Theatre Talk

Notice how I spell theatre? See that there “re” at the end? That’s the mark of a former theatre nerd, there. That means I know what it’s like to skip the football game to stay home and memorize lines, to write a two page character background for the sophisticated role of “Havana Dancer,” to go to sixth period with blue makeup still on your neck from playing the Genie in Aladdin.

So listen up you lowly magicians, it’s time for your crash course in theatre lingo. Time to step up to the plate and understand the terminology for that “Stage Show” you sell to your clients so that you can communicate with theatre people without the use of a dictionary.


Blocking is your movement onstage. It involves any walking, running, jumping, kneeling, flying, etc.

To block a scene means to determine, ahead of time, when and where actors move.


Cross means for an actor to move from point A to point B. If you cross hastily, you run. If you cross slowly, you walk slowly. Simple.


The stage is divided into certain areas to aid in blocking. The Theatre Gods conveniently named all of these from the perspective of the Actor. So if you are standing facing the audience in the dead center of the stage: you are standing center stage. Stage right is to your right, and stage left is to your left. The stage area in front of you is called downstage, and the area behind you is called upstage. This is because, in olden times, stages were built on an incline. Upstage was literally higher than downstage.

Stage directions are often abbreviated: so down stage center becomes DC, upstage left becomes UL, and center stage becomes simply C.

Center stage is the strongest position. Stage right is stronger than stage left (we read left to right). Upstage is typically stronger than downstage, though there are some exceptions.

The stage is a big place. Don’t confine yourself just to center stage.


The way an actor stands onstage is important. Facing your audience head on is called Full Front. If you are standing facing sideways, that is called Profile, and facing upstage is called Full Back (the only crossover with football positions). There’s also 1/4 and 3/4 positions.

Full Front is the strongest position, followed closely by 1/4 Right and 1/4 Left. 3/4 Right and 3/4 Right are surprisingly stronger than either Profile. Full Back is the weakest position.

In theatre, turning Full Back is often used to denote the ending of a scene when no lighting cues are present. It can also be used in pantomime to signify a change of character.

In magic, it is important to keep yourself in a good body position, but also to direct any audience members you bring onstage to be in either Full Front, 1/4 Right, or 1/4 Left.


In real life, people in conversation usually face each other directly. In theatre, we cheat out so the audience don’t see our profile (a weak position), but one actor in 1/4 Right and and the other in 1/4 Left. Either, (or both) position(s) could be substituted with Full Front as well.


A cue, (sometimes written as “Q” to aid the slow writer and phonetically challenged), is an action which triggers another person’s action. In magic we deal mostly with sound and light cues. My line “Here’s my original story about my childhood love of snow,” cues the sound guy to play “Sappy Music Track #4.” It may also cue the light operator to fade to a blue wash. Furthermore, the Emcee saying “Please Welcome Ryan Kane,” is my cue to enter the stage.

Enter means to walk onto the stage. Exit means to leave the stage. These are often accompanied with stage directions, so it might read “Ryan enters DL and crosses C as Emcee exits DR.”

In theatre, the people who run lights and sound are called operators, and the things which run them are called cue sheets. It is important to give your light and sound operators clear and detailed cue sheets so that they know exactly when to trigger the next cue.


Practice is done at home and mostly means memorizing shit. You learn lines by practicing them over and over. You may also have to practice dance moves, stunts, or diagonal palm shifts.

Practice is the time to play with delivery. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to practice at full strength.


At rehearsal, you combine all the elements you’ve been practicing- minus the lights, sound, pyrotechnics, and other special effects. In theatre it is considered extremely bad form to not rehearse at full strength. You rehearse as if an audience is there, otherwise you are wasting the director, your fellow cast members, and your own time.

You can rehearse the whole show, or just parts of it. It is okay to stop a rehearsal to fix something.


Also written as “Q to Q” or even “Q2Q” rehearsals. This is the first rehearsal with the sound, lights, pyrotechnics and special effects. The difference is, nobody really rehearses. The Director literally goes from technical cue to technical cue, skipping all action between, so that the technical staff know’s whats up. It’s a painfully slow process, but a necessary one.


Tech rehearsal (short for technical rehearsal) is any rehearsal featuring lights, sound, pyrotechnics and other special effects. They are essentially full runs of the show, minus costumes and makeup. Most of these rehearsals are to smoothen out all technical cues.


A dress rehearsal is a full run of the show, without stopping, featuring all elements. It’s a show without an audience.

It is typically not okay to stop a dress rehearsal to fix something unless it is life threatening.


These are rehearsals while after a show has already opened. They often don’t involve the whole cast, or the technical crew, unless necessary. They are used to fix problematic parts of the production.


The Director gives everyone notes after every rehearsal, and often after performances. People don’t talk back to the director. They are God, and everyone knows this.

After the Director leaves a production, it becomes the Stage Manager’s job to give notes after performances and brush up rehearsals. The Stage Manager is like Jesus Christ, and everyone knows this. The Stage Manager’s job is to preserve the show which the Director created. Things should not change.

“Who gives the magician notes?” is one of the oldest mysteries of theatre.


To improvise a spoken line.


Two meanings. If an actor says they are “off book,” they are saying that they have memorized all of their lines.

Going “off book” during a performance means the actor begins improvising.

One of these two things is good, and the other improvising.


The time before a tech/dress rehearsal or performance where an actor works with a sound operator to make sure their microphone is at the proper level.

The goal of the Actor is to speak and/or sing constantly at a performance level so that the sound operator can level them. The actor should also move around to make sure there is no feedback from the speakers.


I’m an atheist, but I do believe in the Theatre Gods. Everyone who works in showbiz does. Here are some superstitions to be aware of. Seriously, some people get really touchy about this stuff.

Never say “Good Luck”
Theatre people substitute “Break a Leg” instead, literally wishing the worst luck upon their cast members. It is a well known fact that the Theatre Gods are suckers for reverse psychology and this ruse has worked wonders for centuries.

Be Nice To Your Ghost
Every theatre is haunted. Get acquainted with your theatre’s ghost and be nice to it. Some believe that the ghost light, a single bulb left lit onstage each night, is intended to keep people from falling into the orchestra pit- but we all know it’s really a courtesy to the phantoms.

Never say “MacBeth”
The name of this Shakespearian play is cursed, so always refer to it as “The Scottish Play.” If you do say it, you are required to leave the theatre and perform the traditional cleansing rituals: turning around three times, spitting over your left shoulder, and reciting a line from another Shakespeare play. I didn’t make that shit up.

Know somebody who needs to hear this? Please pass it along to them!

Have your own insights? Please comment below!

Did you really read this far down? Thank you so much, you are awesome!

One thought on “Theatre Talk

  1. Pingback: Theatre Talk II | Marks of Kane

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