Drama Vocabulary

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Act is the division within a play which corresponds to a chapter within a book. Generally, modern plays contain three acts. Act I establishes the setting, the characters, and the conflict. Act II provides the complications. Act III consists of the climax, falling action, and denouement.

Actors are the performers of the play. They say the lines from the play and perform the actions which allow the audience to perceive what the playwright intended.

Apron is the narrow lip of the platform which is in front of the curtain.

An aside is a speech, usually brief, given to the audience. Characters on stage will act as if they do not hear these comments.

Audience is to drama what the reader is to other forms of literature.

Blank verse is the form of poetry which most nearly matches human speech. It is used by Shakespeare in his plays for this reason.

Closet dramas are those works intended only to be read and not to be performed.

Comedy is a term used to describe literature, usually in the form of a play, written to amuse. Regardless of the difficulties the characters may face, all will end well. It may fall into the category of slapstick which includes a strong element of the physical or the category of a farce which relies upon the ludicrous. There are also romantic comedies and comedies of manners. Frequently melodramas are treated as comedies.

Conventions are dramatic techniques which are accepted by the audience even though they are not realistic. Concealment, soliloquy, and asides are examples.

Costumes of the characters reveal the time in which the play is set as well as build knowledge of the character.

Curtains separate the audience from the stage during preparation for the next scene.

Curtain call is the term used to describe the calling back by the audience of the actors after the final curtain has been lowered. It is a form of praise for the quality of their efforts.

Drama is an oral form of literature which is designed to be heard rather than read. It requires a stage and an audience rather than paper.

Epilogue is used by the playwright to tie up loose ends within the play and perhaps suggest a moral.

Green Room is where the actors meet the public after a production.

Make-up is used to make the characters appear more distinct to the audience.

Playwright is the author of a play.

Program will list the actors performing and their character's name, the number of acts, the setting, and other information to help the audience understand the play.

Prologue is used by the playwright to give information to the audience before the play begins. It is not part of the action of the play. A chorus may be used to deliver the prologue.

Props/Properties are pieces of movable scenery which provide the audience with visual clues to the setting.

Proscenium arch is the overhang onto the stage which comprises part of the picture frame effect.

Scene is the term used to designate subdivisions within acts. They usually indicate a change in location or time.

The set consists of the non-moveable pieces of scenery on the stage.

Soliloquy is a speech given by a single character who is not directing the statements to another character. It may be a way for the dramatist to explain the thoughts of a character.

The stage is the platform on which a play is performed. Modern stages are described as picture frame stages because of their limited performing area which places the audience in rows facing a curtained interior platform. Theatre in the round is occasionally used instead because of its ability to provide the audience with a greater sense of participation.

Stage directions are instructions within the written play which tell the actors what they are to do to convey the playwright's message. These directions may merely indicate action or they may attempt to explain a character's motivation or appearance. Stage right and left are designated from the viewpoint of the actor looking out from the stage.

Standing ovation is an extended appreciation by the audience in which the audience stands to show their approval. Its rarity is maintained so as not to dilute its effectiveness.

Theatre is the term used literally to describe the stage on which a play is performed as well as figuratively the whole genre. The spelling of the word as "theater" generally designates a place where motion pictures are shown.

Tragedy is a form of literature, usually written in the form of a play, which is designed to enlighten. In the end all does not turn out well. It may include a catharsis which is a feeling of relief felt by the audience. It may also include hubris on the part of the main character, or pride which leads to the character's downfall. Frequently, there is a tragic flaw which contributes to this downfall. Comic relief is used to break the intensity within the play.


Representative Writers of the Genre

  • Edward Albee (The Sandbox/The American Dream/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf)
  • William Gibson (The Miracle Worker)
  • Lorraine Hansbury (Raisin in the Sun)
  • Lillian Hellman (The Little Foxes)
  • Arthur Miller (The Crucible/Death of a Salesman)
  • Eugene O'Neill (The Iceman Cometh/Long Day's Journey into Night)
  • George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion)
  • Thornton Wilder (Our Town)
  • Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire/Cat on a Hot Tin Roof/The Glass Menagerie)
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