Theater Speak

If hearing the various terms, phrases, sayings, and utterances of theater people leaves you scratching your head, buy Scalpicin. If it leaves you confused, read on and I'll try to explain the meanings of popular drama speak.


The Basics. Learn 'Em.

acting— the art of telling a story by portraying a character. So, What's Acting Anyway? should cover the concept pretty nicely, I hope.

audition— a "tryout" for a part in a show or other acting endeavor. Some auditions are for one particular production while others are for an entire season of shows. They often consist of performing a monologue or two for the director(s), and, if it's for a musical, a short piece of a musical theater song.

Broadway— literally, the avenue in New York City where more than 40 professional theatres operate. Broadway is a metonym for the pinnacle of American theater, where the biggest, most presigious, most expensive, most famous productions, both straight and musical, run. Usually, only actors of the highest talent and work ethic are cast in Broadway shows. Many actors aspire to work on Broadway.

callback— a "round two" of auditions. After the initial audition, directors will often call back those they like to audition again. At callbacks, actors will typically read short portions of scenes (called sides) with each other for the director.

character— the role the actor plays in a piece. Characters are the "people" (though not always human) in the story, who all have different objectives to pursue. Creating a Character should give you more than enough information about characters.

monologue— a series of lines said at once by an actor, like a speech. Monologues can be said to another character, the character himself, or the audience. An audition will often ask for a monologue or two to be prepared.

musical theater— a genre of theater characterized by acting, singing, and dance. Musical theater actors must be able to do all three, usually at the same time. Musicals are among the most popular of American shows. Non-musicals are called "straight plays."

rehearsal— the "practice" meetings for a show; basically, every meeting starting after the last audition and up until opening night. Scenes are run through, songs and dances are learned, cast and crew bonding takes place, and the show comes together. These meetings can run anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire afternoon and night, depending on how much time is left before the first performance. Rehearsals are very important to attend and can only be missed with explicit permission from the director or stage manager. Not every actor is required to attend every rehearsal.

scene— a script, or portion of a script, containing two or more actors. Some scenes stand alone, while others only make sense in the context of the entire work. Scenes are commonly worked with in acting class.

triple threat— someone who excels at acting, singing, and dancing, the three core necessities to do musical theater.


The cast of a musical breaks out into song.
The cast of a musical breaks out into song.

It's Always About the People.

actor— an individual who acts. The term can be used for male or female, though actress is also commonly used.

cast— the entire group of actors in a show.

crew— the entire group of backstage helpers, including those who construct lighting, sound, costumes, makeup, props, sets, etc. Also called techies or stagehands.

choreographer— in a musical, the person who creates and teaches the dances.

director— the person in charge of the production. The entire cast and crew answer to him or her, and it is his or her responsibility to cast the show, run rehearsals, provide an artistic vision, lead everybody involved, and keep the process running smoothly. The director may also have an assistant director, which is exactly what it sounds like.

musical director— in a musical, the person in charge of teaching the music to the cast. This person often leads the orchestra or plays piano in the performances, too.

stage manager— second in line in command to the director, the stage manager deals with the daily responsiblities of the show, such as keeping a full record of notes, lists, etc. He or she will typically keep track of everything a director has decreed and make sure everything is on track backstage during performances.


Stuff Theater Kids Say

Theater kids, also affectionately known as drama geeks, theater nerds, loud people, or any combination thereof, have a culture all their own.

"Break a leg" means good luck. It's actually bad luck to say the phrase "good luck," and theater kids have this ingrained in their memories so well that they'll often catch themselves saying "break a leg" to anyone needing luck in any situation, not just theater-related.

Actors can get dramatic (who knew?) and something you'll often hear theater people playfully tell each other is "take it down a notch" or "lower the stakes." This is a good-natured way of making fun of another actor for being overly dramatic or exaggerating a problem, whether onstage or off.

Singing out loud. Tell me this doesn't come as a surprise. Theater kids love to sing. Musicals, pop songs, anything. The more challenging the better. They love to harmonize, love to riff (going rapidly up and down the notes of a scale in a jazzy way), and love to incorporate song lyrics into everyday conversation. If you do this, you might already be a theater student without knowing it.