A Handy Glossary of Drama Terms
Drama has its own terminology. Understanding it helps to understand the plays and their meanings more fully. Here is a handy glossary of some terms used when discussing Drama.
Accent - particular sound made in pronouncing words which suggests the place or background of the speaker.
Allegory - a story or picture in which the meaning is represented through symbols or where different characters are personifications of qualities or of other people.
Annotation - hand-written notes or sketches around a script or other text.
Black comedy - comedy which gets its humour from the macabre and gruesome. This is usually related closely to Irony (see How Stories Really Work)
Blocking (1) - organisation of movements on the stage, including where actors stand at what points in the play and how they move (2) - a barrier/something in the way which ‘blocks’ the view of the audience.
Character - part being played in a drama, a role created by an actor or writer as part of a presentation, which will be exemplified by external physical features and internal motivation. Per How Stories Really Work, a character is conventionally defined by such things as his or her status, class, beliefs, personality, history, job, attitude and so on - but more accurately is defined by the lack of these things to one degree or another.
Comedy of manners - a ‘comedy of manners’ gets its humour from close observation of the way characters behave, and is usually set in a historical period when there may have been strict rules of social behaviour. Some of Jane Austen’s work falls into this category.
Commentary - thoughts by a director or others about a performance or other work.
Context - the historical, cultural or social situation or circumstances in which a piece of drama is set or devised.
Contrast - difference or opposite. Contrast works by creating absences, as we can read more about in How Stories Really Work.
Convention - the agreed, accepted or ‘normal’ way of doing things.
Designer - the person who creates how a piece of drama appears to the audience on the stage, including the set, costume, lighting, make-up, sound, props and furniture.
Dialogue - any speech on stage.
Director - the person with overall control over a piece of drama in performance.
Dramatic irony - refers to the audience knowing something that the characters do not. In Tragedies, the audience can see into characters more deeply than the character himself or herself, through soliloquy which reveal psychological flaws; in Comedies, we see into characters too, in the same way, except that we are more distanced from the character by various conventions.
Dynamic - relationship between two or more things or people.
Empathy - the sense of being able to share another’s experience vicariously.
Emphasis - added strength given to a word, sound or action. Emphasis can be strengthened by absences or silences around it.
Entrance - the point or place where the actor comes onto the stage and is visible by the audience.
Evaluation - reflection by audiences or critics about the success of a piece of work.
Exit - point or place where an actor leaves the stage and becomes invisible to the audience.
Form - the overall shape or pattern of the drama.
Fourth wall - the name given to the ‘invisible wall’ between the stage and the audience. The audience can see what is happening on the stage but the actors do not take any notice of the audience and do not acknowledge their presence in any way. This is occasionally broken down by soliloquy and other devices, usually to powerful effect.
Framing - an overall image created by the whole view of the stage or a group of actors.
Genre - a particular style of the drama. The four basic genres are Epic, Tragic, Ironic and Comic.
High comedy - sophisticated comedy which is usually set in high social class situations, where the comedy comes from detail of characterisation, the cleverness of the language and use of wit.
History plays - plays which tell a tale about or from a historical period.
Improvisation - the action of developing a piece of drama from an initial stimulus, usually without script.
Interplay - the way two or more characters act and speak together
Interpretation - the particular beliefs or decisions about the way a text should be performed, usually determined by the director.
Irony - a genre of fiction, including drana. Also, using language that reflects the opposite of what is actually happening - a form of sarcasm. Irony depends upon the conventions and expectations of Epic or ‘common’ story-telling for its full power.
Low comedy - comedy in which there is a reliance on the vulgar and the coarse, rather than through clever wit or detailed characterisation.
Melodrama - highly-stylised and sentimental drama or comedy in which the actors over-act, emotions are clear and unsubtle, and no-one really takes it seriously.
Metaphor - using the imagination to describe something by comparing it to something else or saying it is something else. It comes from the Greek word metapherein ‘to transfer’.
Minimalist - a piece of drama with few props and little scenery.
Monologue - a single speech by one character.
Montage - a series or collection of stage pictures, often used when showing a series of events where the spectacle is as important as the characters, or as the plot.
Narrative - the story or plot. In Drama, this is driven by the same mechanisms outlined in How Stories Really Work.
Naturalistic - a drama which strives to imitate real-life.
Performer - the person who "does" the drama / communicates the drama to the audience through role, character and sometimes symbol.
Pace - speed
Plot - similar to the story or narrative, a plot is more closely defined as a sequence of events displayed on stage.
Prop - an object used on stage.
Prose - from Latin prosa (oratio) ‘straightforward discourse’, from prorsus ‘direct’, a continuous text, not verse. Prose differs from poetry in that it makes different use of the elements described in How Stories Really Work.
Proscenium/arch - the traditional stage form in which audience view action through an ‘arch’ made in the stage wall.
Rhythm - the beat and regular pattern of sounds or of other things, like movement. Rhythm, importantly, makes as much use of the absence of certain elements as it does of their presence. See ‘emphasis’ above.
Romantic comedy - a sub-genre of comedy which focuses on a romantic relationship, where the subject is love and things usually end happily.
Satire - the use of ridicule, irony or sarcasm to expose foolishness or wrong-doing in society or characters, often used to make fun of politicians.
Sight lines - the view of the audience from various angles of the stage or the actors.
Soliloquy - a single speech by one character, usually revealing a psychological void which forms the main motivation of such a character.
Stage directions - the notes for actors or directors regarding where and when the cast enter, leave and so forth.
Stance - position taken by an actor on stage.
Stream of consciousness - a technique which utilises a ‘flow’ or a series of ideas and almost random episodes, often used in improvisation work when wanting to explore an idea or situation.
Stress - emphasis on sounds or words. See ‘emphasis’ above.
Style - type or form. A playwright’s style is defined by how he or she uses the elements described in How Stories Really Work in a particular way.
Symbol - an object which suggests or represents an idea or set of ideas. Symbols draw their power from connotations and these are both held in common and peculiar to individuals. For example, a white feather was a specific symbol of cowardice used in the time of the First World War, but could also mean spiritual grace or innocence in another interpretation.
Tableau - a group of performers creating a frozen picture.
Theatre in the Round - a method of staging where the performance space is in the centre of the audience and is surrounded by them on all sides.
Tragedy - drama that has a serious subject, with a sad, unhappy or disastrous ending/classically a story in which a great person is brought down by a fault in their character. For much more about Tragedies and how they work, see How Stories Really Work.
Verse - lines laid out as poetry; as opposed to prose. Verse uses rhythm and other elements in a different way to prose.
Vignette - a short episode, which may focus on a particular character or event.
Warm-up - a preparatory exercise used before main work.