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Theory of Spectatorship

Key Terms: Glossary

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ekkyklema:  a wheeled platform used to display dead bodies or suggest an interior scene in the Greek theater.

emotion memory:  acting technique in which the performer summons up the memory of a particular emotional experience and transfers it to the emotional life of the character he or she portrays.

Enlightenment:   eighteenth-century philosophic movement characterized by an emphasis on rationalism and a rejection of traditional religious, political, and social beliefs in favor of empiricism and the new science.

environmental theater:  performance mode in which the action is not confined to a traditional stage but uses the entire "environment" for the presentation of the play; the action frequently takes place in and around the spectators (who are often encouraged to participate in the play).

ensemble pathos:  term coined by Francis Ferguson to describe playwriting style that focuses not on the plight of a single individual but on a group of people; the audience's emotional response is therefore dispersed among the group. The plays of Chekhov epitomize ensemble pathos.

entr'acte:  short entertainment (such as a song or dance) inserted between the acts of a play; also, the musical overture preceding the second act of a musical theater piece.

entremesés:  Spanish term for "interludes," that is, short plays performed between courses of a banquet or other affair; forerunner of classical Spanish drama.

epic theater: non-Aristotelian theater espoused by Bertolt Brecht aimed at the audience's intellect rather than its emotions; it seeks to instruct audiences so that they may deal with contemporary moral problems and social realities, via nonrealistic modes of performance.

epilogue:  a formal speech, usually in verse, addressed to the audience by an actor after a play; epilogues were especially popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (see The Rover). Often called a "curtain speech."/p>

episode:  the equivalent of an act in a Greek play; episodes advance the story line (see stasimon).

episodic plot:  a story with a series of events, often unrelated, which can take place over great periods of time and in many locales; the events of an episodic plot are not necessarily causally related. Epic dramas, the history plays of Shakespeare, and the works of Brecht are episodic in structure.

epode:  a lyric poem sung by the chorus in a Greek tragedy; one of the three parts of the stasimon.

Erinyes:  the Furies, who in Greek theology were charged with the duty of keeping order, usually through revenge or torment.

Eumenides:  "the Kindly Ones," who supplanted the Erinyes and kept order through justice.

existentialism:  predominantly twentieth-century philosophy that argues that humans define themselves (i.e., their "existence" rather than their "essence") by the choices and actions they freely and consciously make. Existentialism has influenced much mid-twentieth-century drama, especially that of the absurdists.

exodos:  the formal song of exit for the chorus in a Greek play; customarily it sums up the meaning of the play. See the last choric speech in Oedipus the King for an example.

exposition:  essential information that an audience needs to know about a character or events (particularly those that happen prior to the first scene). Usually exposition is found in the first act or scene, but distributed exposition may be found throughout the play.

Expressionism:  Early-twentieth-century literary and performance style that attempted to create the inner workings of the human mind by showing subjective states of reality through distortion, nightmarish images, and similar devices.

external actor:  an actor whose primary emphasis and training are on such things as voice, physicality, and gesture.

extravaganza:  lavish and spectacular stage show, often re-creating famous military battles or stories from the Wild West.


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fabliau:  bawdy tales popular in the late Middle Ages; they may have inspired early secular comedies.

familienstücke:  form of German domestic drama that focuses on the plight of families in crisis (e.g., losing the family homestead); influenced the melodrama.

farce:  comic genre that depends on an elaborately contrived, usually improbable plot, broadly drawn stock characters, and physical humor. Most farces are amoral and exist to entertain.

feminist theater:  theater practice, theory, and criticism devoted to drama by women and/or about the problems of women in society.

floorplan:  a set designer's drawing of the layout of the stage to show the spatial relationships between set pieces, placement of platforms, entrances, exits, and so on. The rehearsal room floor is usually taped to designate the various elements of the floorplan.

foil:  a character who serves as a contrast to another (and usually central) character; Laertes and Fortinbras are foils to Hamlet.

follies:  theatrical variety show using song and dance, and (frequently) scantily clad female performers.

foreshadowing:  hints of events or actions to come in a play; usually foreshadowing helps create suspense.

formalism:  late-twentieth-century performance style that emphasizes external and visual elements. The works of Robert Wilson typify formalism.

fourth wall:  convention of the realistic theater in which the audience assumes it is looking through an invisible wall into an actual room; this wall is determined by the opening in the proscenium arch.


