on the horizon, and feels the need to build a pillow fort through labels. (2) THEATRE that has forgotten that it once qualified as illegitimate. Anything goes in THEATRE, as long as it works. Artistically speaking, any story can be told, as long as it is told well. This holds true for works from Titus Andronicus to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
LIGHTING (n): An under appreciated aspect of THEATRE. Look at a lighting board sometime - pilot's and copilot's chairs feel appropriate. There really are a thousand shades of gray, and lighting specialists can shine them where they should be. Ours is named Jamie.
LIGHTING CUE (n): Essentially, "turn on the lights now." Of course, the color must be correct, with warmth, hue, timing, location. . .Few things are simple in this business.
MACBETH (n): One of SHAKESPEARE'S greatest plays. For at least one of a number of debatable reasons, it is considered extremely bad luck to mention the play in a THEATER, or even around ACTORS. One idea is that MACBETH was a popular play from its conception, and would be staged as a last resort by COMPANIES who were about to go under anyway. Another is that the witches' incantations have some occult basis in fact or power. Garry Wills posits that the play involved the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament. As far as curses go, how the play has been staged successfully countless time without incident begs question.
MELODRAMA (n): Usually definable upon recognition, a DRAMA so aware it is a DRAMA that it intensifies itself to the degree of disbelief on the AUDIENCE'S part. The overall theatrical equivalent of EMOTING on the part of an individual ACTOR.
MINIMALISM (n): Storytelling through implication. A subjective theatrical technique that relies upon individual interpretations. Embodies the reason Hitchcock rarely showed the monster.
PERFORMANCE (n): The end result of countless REHEARSALS, revisions, brainstorming sessions, cuts in scripts, additions of lines, added and removed characters, yelling, tears, hysterical laughter, and a thousand other attempts to whip ether. What will happen will happen, but with no small degree of similarity to the ideal, if one works with talented individuals who believe in a PLAY.
PLAY (n): A word with the remarkable property of having a dual meaning in most languages: 1) what children do to amuse themselves. 2) where adults go to purge themselves, if one subscribes to the ARISTOTLIAN view of DRAMA.
A good play is alive. There is an engine of sorts at work that drives it, and it concludes at a slightly different or utterly contrasting place for all who view it. Theatre's subjectivity sets it apart.
PLAYWRIGHT (n): An artist with a unique opportunity to see characters and situations conceived in the mind sometimes and ideally improved in reality, through the ART of others.
PLOT (n): The reasons and MOTIVATIONS for events that combine in and among themselves to create a PLAY.
POETRY (n): Words that prove more than the sum of their parts.
PRODUCTION (n): All that goes into staging a PLAY. The word should be much, much longer. Perhaps German.
PROPS (n): Physical tools used on STAGE, that if can be done without, should. But, if they are necessary, they must be absolutely appropriate.
PROTAGONIST (n): Supposedly the force for positive change, but a misnomer given that purely good versus purely bad equals purely dull. Hamlet is the protagonist of the play that bears his name. Almost all around him end up dead, arguably due to his inaction. THEATRE, like LIFE, is rarely subject to accurate generalizations.
RAINBOX (n): A box full of peas, marbles or the like shaken to simulate the sound of rainfall.
RANGE (n): The term can be defined absolutely by the comparison of Hugh Laurie's characters on House and Blackadder.
Prince Regent defines "fop" in his own right, while Greg House skirts the line of ANTIHERO. If exposed only to one, the man is damn near unrecognizable as the other -- that is range. Someone needs to get him onstage in Shakespeare immediately. Iago would be a good start, or maybe a younger Lear.
REHEARSAL (n.): (1) The process through which DIRECTORS impart to ACTORS the way their CHARACTERS are intended to be delivered, in terms of personality, physical movement, and every other conceivable aspect. ACTORS then do what they damn well please during PERFORMANCE. (2) What might have been.
REPERTORY (n): A theatrical organization where each production has a limited length. Usually there is one play in production, and one or two others at various stages thereof.
RUN (n): (1) The length of a PLAY'S performance, both in terms of sctual length (90 minutes, say), as well as the weeks or months it is staged by a company. (2) (v) To perform all or part of a play ("Run Act III without dropping any lines and we can go to the bar.").
SATIRE (n): A humorous, often bitingly so, representation or allusion to a specific event, place or individual. A masochistic metaphor.
SCENE (n): A sequence of events with a logical artistic rationale for being presented as separate in their own right. SCENES are comprised of LINES, and themselves comprise ACTS, which comprise a PLAY.
SCRIPT (n): A very educated guess of the best way to present an idea on a STAGE.
SET (n): The physical representation of the location or setting of a PLAY. A dining room would have a dining table. Or, the STAGE could be bare, and a CHARACTER could enter and say, "Nice furniture. When do we eat?" The SET can be in the AUDIENCE'S mind, if such a degree of MINIMALISM is appropriate.
SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM (n): An English PLAYWRIGHT and ACTOR, possessed of a way with words so immense people have taken to splitting him into pieces, usually named Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon and/or Ben Jonson. One common argument is that he could not have written so knowledgeably about so many things. This thinking fails to note that the best WRITING can imply familiarity with, for example, seamanship, without the author having ever hoisted a sail. Good WRITING is not so much saying something as making people believe it has been said. What qualifies good WRITING is that the reader wants to believe, lest the ride end too soon. No writer has ever acknowledged and explained more about humanity, one way or another -- Harold Bloom goes so far as to say Shakespeare invented the modern human.
STAGE MANAGER (n): The most under-appreciated and arguably most difficult job in theatre. All that happens is in their hands at the curtain's rise; the PLAYWRIGHT and DIRECTOR are in the AUDIENCE or behind the scenes, hoping for the best. ACTING CUES, LIGHTING CUES, SOUND CUES, and more all fall under their responsibility. Ever hear of a famous one? (Ours are named Megan and McKay.)
SUBTEXT (n): That which is said without words, from a contextual standpoint. For example, Arthur Miller's The Crucible deals with McCarthy-era America, from the setting of the Salem Witch Trials. (Of course, Communism was real, while witches were socio-religious constructs designed to maintain a brutal and fragile patriarchal system, but this is to quibble.) See EURIPEDES.
UPSTAGE (v): To (generally unexpectedly) steal a SCENE, one way or another. That said, the words "Congratulations for upstaging me last night" have never emerged sincerely from an ACTOR's mouth. Also, for one actor to literally be in the way of another, regarding the audiences' view of the actor who should be featured. Both definitions can lead to fights at the bar after the show.
Please check back periodically, as the PlaysInPerpetuity Glossary is a perpetual work in progress. If you have any suggestions/submissions, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any and all submissions and/or suggestions will become the property of World-Stage LLC, but you'll get full credit on this page.