The Theater Dictionary: A Free Video Guide to Theatre Lingo

It’s 11 o’clock. Do you know where your show­stop­pers are? Or, more to the point, do you know why a musi­cal-com­e­dy writ­ing team seeks to ori­ent its show­stop­ping num­ber at “eleven o’clock”?

The The­ater Devel­op­ment Fund’s The­atre Dic­tio­nary is an ongo­ing attempt to define and doc­u­ment the­ater terms for both the rab­ble and any bud­ding prac­ti­tion­ers who’ve yet to mas­ter the lin­go.

Each term is accom­pa­nied by a loopy slap­dash skit. Not all of the per­form­ers exhib­it the pedi­gree Veron­i­ca J. Kuehn and Nick Kohn of Avenue Q bring to “Eleven O’Clock Num­ber,” above, but cast­ing admin­is­tra­tors and tick­et booth reps in star­ring roles lend a homey egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, such as when stu­dents from the Yale School of Drama’s Depart­ment of Dra­matur­gy and Dra­mat­ic Crit­i­cism are giv­en free license to explore the ori­gins of “vom.”

(This loosey goosey approach also allows for uncred­it­ed appear­ances by oth­er the­atri­cal tropes—the marathon rehearsals where pop­corn con­sti­tutes lunch and one actor repeat­ed­ly com­plains that his work has been insuf­fi­cient­ly acknowl­edged.)

A “What Does This Word Mean” tab for each term anchors the video silli­ness, pro­vid­ing his­tor­i­cal and anec­do­tal con­text. It’s in keep­ing with the Dictionary’s greater goal of bring­ing the­ater to the peo­ple, let­ting every­one play with the toys.

Some of the def­i­n­i­tions are prac­ti­cal short­hand…

Oth­ers are couched in long­time, pos­si­bly archa­ic the­ater lore…

I’d exer­cise cau­tion with some of this lin­go. Even though many of these terms are born of prac­ti­cal­i­ty, overus­ing them may cause oth­ers to view you as the most obnox­ious of self-declared Triple Threats, the kid in the com­e­dy-tragedy mask sweat­shirt, prone to belt­ing out the entire sound­track of CATS at the slight­est provo­ca­tion. (“Thanks, 5!!!”)

Some of these terms have unex­pect­ed crossover appeal, most recent­ly Ghost Light, above. Know­ing the mean­ing of the term will help you bet­ter appre­ci­ate the pow­er of the Ghost­light Project, a post-elec­tion com­ing togeth­er of the­ater artists and audi­ences in defense and sup­port of vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties.

You can browse the The­ater Dic­tio­nary com­plete glos­sary here or watch the videos on TDF’s Youtube chan­nel.

The The­ater Dictionary’s FAQ con­tains infor­ma­tion on how pro­fes­sion­al the­atre com­pa­nies and orga­ni­za­tions and col­lege-lev­el the­atre pro­grams can apply to con­tribute a video.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

100,000+ Won­der­ful Pieces of The­ater Ephemera Dig­i­tized by The New York Pub­lic Library

Young Orson Welles Directs “Voodoo Mac­beth,” the First Shake­speare Pro­duc­tion With An All-Black Cast: Footage from 1936

Take a “Breath” and Watch Samuel Beckett’s One-Minute Play

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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