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Theater Workshop Vocabulary Terms


Directions:  Please memorize the following vocabulary list.  We will use all of these terms in classroom discussion, as well as in classroom activities.  As they will become a vital part of our language this semester, you must know them and when appropriate, be able to give examples of them.  Surprise quizzes on these vocabulary words may be given throughout the semester, so please study them!  If you have questions about the meaning of a work, please just ask.


1.)   Drama: the genre of literature that uses actors to bring the writer's words to life.

2.)   Subtext:  thoughts and feelings that a character does not express aloud but that impact the character's speech, actions, and view of the world.  A meaning of the text below the surface of the words.

3.)   Prop: any movable object that a character uses to establish who she/he is or what she/he wants.

4.)   Motivation: what the character wants, what fuels the character's actions

5.)   Monologue: a speech given by one actor.  it differs from a soliloquy in that the speech is not about the character's innermost thoughts; it may be directed to a character off stage or other characters.  

6.)   Soliloquy:  A speech in which the actor, usually alone onstage, utters his or thoughts aloud, revealing personal feelings.

7.)   Beat: a single unit of action.  A scene is comprised of many beats.  There is a beat change when a new event or action occurs, and the character must change his/her action or thought in response.

8.)   Setting:  all details of time, location, and environment relating to the play.

9.)   Projection: loudness or softness of speech.

10.)  Body Language:  a form of non-verbal communication which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. 

11.)    Improvisation:  is the practice of talking and reacting in the moment in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment or feelings.  It is spontaneous acting where dialogue, setting, and plot occur extemporaneously (without a script or other advance preparation).

12.)    Emotional arc:  how the character changes throughout the play; dynamics of the character; the emotional trajectory of the character as they move through the plot toward their goal.  It is sometimes referred to as character development or the character's journey toward self-illumination and self discovery as the character partakes in and reacts to the actions of the play.

13.)    Pantomime: silent acting using facial expression, body movement, and gesture to convey the plot and the character's feelings.

14.)    Blocking: precise and predetermined movement and positioning of the actors by the director.  Movement for dramatic effect, ensure sight lines for the audience and work with the lighting design of the scene.

15.)    Pitch:  the relative highness or lowness of speech as perceived by the ear, which depends on the number of vibrations per second produced by the vocal cords.  

16.)    Inflection:  the relative emphasis on certain syllables, words, or phrases in a sentence. 

17.)    Dialect:  regionalism of speech; accent characteristic by a particular group.

18.)    Personalization:  when the actor creates a comparison between what is occurring to the character and him/herself.  For example, to play Medea you don't have to slaughter your children and bake them for dinner.  You can personalize how you feel when you are angry or betrayed at something. Then you transfer your own feelings and actions to Medea.

19.)    Aside:  a convention of the theater where a short speech by one character is whispered or spoken softly to another actor on stage.  The other actors can not hear, but the audience can.

20.)    Articulation: to utter clearly the distinct syllables and sounds of words. Careful enunciation.

21.  Comedy:  that type of drama intended to interest and amuse rather than to concern the audience deeply.  Although characters experience various discomfitures, the audience feels confident that they will overcome any ill fortune and find happiness in the end.

22.  Act:  the major division in the actions of a play

23.   Tragedy:  serious drama in which a protagonist traditionally of a noble position, suffers a series of events culminating in a catastrophe such as death or spiritual breakdown.  

24.  Scene:  division of an act in a drama.  A scene usually has no major shift in time or place.

25.  Stage business:  minor physical action, including an actor's posture and facial expression, and the use of probs, all of which make up a particular interpretation of a character.

26.  Suspension of disbelief:  an audience's willingness to accept the world of the drama as reality during the course of the play.

27.  Commedia dell'arte:  Italian low comedy dating from around the mid-sixteenth century in which professional actors play stock characters.  Examples of stock characters are:  the buffoon, the villain, the hero, the "good woman," and the femme fatale.

28.   Deus ex machina:  Latin for "god out of machine," which means a mechanical device that could lower actors (as gods) to the stage to solve the seemingly unsolvable problems of mortal characters.  Contemporary usage means any ending that presents an improbably solution to complex plot complications.  Example:  a lost will suddenly found to pay off the evil landlord.

29.  Plot:  the events of a play or narrative.  The sequence and relative importance a dramatist assigns to these events.

30.  Method acting:  a naturalistic technique of acting developed by the Russian director Konstantin Stanislovsky and adapted for American actors by Lee Strasberg, among others.  The Method actor identifies with the character he/she portrays and experiences the emotions called for in the play in an effort to render the character with emotional truth (see personalization).