How to understand theatre language, terms and definitions

From the outside the theatre industry can feel daunting, especially if you don’t understand some of the language or jargon that people use. Our beginner’s guide to the theatre industry is a great starting point to help you understand the basic theatre terms and definitions to words such as ‘the half', ‘tabs’ and ‘wings' and so much more. So next time you’re going to an audition, job interview or starting some work experience you’ll be able to show off your expert theatre industry knowledge by using these theatre terms.



Can refer to Artistic Director or Assistant Director

Ad Lib

From Latin phrase 'Ad libitum' which translates to 'at one's pleasure'. For an Actor to speak and move in character without direction or following the script. Often used if a mistake is made and the actor improvises to get back to the script


Someone who acts on behalf of Performers to help find them work

Am Dram

Amateur dramatics, non-professional theatre


The front of the stage that juts out in front of the proscenium arch

Artistic Director

Someone who oversees the artistic programme of the theatre as well as managing funding, budgets and staff


Assistant Stage Manager


A type of interview for a Performer to showcase their talents and check their suitability for a role



The call given to Actors five minutes before the start of the performance to ensure they are in position


The instructions of where the Actors need to stand or move


The American equivalent of the West End, located in Manhattan, New York. A central area for performances such as plays and musicals


Call times

The time in which you must arrive for your rehearsals or for the show


The communication system between departments, usually through a headset

Centre stage

The middle of the stage


A sequence of steps and movements for staged dances and performances

Colour-blind casting

Casting an Actor for their ability over what their appearance is. Often used for characters where race, gender or ethnicity is not mentioned in the play


A drama school or performing arts training institution with conservatoire status, meaning training is particularly intensive


Company Stage Manager


A trigger for an action to happen

Curtain call

The end of the show, usually when the actors take their bows



When a theatre is not currently being used for performances


The front of the stage, nearest the auditorium

Drama school

A school which specialises in teaching about performance and theatre

Dress run

A rehearsal in costume where the full production is performed


Deputy Stage Manager


A part of a play with speaking roles for only two Actors


Ed Fringe

Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world. It takes place every August, with a large number of performances at different venues across the city.

End on

When the audience is on one side of the stage


A group of Actors who play background roles and appear in multiple scenes, can also be used to refer to an entire theatre company


A union for people working in the performing arts, including Actors



The rigging system made up of ropes and pulleys that enables Stage Crew to quickly move large pieces of scenery

Fourth wall

A metaphor for the invisible and imaginary 'wall' between the Actors on stage and the audience

Fringe theatre

Theatre that is experimental in style or subject matter. The term comes from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Fringe are small-scale theatres often located above pubs, and are the equivalent of New York's Off-Off-Broadway Theatres and Europe's 'free theatre' groups


Get in

Fitting of the set in the theatre

Get out

Taking down and removing the set from the theatre

Going dark

Warning called when the lights are about to be turned off



The call given to Actors half an hour before they are to be called to start the performance. This is given at 35 minutes before the start of the show


Professional photograph of yourself which you hand out at auditions and to Agents


The auditorium

House lights

The lights in the auditorium



Short hand for improvisation where an Actor comes up with lines on the spot, unrehearsed

In the round

When the audience sit on every side of the stage


Safety curtain used to separate the stage from the audience in case of a fire



The lighting department



Afternoon performance of a show


A speech by only one Actor


An Actor who plays more than one character in a play


NT Live

An initiative created by the National Theatre where they broadcast their productions live via satellite to cinemas and arts centres around the world


Press night

Launch night of a production which invites members of the press to review the production for their publication e.g The Stage


A set of performances for the public before its official opening. They are used by Directors to highlight any problems and correct them before opening/press night when critics review the production


Someone who tells Actors their lines if they forget them, or the act of telling actors their lines if they have forgotten them



Research and development - often used to explore a new idea/concept


A system of theatre where one group of Actors appear in multiple productions at the same time. Often shortened to just Rep


A re-staging of a production after its original run has closed


A system of ropes and chains to support some sort of frames i.e. the set of a production or lighting


The Royal Shakespeare Company. A theatre company who perform the works of Shakespeare and Playwrights of today. Their main home is in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace.



Text of a play


William Shakespeare. English Poet, Playwright and Actor. Regarded as the greatest Playwright in the English language and the world's greatest Dramatist


A performance for Performers to showcase their talent to industry professionals in a hope of gaining work and or an Agent


Used in musical theatre and opera - first rehearsal between the Singers and the Orchestra


Stage Manager


Society of London Theatre is the trade organisation representing West End theatres and other major London theatres


A casting notices website

Stage left

Left hand side of the stage in accordance to those on the stage facing the audience (if you are standing on the stage looking out to the auditorium, this will be on your left)

Stage right

Right hand side of the stage in accordance to those on the stage facing the audience (if you are standing on the stage looking out to the auditorium, this will be on your right)


First run of the show in order of events


To remove the set from the stage


Short hand for sound


Tech Run

A rehearsal to practice the technical elements of the performance

The Stage

The world's oldest and best theatre publication, offering theatre news from London's West End and across the UK, including news, jobs and interviews. Visit


A type of staging which includes the stage extending past the proscenium arch into the auditorium. The thrust will have audience sit on three sides of the stage

Top and tail

Running through the play in sections where the cues need to be practised, such as a lighting or sound change. The Actors will only say the lines at the beginning and end of each section for the cues


Type of staging where the audience sit on either side of the stage, facing each other


UK Theatre

UK's leading theatre and performing arts membership organisation. They promote excellence, professional development and campaign to improve resilience and increase audiences across the sector


The back of the stage, nearest the backdrop



A department within a production or theatre where all costumes and props are made, kept and maintained

West End

The main commercial and subsidised theatres in London, including its oldest and most prestigious venues. The British version of Broadway


The sides of the stage (offstage)



A form of documented theatre in which plays are constructed from the precise words spoken by people interviewed about a particular event or topic

Video Reel

Often referred to as a showreel, it is a short edited video which showcases an individual's previous work in video

Voice Reel

A short edited video which showcases an individual's previous voice work on video

Find more theatre careers advice here


Photo: Arts Educational Schools, London

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