Performing Arts Glossary

There are many aspects of the theater business, from the first moment a show is conceived to the final curtain call. For those who work in the performing arts, a common language is required to get things done. This glossary breaks down theater and performing arts terms that every performer needs to know. The following terms are used extensively by producers and directors for job listings and casting breakdowns.

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  • Commerical and Independent Sponsorship
    Sponsorship is a funding option available to both large commerical productions and small, independent shows. Sponsors can be major brand, who typically provide funds, or small local businesses, who can not only provide funds, but also services or locations in exchange for brand recognition.
  • Dramatists Guild
    The Dramatists Guild is the labor union for playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists. Prior to the 20th century, playwrights were paid a lump sum for their works, and did not receive royalties. In 1912 the writers began to unionize to combat unfair labor practices, especially by helping artists and writers keep their intellectual and artistic property rights.
  • Jazz (dance)
    Jazz dance emerged during the 20th century as a blend of African American dance styles and jazz music. The dance form started as tap dance but soon incorporated other dance forms into a unique style.
  • Pittsburgh Cycle
    August Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle" (also known as the "Century Cycle") is a series of ten plays-- nine set in Pittsburgh and one in Chicago. The plays provide an overview of the Black experience through each decade of the 20th century. The plays are not written as a serial; some characters appear in multiple works and multiple generations are depicted as they navigate the century.
  • Projections
    Sometimes a production uses light and image projections on the stage to add artistry and illusion to the stage. They are primarily quickly changing backdrops throughout a scene, but more modern productions have included social media and video.
  • Proscenium Arch
    In film, the term “proscenium arch” refers to any configurations on-set that mimic the framed arch of a traditional theatre. In this design, the audience experiences the performance through a frame.
  • Rake
    In theatre, a rake refers to the upward slope of a stage away from the audience, which helps a seated audience to see all the action occurring on a stage.
  • Ring Light
    In self-made videos, the ring light is the most common choice of performers to prevent shadows. Poor lighting can ruin a take by creating distracting shadows or give the viewer a misconception about the mood of the performance.
  • Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Aftra
    SAG-AFTRA represents a wide range of entertainment jobs: broadcasting, dancing, acting, singers, stunt coordinators, puppeteers, DJs, and many other media professionals. Originally SAG- AFTRA was two separate labor unions (Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).
  • Sponsor
    A sponsor funds a performance or production in order to have their name, brand, or company associated with the event.
  • Stage Directions
    In a play script, part of the work provides stage directions. These directions can indicate movments of actors along with instructions about lighting, scenery, and sound effects. Normally, however, their main purpose is to guide actors through their movements onstage.
  • Star casting
    In star-casting, a celebrity is cast for a production to increase the marketability and interest in the performance.
  • Three-act Structure
    In his Poetics, Aristotle wrote about the three act story structure, which continues to influence how we create stories today. In this structure, the exposition, the story begining, introduces the characters and indicates what the problem is. The action in the story becomes more complicated and rises to a climax, the greatest moment of action. The climax represents the turning point in the story. From the climax, the action begins to fall and the conflict is resolved at the end in the denouement.

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