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Produced by National Arts Centre Théâtre français
© National Archives of Canada Canada, photographer unknown
The title role of Othello by Shakespeare required actor Laurence Olivier to wear elaborate makeup during shows at the National Theatre, England, in 1964.

Title: Othello

Playwright: William Shakespeare

Production: National Theatre, England, 1964

Director: Laurence Olivier

Set and costumes: Jocelyn Herbert.

Theatrical Terms

Transformation or rewriting of a work. For example, an adaptor can transpose a novel to the stage, providing dialogue and creating scenes to further the action, edit several texts into one whole or modify a play by changing the setting, the ending or the number of characters.

Denotes either a theatre’s regular clientele or all the spectators gathered in a theatre. No audience no theatre.

Exaggerated form of improvised comedy, often crammed with sexual allusions. Situations are exploited by stock characters: the drunken husband, the shrewish mother-in-law, the pretty, scatterbrained young girl, and so on.

A group that stages productions guided by a particular artistic vision or theatrical method. Often headed by a director. Some theatre companies (called troupes in French) hire actors to form a permanent company.

The clothing an actor wears onstage. With their shapes, colours and textures, costumes help to create the visual world of the play, to communicate relationships between characters and to reveal the identity (age, occupation, personality) of various characters in the play.

Signal telling the technicians at the sound and lighting boards exactly when to launch each effect. For the actor waiting to enter, say a line or perform an action, the cue is generally another actor’s line.

Manner in which words are enunciated. Actors must control their articulation, speed of delivery and breathing.

© TNM, photo by Henri Paul
Jean Gascon (1921-1988) directing a rehearsal of Lorenzaccio by Alfred de Musset, TNM, 1965.

The art of starting from a script, suggesting an interpretation of it and creating a complete production. This central interpretive theme governs every facet of the actors’ and technicians’ work and helps the director coordinate the various components of the production (set, acting style, blocking, music, and so on).

Dramaturgy/Dramaturgical Research
The documentation and analysis that leads to a better knowledge and understanding of a play. Familiarization with the historical context, the author, and the issues at stake, along with parallel research into related pictures, pieces of music, and films can have considerable influence on the director’s work.

Dress Rehearsal
Final rehearsal before the opening performance. The dress rehearsal is a complete run-through of the production as if it were being performed before an audience.

House (theatrical space)
Space in which a performance takes place, made up of a playing space (stage) and space for the audience. It may be in a theatre or in a space temporarily organized for a performance (a factory, loft, cemetery).

Italienne or Line Rehearsal
A rehearsal for lines only, with no movements or blocking. Lines are said very quickly with no expression or pauses, to help performers memorize or review their lines.

Effects of the light illuminating the actors and the playing space, creating various atmospheres using different intensities, colours and shadow effects.

Cosmetics applied to the actor’s face and sometimes body to accentuate or alter the features (age, deformity, scar, moustache)

Made of leather, papier mâché or resin, it is the face of an archetype or a god: for example, Harlequin or Medusa. When actors don their masks, they enter into the skin of their characters. In a production in masks, emotions are conveyed by the performer’s entire body.

Musical effects accompanying the dramatic action, emphasizing key moments and creating different emotional atmospheres. The music may be specially composed for the production or taken from existing works, and it may be recorded or performed live by musicians or by the actors.

This is the process of setting out and checking all properties, costumes and set pieces before each performance and making sure they are in place on the stage and in the wings.

All the concrete, technical aspects involved in mounting a production. This work is done as the production is taking shape. During production meetings technicians determine how they are going to achieve the desired effects while staying on budget, on schedule, and by observing safety standards.

© NAC photo by Mireille Brullemans
Facade of the Théâtre Denise-Pelletier in Montreal.

Properties (Props)
Objects used onstage by the actors: a newspaper, a stick, a chair, and so on. A prop can serve as a symbol. For example, a stick may be merely a stick, but it can also be a sword, a helicopter rotor or an imaginary partner.

Everything that is done to encourage the public to come to the show, including advertising, interviews and posters.

The first rehearsal is often a read-through with the whole cast present. A rehearsed reading is one performed before an audience.

The whole collection of plays that are staged often or considered masterpieces. Can also mean categories of plays (classical theatre, Québécois theatre, children’s theatre).


Report by a reviewer or critic in the written or electronic media assessing a production so that potential spectators can decide whether they want to see it. Ideally, a critic should have the training and experience to be able to appraise the production and put it in perspective, but this is not often the case.

Show with sketches and songs, political satire and bawdy jokes, referring to current events or celebrities.

Curtain of sheer fabric used to produce revelation effects. When lit from the front, it is opaque. Lit from behind, it becomes transparent.

Text which provides the starting point for the production of a play. It contains both the lines to be spoken and the stage directions suggested by the playwright. The same script can be staged and interpreted in several ways.

Set Design/Staging Design (playing space)
The art of structuring the playing space to suit the director’s conception of a play. May mean the set itself (painted flats, moveable platforms, walls, furniture) or the preparation of the space in which the performance takes place.

Sound Effects
All the sounds created during a performance, including noises (telephone, dog barking) and atmosphere (crowd, storm at sea).

This term means both the whole playing space and the actual floor of the playing space where the performers work, including the set.

Stage Fright
The terror that overwhelms actors before they make their first entrance. Some performers find it paralysing, some stimulating. All actors have their own ways of coping with it!

Pre-season purchase of a seat at a reduced rate for several of the productions to be staged during a theatre’s season.

The rendering of a script into another language, without additions, cuts or important changes. Since a theatrical script is written to be spoken by the actor, the translator must try to match the style, rhythm and tone chosen by the playwright.

Off-stage space hidden from the audience, harbouring technicians, properties (props), setpieces and, of course, actors waiting for their entrance cues.

World Premiere
The first time a play is produced on the stage. The French term is création, which can also mean the type of process used in preparing the production. There are different methods of creation and they vary according to the production staged and the company’s artistic choices.