Elements of Drama
- Drama – A story written
to be performed by actors.
- There are several
different forms of presenting a drama; each has a very specific format.
Plays have a very simple format; teleplays, for television shows, or
screenplays, for movies, have more complex and strict rules for
- The first dramas to
be written for the express purpose of being performed were created by the
Greeks. Many of our modern drama terms derive from Greek origins.
- Comedy – In the Greek
sense, a play that doesn’t end in death. In modern usage, refers to a play
that is humorous.
- Tragedy – In the Greek
sense, a play that ends with the death of at least one of the main
characters. In modern usage, refers to a play that doesn’t have a happy
- Irony – general name
for moments in literature that involve surprising, interesting, or amusing
- Dramatic irony – a
contradiction between what the character thinks and what the audience or
reader knows to be true
- Script – the written
text of a play. Usually includes a list of characters that appear in the
play with a brief description of what the character is like (Dramatis
Personae), brief descriptions of the sets or setting, and the lines the
characters will speak.
- Dramatis Personae -
"People of Drama" in Latin; a list of the characters in a play, usually
found on the first page of the script; often includes important information
about the character
- Character - as in a
story, people or creatures that appear in a script by speaking or doing
something (the "something" may be as simple as walking on stage, then
walking off again); someone in a script who is involved with a plot
- Dialogue – the lines
spoken by the actors; in the script, preceded by the name of the character
that is to speak the words
- Monologue – A speech
given by a single character while that character is alone on stage; also
called a soliloquy
- Soliloquy – In drama
(especially Elizabethan [Shakespearean]), an extended speech by a solitary
character expressing inner thoughts aloud to him-or herself and to the
audience; a monologue
- Aside – A monologue
performed by a character while other characters are on stage; the
information in an aside is not heard by the other characters on stage, even
though they may be standing very close by; it is intended to convey the
character’s private thoughts to the audience. Other characters on stage at
that time may freeze, to show that the words being said are not being
overheard; other times, the other characters will go about their business
but ignore the character giving the aside.
- Exposition – A speech
or discussion presented in a very straight-forward manner that is designed
to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand
- Stage directions – a
description (as of a character or setting) or direction (as to indicate
stage business) provided in the text of a play, usually indicated with
italics and/or parentheses. May indicate where the scene takes place, what
a character is supposed to do, or how a character should deliver certain
- Enter – A stage
direction – tells the character(s) to come onto the stage. Often includes a
direction (left or right) or additional information about how characters are
to enter the scene.
- Exit – A stage
direction – tells the character(s) to leave the stage and the scene. Often
includes a direction (left or right) or additional information about how
characters are to leave the scene.
- Act – A major section
of a play, similar to a chapter in a book; an act is usually made up of
- Scene – a subdivision
of an act; usually, a scene indicates a specific location or time, and
changes if another location or time is supposed to be presented. A scene
usually ends when all the characters in the scene leave the stage.
- Line – Shakespeare’s
plays were written in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter, 10 syllables
per line); as in a poem, a line might end though the sentence continues.
Current copies of Shakespeare’s scripts usually have numbers listed in the
margins of the pages so readers can find lines quickly.
- ***Specific points in
the play can be found with a three number system (ex: “3.1.159” refers to a
specific line: Act Three, Scene Two, Line One hundred fifty-nine; “2.2.2-7”
indicates a series of lines in Act 2, Scene 2, starting at Line 2 and ending
at Line 7)***
- Chorus – a character or
group in a drama who speaks the prologue and epilogue and comments on the
- Extra – a minor
character who doesn’t have many or any lines; usually, extras don’t have
names, but are identified by what they do (“servant,” “boy,” “policeman”)
and sometimes a number if there are more than one of that type of extra
Elements of Theater & Acting
- Theater – building,
structure, or space in which dramatic performances take place. In its
broadest sense theater can be defined as including everything connected with
dramatic art—the play itself, the stage with its scenery and lighting,
makeup, costumes, acting, and actors. (alt. spelling: theatre – refers to
the actual building itself)
- Delivery – how an actor
says his or her lines. The delivery of lines is as important as what an
actor does or looks like, or how he or she dresses.
- Emote – from the word
“emotion”; to deliver lines with feelings appropriate to the scene; to show
emotion through one’s voice. If you overdo this, it’s called “chewing the
- Project – When the “o”
is long and the emphasis is on the second syllable, this word means, “to
speak loudly and clearly”; refers to the volume of an actor’s voice
- "Line reading" - refers
to the volume, tone, and emotion an actor uses when reading a line. The way
an actor reads a line can completely change the meaning of the words, which
can change an entire scene. For example, an actor might read lines
sarcastically, rather than "straight."
- Actor – a person who
plays the role of a character in a play. This term is currently accepted as
being “gender neutral”; it applies to both men and women.
- Acting – in drama,
pretending to be someone else, usually through a combination of line
delivery, costumes, props, and how the actor presents him or herself.
- Lead - a principal or
main role in a dramatic production; also: one who plays such a
- "Larger than life" -
Actors must not only project their voices (so they can be heard at the back
of the theater), they must also project their motions and emotions. Motions
and emotions need to be exaggerated (though it is possible to overdo it; see
“chewing the scenery” in “emote”). What looks overblown in person looks
wonderful from the audience.
- Motivation - Actors
need to consider not only what a character is supposed to do, but WHY a
character behaves in a certain way; this is the character's motivation.
Understanding motivation helps an actor understand the emotional state of
their character, which influences how the character moves, speaks, and
- Suspension of disbelief
– When an audience goes to see a play, they have to pretend that what’s
happening on the stage is real, even though it is only a staged performance.
- “The Fourth Wall” – A
stage set only has three walls, but actors usually pretend there is an
invisible fourth wall between themselves and the audience. When a character
directly addresses the audience, recognizing that they are being watched, he
or she is “breaking the fourth wall.” Exposition and monologues sometimes
break the fourth wall.
- “In character” – when
an actor is pretending to be someone else
- “Breaking character” –
when an actor abruptly stops acting, or “falls out” of character; this can
ruin the audience's suspension of disbelief
- Director – The person
who decides which actors will be in the play, where they should stand or
move to, how they should speak, and what they should wear.
- Concept - the idea a
director has that ties together the look, feel, and performance of a play.
One concept might be "The Old West"; costumes would be cowboy-and-Indian
outfits, actors would use Old West accents when they spoke, sets would
include saloons and cactuses, etc. The concept is seen in the LOOK of the
play, and it may influence how the audience UNDERSTANDS the play, but the
concept does not change the WORDS of the play. The concept is outside of
the script; it is up to a director to come up with a concept. Directors are
always thinking of CREATIVE concepts they can use to stage old plays.
- Cast (n) 1) The actors
in a play 2) The process of selecting which actors will play which
characters; (v) to choose actors to play specific roles
- Blocking – 1) The
process in rehearsals wherein the director tells the actors where to go and
how to move. 2) The act of physically marking the stage (usually with tape)
to indicate to where an actor is supposed to move.
- Body Language - an
important part of acting; the physical actions of an actor can be even more
important than what the actor says. Body language reflects characters'
thoughts and feelings just as much as words.
- Business - silent
actions that actors do when they are on stage but don't have lines and are
not part of the main action or dialogue; "business" might include pretending
to talk to someone, pretending to shop, pretending to play a game, etc.
- Prompt – a reminder to
an actor when the actor forgets a line
- Promptbook - a copy of
a script that an actor or director has added notes to. These notes are
usually about the emotions of a character during a scene, the character's
motivation, ideas for blocking or business, suggestions for line readings,
or other important notes.
- Stage – the area where
a play is acted out; generally, this area is raised above the regular floor
- ** Originally, the
stage was built so that it angled toward the audience; the “back” of the
stage was higher than the “front” of the stage, so the audience could see
equally well actions at the back of the stage and at the front of the
stage. Now the floor of the seating area is angled upward to provide the
same effect. This helps explain the terms “down-stage” and “up-stage.”**
- **All directions should
be given from the actor’s point of view**
- Stage Right - the right
part of a stage from the viewpoint of one who faces the audience
- Stage Left - the left
part of a stage from the viewpoint of one who faces the audience
- Down-stage - the part
of a stage that is closest to the audience or camera
- Up-stage - the part of
a stage that is farthest from the audience or camera (If you “upstage”
someone, you steal the audience’s attention from someone who is supposed to
be getting it; you may do this physically by placing yourself down-stage of
them [thus making them up-stage from you], or by performing better than
they, or in other ways)
- Proscenium – 1 a
: the stage of an ancient Greek or Roman theater b :
the part of a modern stage in front of the curtain c : the
wall that separates the stage from the auditorium and provides the arch that
- Proscenium stage – a
Proscenium stage (Front
- Main Curtain (“The
Curtain) – Usually refers to the main curtain, which conceals the stage from
view when closed and reveals the stage and actors when open.
- Backdrop – A picture or
flat that is hung from a pipe and which depicts a background for a scene
- Valence – a short
curtain that runs across the top of the proscenium; it blocks the audiences
view of hanging lights and fly pipes, and can be used to create a frame for
Proscenium stage (Top
- Orchestra Pit – a
sunken area between the stage and the audience where an orchestra can set up
and play music during the performance without blocking the view of the
- Cyclorama – a large
curtain, often at the very rear of the stage, that acts as a backdrop for an
- Travelers (also “legs”)
– curtains, usually black, on the wings that obstructs the audience’s view
of the backstage area
- Wings – Usually refers
to the area that is not visible to the audience; also called
- Apron – An area (or
areas) forward and to the side of the proscenium in a modern stage.
- House - The portion of
the theater where the audience sits; the area that is not the stage
- Theater in the round –
a theater in which the stage is located in the center of the auditorium --
also called arena theater
Theater in the round (Top
- Thrust stage - a stage
that projects beyond the proscenium so that the audience sits around the
- Thrust - a forestage
that is extended into the auditorium to increase the stage area
Thrust stage (Top View)
- Set – the stage and the
items upon it that are used to create the illusion of a certain setting
- Set design – a drawing
or model that shows what the stage will look like during a particular play,
act, or scene.
- Flat – A flat piece on
which scenery can be painted; often constructed of a light wooden frame
covered by stretched canvas
- Fly pipes (also “pipes”
or “flies”) – pipes suspended over the stage by a pulley system that allow
curtains, flats, and backdrops to be lowered into a scene or raised out of a
- Props – (short for
“properties”) the items used by actors as they act out a scene
- Costume – The clothing
worn during a play by an actor to help show the audience that the actor is
playing a role.
- Stage hand – A person
who builds sets, props, or costumes before the play, or who moves them
during the play
- Lighting – refers to
the way lights are used to illuminate the stage. Sometimes the lighting is
solely to illuminate the actors so the audience can see; sometimes the
lighting is used to complement scenery with colors and effects; sometimes it
is used to suggest the mood of characters, also with colors and effects.
- Gaffer – someone who
designs, sets up, or operates lighting for a production
- Intermission – A break
in the play, usually between acts, to allow the audience a break or rest,
and to allow the actors to change costumes or set the stage.