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gagaku:  ancient Japanese folk dance from which Noh drama may have evolved.

galán:  Spanish for "gallant," the handsome and virtuous male character in romantic dramas.

gamos:  in Greek Old Comedy, the formal union of the sexes at the conclusion of the play. The gamos is a particular form of the komos.

gauchescos:  Argentine plays about "gauchos" (cowboys), comparable to westerns of the United States.

genero chico:  Spanish-American variety shows similar to the vaudeville or music hall. Also known as a puchero ("stew").

genre:  a category of play characterized by a particular style, form, and content; for example, tragedy, comedy, tragicomedy, melodrama, farce.

genzai play:  one of the five types of Noh drama; a "living person piece" usually dealing with madness, obsessions, and passion.

gestus:  the most important term in Brecht's vocabulary for actors; it refers to the social reality the character is asked to play (as opposed to the psychological reality of Stanislavskian acting).

gracioso:  stock character in Spanish dramas, usually the "fool" or "wise fool" who stands outside the action and comments on the folly of his betters.

Great Chain of Being:   Medieval worldview that used the metaphor of a chain to show that all of creation was linked: God was at the superior end of the chain, nonliving matter at the other. The concept influenced both the ideas of medieval and Renaissance dramas and the structure of the plays (e.g., the highest-ranking person onstage invariably was given the final speech of the play).

griot:  African term for storyteller.

groundlings:  generic term for the members of an audience at an Elizabethan public theater who stood in the "pit" (i.e., on the ground) in such theaters as the Globe.


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habit à la Romaine:  classical French costuming meant to suggest the clothing of Roman antiquity.

hamartia:  Greek term (which means "missing the mark") usually applied to the flaw or error in judgment that leads to the downfall of the tragic hero.

hana:  Japanese term meaning "flower" applied to the aesthetics of acting in the Noh theater; it is achieved through rigorous training and sacrificing oneself to the art.

hanimichi ("flowery way"):  the runway from the back of the auditorium to the Kabuki stage which actors use for entrances and exits.

happy idea:  the problem to be tested in Greek Old Comedy, usually established in the prologue. In Lysistrata the happy idea is that the women should refrain from sex with their husbands until the war is ended.

hashigakari:  a bridgeway in the Japanese Noh theater over which actors enter the stage; traditionally, it is decorated with three small pine trees.

hayagawari:  quick-change and physical transformation effects in the Kabuki theater (e.g., a woman is changed into a spider).

heavens:  in the Elizabethan public theater (such as the Globe), the area beneath the roof that covered the stage. It was painted with astrological signs and heavenly bodies to suggest the firmament. Often deities would descend to the stage from the heavens.

hero (fem, heroine):  the central character of a play, usually the character who undergoes the most pronounced change; in Romantic drama and melodrama the hero is usually the person who embodies "good." The twentieth century has seen the emergence of the antihero, a character who may not be "good" but who is still the central figure in the drama. Willy Loman is an antihero.

high comedy:  sophisticated comedy that depends on witty dialogue, social satire, and sophisticated characters for impact. The plays of George Bernard Shaw typify high comedy.

historification:  setting the action of a play in the historic past to draw parallels with contemporary events; among Brecht's favorite devices for creating an alienation effect for his audience.

histriones:  Latin word for "actors;" histrionic refers to deliberate theatrical displays of emotion.

honmizu:  water effects in the Kabuki theater (e.g., creating a waterfall or a running brook).

hsieh-tzu:  the "wedge" in classical Chinese drama; it was inserted between acts or, occasionally, as the prologue to a play.

hua lien:  the "painted face" roles in Chinese drama.

hua pu:  folk dramas in the Chinese theater.

hubris:  the most common form of tragic flaw, usually ascribed to excessive pride or arrogance. Prometheus is a victim of hubris when he steals the fire of the gods.

hypokrites:  the original Greek term for "actor"; originally it meant "answerer."


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