List of 30 Forgotten Theatre Terms and their Meaning from the Golden Era

Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, typically actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place, often a stage. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music, and dance. Elements of art, such as painted scenery and stagecraft such as lighting are used to enhance the physicality, presence and immediacy of the experience.

There have been tonnes of terms which are used in formalising a theatre play. Most of the words update themselves with time, but here are a few theater terms below that can spark the nostalgia in you. I have also added the correct meaning of them.

  1. Actor Manager: An actor who owns the theatre. Doesn’t necessarily mean they get all the parts, managing the theatre may take a lot of their time.
  2. ASM: Assistant Stage Manager, basically a runner for the Stage Manager.
  3. Billing: Either where a person appears in a programme, or how they are described on posters.
  4. Boards: The stage.
  5. Breeches part: The principal girl, a girl playing a boy.
  6. Business or Bus for short: A routine which you repeat during the act.
  7. Busk: Of a pianist, to play background music when unsure what to play.
  8. Cine Variety: A mixture of cinema and variety.
  9. End of the Pier Show: Somewhat derogatory term for a variety show, which were usually performed in seaside towns.
  10. Dead: Of a prop or piece of set, no longer in use.
  11. Feed: Another name for the Stooge, because they feed the comic straight lines.
  12. Fit Up: A type of repertory theatre involving performing different plays on different days.
  13. Flat: A simple piece of stage setting.
  14. Ghost: To act the part, but have someone else sing the part.
  15. Ghost Hand: A disembodied hand which comes from off stage. The owner of the hand is not revealed.
  16. Gods: The cheap seats which are furthest from the stage.
  17. Music Hall: Traditionally a theatre attached to a pub where singing and variety acts were performed.
  18. Nightingale: A singer as described on their billing.
  19. Noises Off: An artificial noise created off stage, usually a mob or a disturbance.
  20. Old Stager: An old actor.
  21. Pepper’s Ghost: A theatrical trick using a mirror to produce a ghost.
  22. Personal Prop: A prop carried on and usually off again by an actor.
  23. Skin: A actor dressed as an animal. Presumably this was a real skin once.
  24. Smokers: Smokers’ concert. A Cambridge term, a place where new scrips were tried out. Nowadays it doesn’t involve smoking.
  25. Stage Weight: A weight used to represent a flying person, or to act as a counterweight.
  26. Stalls: The seats nearest the stage.
  27. Stooge: The straight man in an act or a play. The joke with The Three Stooges is you can’t have a comedy act with three straight men.
  28. Swansong: The last performance of an act, or billed as such, most notably for a ballerina.
  29. Tech: A technical rehearsal, one which uses sound, lighting and other effects.
  30. Vent Act: A ventriloquism act.

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