Theatre Jargon: A Brief Guide

The world of theatre is a fascinating realm filled with drama, emotion, and artistry. It’s a place where stories come to life, characters become real, and audiences are transported to different times and places. But like any specialised field, theatre has its own unique language. Here are some of the most common terms you might encounter.

Blocking: This term refers to the precise movement and positioning of actors on stage. It’s the director’s job to decide where actors should move, when they should do it, and how they should position themselves in relation to each other and the set.

Call: A call is a notification to the actors or crew that they need to be at the theatre at a certain time. For example, a ‘half-hour call’ means that the actors must be ready to start the performance in 30 minutes.

Dark: Most productions play eight shows over six days of the week. The day off is known as the theatre’s “dark day” for the simple fact that all the lights are off as there is no performance. Theatres occasionally also ‘go dark’, meaning they switch off all their external lights throughout Shaftesbury Avenue and the rest of the West End, when somebody famous dies.

Downstage/Upstage: These terms originate from the days when theatre stages were raked or sloped, with the back of the stage (upstage) being higher than the front (downstage). Today, they are used to indicate the front (downstage) and back (upstage) of the stage.

Green Room: This is a room in the theatre where actors can relax when they’re not on stage. Despite the name, it’s not always painted green!

House: The house is the area of the theatre where the audience sits. ‘House open’ means the doors have been opened for the audience to take their seats, and ‘house full’ means all the seats are occupied.

Props: Short for ‘properties’, props are any items that actors use on stage, such as furniture, books, or a cup of coffee.

Sitzprobe: A German term, technically meaning ‘seated rehearsal’. This is normally the first rehearsal when the orchestra and the cast sing through the show in its entirety.

Stage Left/Stage Right: These terms are always from the perspective of the actors looking out at the audience. So, stage left is the actor’s left, and stage right is the actor’s right.

Strike: To strike the set means to remove the entire set once the show has closed, to make way for the next production. It is ruthless, often happening the very same evening as a show’s final performance.

Swing: A swing is an off-stage actor responsible for covering any number of other roles (normally ensemble or minor roles), sometimes as many as 12 or more. They are available in the theatre at all times in case someone falls ill, or if an ensemble cast member has to cover a main role.

Understudy: An understudy is an actor, typically normally playing a role in the ensemble, who learns another actor’s role in order to be able to fill in if necessary.