10 Terms to learn before going to the theatre

Learn these ten common theatre terms to avoid looking like a novice when you attend your next play...

As Shakespeare once taught us: “All the world’s a stage.” No matter how old you are, a trip to the theatre is always a magical experience. From the stunning architecture and plush red seats to the phenomenal performances by those on stage, you’re guaranteed to have a memorable time, and will likely be desperate to tell friends and family about the show.

To help you sound like a real pro when recounting the details, we asked the experts at leading language learning app Babbel to explain what some of theatre's more confusing turns of phrase actually mean. So, don’t wait any longer for your cue; read on and start adding some dramatic flair to your vocabulary!

 

1. Blocking 

Blocking involves assigning actors places to stand, sit or otherwise occupy space on stage at certain points throughout a show, and how and when to move from one place to another. 

This process is quite complex and is usually done by the director.

 

2. Cheating out 

To cheat out as an actor is to angle yourself slightly towards the audience (if you’re not already facing all the way out) so that your voice can be heard better. 

It’s called “cheating” because those on stage are being a little more liberal with their body positioning than they would be if they were having an actual conversation and facing their partner, for example.

 

3. Off-book 

Being off-book as an actor is to be able to recite your lines from memory without relying on a script (the “book”).

 

4. Stage right (or left) 

This is the section of the stage on the actor’s right (or left) if they are looking out at the audience. 

Stage directions are one example of how many theatre words refer to the actor’s point of view, not the audience’s.

 

5. Downstage 

downstage

Downstage refers to the section of the stage closest to the audience. 

Its opposite is, unsurprisingly, “upstage”—the part farthest from the audience.

 

6. Apron 

This is the part of the stage that juts out in front of the curtain arch, closest to the audience.

 

7. In-the-round

A type of theatre performance or venue in which the audience sits on all sides of the stage, which is located in the centre.

 

8. Curtain call 

The curtain call is the part of the show where performers come back on stage to bow and receive applause from the audience. 

Actors usually appear in order of the least important roles to the most important or principal roles, with an all-cast bow at the end. 

 

9. “Places!” 

This is often the last thing an actor will hear before a production begins. This call is the way for a stage manager to signal to actors that the curtain is about to be lifted, so that they can put themselves where they need to be (their places). 

A common response is “Thank you, places!” a way for the actors to signal that they’ve registered that it’s go time.

 

10. “The Scottish Play” 

This is a euphemism for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, one of theatre’s most recognisable and important works. 
A theatrical superstition says that to utter the actual name of the play is to bring bad luck or a curse upon the theatre and those in it.


Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter