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Intro to Acting: –


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Drama Terminology…/Drama%20Terminology.docx

FORMS (sometimes known as “techniques”)

Areas which must be developed to ensure understanding by both the actor and the audience

A physical/mental performance technique used in drama to explore a theme or text and often used in the final performance to communicate a deeper meaning.



Anything that helps to communicate the SCENARIO (location, situation, character)



Corpsing Unintentionally coming out of character or laughing on stage
Performance Skill


What the actor uses when performing and in order to create a character.

This includes: Voice, Body Language, gesture, facial expression, use of space

Scenario Location, Situation, Character



Artaudian Techniques Use of MEDIUM which help us to feel
Back stage


The choreographed movements and gestures decided that each character makes when saying a particular line or at a particular moment. Key language often used as in picture.
Body language Non-verbal communication through facial expression, gesture (use of hands/arms), posture and proxemics


Used to help visually suggest character and their PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES




Can be used from a variety of genres including Commedia dell Arte, Neutral, Character, Greek etc. The character would only talk in half masks or masks where there is a large mouth hole. Otherwise the actor must rely on body language, space and gesture to communicate meaning.



An improvisational technique where movements are combined to create effect or atmosphere



A stationary position (like a freeze-frame) disintegrates and ends with everyone lying on the floor. This can also be done in reverse.



Using body, gesture, facial expression and space to suggest objects. Sometimes done without speech, other times to represent key props.



An individual models volunteers into a shape which expresses a particular aspect of the theme or issue being addressed.


Slow Motion

The performer moves at half the speed if not slower. The moves are controlled.

Prop An item which the actor uses on stage



The drama space is carefully marked out into different locations or times. A key space in the drama such as a particular room is reconstructed using available props and furniture.




The physical distance individuals place between themselves and others/objects. Decisions made can influence and communicate a deeper meaning to the audience including sub-text






An improvisational technique where sounds are combined to create effect or atmosphere

Spoken Language



Words or lines imitated.



A written text is divided up and spoken by a group. The text may be dramatic or otherwise. The construction of the choral speak should comment on or develop the original text rather than literally follow the line divisions or allocation of lines to single characters.



An improvisational technique where voices are combined to create effect or atmosphere



One person speaking. This is longer than Thought-tracking.



Where two characters are talking



Where more than two people are talking

Theatre Set/Design



An improvisational technique where voices are combined to create effect or atmosphere



IMAGINED LIGHTING The audience would be blinded by lights and which would move around the space and affect the audience on a subconscious level – like a rock concert. Unfortunately he was limited technically at the time.
MASKS/MAKEUP Used to create a dreamlike quality to his shows and to move them away from realism. Elaborate masks would encourage the performers to find a way of expressing emotions physically and shocking bold make-up could challenge and disturb the audience.
SOUND CRAFT Preferred how sounds communicated more than words. Screams specifically as an actor was working to uncover raw emotions. Recorded sounds played at a very high volume to assault the senses of the audience. Instruments also used in this way as well as helping to create mood and atmosphere
STAGE BUILDING Believed the stage should be a big empty space and that the action should happen all around the building. Wanted to break the actor/audience boundary and the actors would often invade the audience’s space




Audience/stage positioning



Promenade: Where the audience moves fluidly from one scene to another. Different scenes might take place in different rooms. The actors stay still, not the audience.



The highest or most intense point in the performance. An Anti-climax is where tat intense moment is suddenly destroyed.
Defining the space


Making the LOCATION clear through suitable use of props or set to suggest surroundings. Also see Audience/stage positioning

(usually related to cultural or historical features)




Costume drama

Commedia dell Arte

Educational (Theatre In Education)
Domestic drama







Flash drama
Folk play
Legal drama
Mystery play
One act play
Political drama
Radio drama
Verse drama and dramatic verse
Well-made play





Putting together different ideas or situations to create the idea of contrast to make a point or give a message.
Pace, Rhythm,Tempo Using the punctuation of the text and breath to help communicate meaning and character intension.


The story


The practicing of the performance where changes and refinements are made to ensure it will be clearly communicated to the audeince
Semiotics See symbolism





An act is a division of a drama which will contain further, smaller divisions called scenes. The number of acts in a production can range from one to five or more, depending on how a writer structures the outline of the story. Acts usually used to suggest breaks in time, change of place, atmosphere or tension.



Many scenes can appear in each act. Scenes usually used to suggest breaks in time, change of place, atmosphere or tension. Scenes can be further divided into UNITS (see Stanislavskian Explorative Strategies)



Replaying a key moment or moments to focus on form and content; this may be continuous


Circular Drama

Groups are given different scenes involving a central character. The groups prepare the scene and then one student or the teacher in role joins each scene as the central character and improvises briefly with each group before moving on. A good technique for showing passing of time or different locations.


(usually related to particular movements historically and culturally)

Representational acting

Where you use your acting skills to represent a character. It imitates a characters behaviour but is not necessarily truly believable (panto, Political, Brechtian, mime, period drama, melodrama, possibly even bad acting).



Presentational acting

Where you become the character. It is when the actor reveals human behaviour through an understanding of himself and the character.  The actor BECOMES the character. This can relate to “method acting”. Examples include Naturalism and Realism.



Naturalism: A movement in European drama and theatre that developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Portraying life on stage with a close attention to detail, based on observation of real life.

Realism: Portraying characters on stage that are close to real life, with realistic settings and staging.

Expressionism: Anti-realistic in seeing appearance as distorted and the truth lying within man. The outward appearance on stage can be distorted and unrealistic to portray an eternal truth.

Absurdism: Presents a perspective that all human attempts at significance are illogical. Ultimate truth is chaos with little certainty. There is no necessity that need drive us.

Modernism: A broad concept that sees art, including theatre, as detached from life in a pure way and able to reflect on life critically.


Post-modernism: There are multiple meanings, and meaning is what you create, not what is. This approach often uses other media and breaks accepted conventions and practices.


Classical: A type of theatre which relies upon imagination (and therefore limited props) to convey the setting and atmosphere of the play. Classical theatre usually contains lofty, grand prose or free verse dialogue. Good examples are the Elizabethan dramatists William Shakespeare




When deeper meaning and sub-text is shown and made clear to the audience through objects, actions and through other key visual forms



(sometimes known as “acting/performance techniques” or “dramatic conventions”)

Alter-ego This involves a student, other than the one playing the character, as an extension of that character. The alter-ego’s main function is to express the feelings or ‘inner speech’ of the character.
Brechtian Techniques Explorative strategies which help us to think
Body Propping Where actors use their bodies to create props and set.
Chat show Provide an alternative form of HOT-SEATING. Often used in Forum, Brechtian, Theatre in Education and Political Theatre
Conscience Characters are offered conflicting advice as to what to do about a given situation. Sometimes through the personas of angel and devil or through other characters. Often used in Theatre In Education and Political Theatre.
Conscience Alley At a critical moment in a character’s life when a dilemma, problem, or choice must be made, the character walks between two rows of students who offer advice as the character passes. The advice may be from the students themselves or from other characters. The advice may include words or lines spoken earlier in the play.


This strategy can also be used with THOUGHT-TRACKING where a variety of the character’s thoughts at that moment are collaged together.

Cross-cutting/Split Scene Two scenes are played at once in opposite parts of the stage but only one has sound. Sometimes FREEZE-FRAMES are used to help to cut from one scene to another. Good for building tension as the changes between scenes get quicker and more often.
Devising Where a performance is created over a period of time through discussion and rehearsal. Material is created through a variety of stimuli-based improvisations that are either kept or altered over time.
Distilling/Reduction The drama is compressed into a moment to get to the essence or true meaning of the play. Relates to Stanislavski’s SUPER-OBJECTIVE
Docudrama A collection of material selected around an issue-based theme and shaped into a dramatic performance. Some of the selected content is grounded in fact and slanted to express a particular point of view.
Dream Sequence What the character is thinking about. Can be done through abstract movement/dialogue/sound
Essence machine Performed in a line, with voice and actions repeated. When put together we get an essence of a SITUATION, LOCATION or CHARACTER
Flashback The relationship between present and past is reinforces by showing “flashback” scenes whilst the present scenes unfold. Ensure when performing a flashback that the changing of time is suggested through lighting, sound or movement and not through turning in circles flaring out the arms.
Forum Theatre Originally created by Augusto Boal and sometimes used in Brechtian theatre. A small group act out a drama for the rest of the group as ‘observers’. Both the ‘performers’ and the ‘observers’ have the right to stop the drama at any point and make suggestions on how it might proceed; ask it to be replayed with changes designed to bring out another point of view or focus; deepen the drama by using any other conventions. An important feature is that all the participants, ‘performers’ and ‘observers’, take responsibility for the crafting of the drama – the responsibility does not lie solely with the ‘performers’, in fact they are more like puppets responding to their puppeteers.
Freeze-Frames Also known as Frozen/Still image. A point in the drama is frozen, just like pressing pause on your Sky Plus. The still image is like a photograph where the location, situation and characters can be clearly recognised. SLOW MOTION and MELTING often used to move from one FREEZE FRAME to another
Gossip Circle/Rumours The private and public behaviour of the characters is commented on in the form of rumours and gossip circulating in the community; as the rumours spread around the circle they become exaggerated or distorted
Hot-seating/Interviews Characters are questioned about their values, motives, relationships and actions by other members of the group. This is a very effective rehearsal technique that helps an actor to flesh out and discover new facets of their character through the responses they make to the questions. The questioners may also be in role as witnesses, historians, detectives etc. there can be added tension if the character is questioned at a moment of stress or at a turning point in their lives.
Iceburg A reflective device in which a diagram of an iceburg is drawn. Actors have to consider what is text and what is sub-text in a scene and then to note text above the waterline of the iceburg and sub-text beneath the waterline.
Improvisation A performance with a clear SCENARIO created on-the-spot without discussion. Stimuli often used as a starting point.

Stimuli used often includes:

·              Poetry

·              Artefacts: photographs, pictures, masks, props, costume, sculpture, objet d’art

·              Music

·              Play scripts

·              Live theatre performance

·              Television, films, DVDs and videos

·              Newspaper and magazine articles

·              Extracts from literary fiction and non-fiction


Collective Character

A character is improvised by the whole group. Any one of them can speak as the character so that all become involved in the dialogue.

Line Stories A visual way of telling a story. Actors stand in a line and mime a story on the spot whenever their character appears. When they are not acting they have their backs to the audience. Usually a narrator who does all the voices.
Mantle of the Expert When in role as a character, the actor is able to use appropriate movements and language to suggest to an audience that they are an expert of a specific field. EG: police, pilot, doctor.
Marking the Moment Allows the actors to highlight key dramatic and pivotal moments of the story to the audience. They use any of the other conventions suitable for sharing the moment with the audience. EG: slow motion, freeze-frame, music, thought-tracking, lighting etc
Narrating A performer tells the story whilst others act it out. Sometimes the narrator has an opinion and comments on the action. They break the FOURTH WALL
Pop-up books A visual way of telling the story. The actors stand in a line crouched and pop up in a freeze-frame to tell a story. Usually a narrator. Can also have moving tabs and sound buttons.
Reportage The reporting of news or information of general interest. Often to the audience
Role on the Wall A character is drawn and facts about them are written in and around the diagram. This is then used for reference or put up on a wall to help the actor remember key details about the role they are playing.
Seven Levels of Tension Created by theatre company Complicite, who believe that any character or reaction can be generated from one of their 7 Levels of Tension. The actor must change voice, face, body, gesture and space to suit. 1 = jelly 2 = relaxed Californian 3 = neutral 4 = curios 5 = is there a fire? 6 = there is a fire! 7 = shock
Stanislavskian Techniques Explorative strategies which help us to believe
Thought-tracking The performance freezes and one or more characters step forward and briefly tell the audience what they are thinking at that moment in the role of their character. Often used for Political and TIE performances.
Transmogrification Where props and objects are used creatively on stage to represent other objects. E.g. a chair could become a cave, computer, backpack, lawn mower etc.




Emotional Memory Where the actor can use personal memories to relate to the thoughts, feelings of the character (EG: the actor may have never had a close relative die but may have lost their pet dog as a child)
Fourth wall Using the audience as if they are part of the play. For example, as a mirror or a window. You are ignoring them in order to help make the play look like real life on stage.


¡  Plan out where everything is

¡  Ignore the audience

¡  Add in the detail – specifically for miming (facial expression, gesture, body language)

¡  Timing

¡  Voice

¡  Pick specific points to look at

Magic if… Where the actor considers how he/she might react if he/she was in the same situation as the character for real
Method acting Method acting is a phrase that loosely refers to a family of explorative strategies used by actors to create in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances. This could include the actor visiting the location in which the play is set or literally putting him/herself into a similar situation.

Examples of famous method actors include:

Renee Zellweger on the set of “Bridget Jones”, continued to talk with a British accent in between takes.

Heath Ledger’ method acting affected his health while filming

“The Dark Knight.” In an interview with the New York Times, he said he felt exhausted and refused to let his mind stop. He filled notebooks with strange, off-the-wall writings as he buried himself in the persona of The Joker. His hard work paid off; he posthumously won an Oscar for the performance.

Marlon Brando received eight Oscar nominations from 1952 to 1990, winning two for “The Godfather” and “On the Waterfront.” An example of the method actor’s training includes spending a full month confined to a veteran’s hospital in preparation for his debut film “The Men.”

Christian Bale dropped to 120 pounds for the film “The Machinist” before working out and gaining almost 100 pounds six months later for his role as Batman in Christopher Nolan’s 2005 film “Batman Begins.”

Objectives What the character wants at that moment
Previous/Given Circumstances The actor is aware of where the character has just been and what has just happened to them when walking on stage

¡  Where they have just come from (location)

¡  Emotions – how they feel

¡  How they’ve got there – travel, what it was like

¡  What’s previously happened

¡  Current relationship with other characters

Sense memory Where the actor can use previous experiences (eg: being hot/cold/hungry) to relate to the thoughts, feelings of the character
Super-Objectives What the character wants throughout the play
Units A way of separating a scene into smaller parts whenever there is a change of action/atmosphere




Breaking the Illusion Brecht did not want the audience to become too emotionally attached with his characters and therefore employed Representational acting, direct address, as well as ensuring the audience were constantly reminded that they were watching a play by having few costumes or key props which would be swapped in front of the audience, leaving the lights on stage, placards, multi-roling etc.



Brecht wanted the audience to think about what was happening so would often juxtapose emotional states. EG: dramatic death scene with happy music playing

Captions/Placards/Headlines Facts, scene titles or other key information is written on a sign and held up by a performer. This could happen during or in between scenes. Used in TIE and Political Theatre.
Direct Address Actors would talk to the audience out of role
Epic Structure Lots of separate scenes presented rather than just Act1, Act 2. Scenes did not follow in time order
Multi-role Two or three actors would play the same character, stopping the audience from becoming too attached emotionally. The character would have a symbolic item of costume or prop which would be passed over when roles swapped.
Spasz Comic moments (like a Commedia Dell Arte LAZZI) that were a break from the play and lighten the mood