Literacy in Drama

Key Terms


Accent                                  Accents are used to highlight where a character is from, this can be National (e.g. Irish accent) or a more specific local colloquialism (Geordie, Scouse, Cornish etc.)

Acting Skills                       Skills used by an actor to portray a certain type of character or emotions

Antagonist                          A main character who is opposed to, struggles against, or competes with another. Iago is the antagonist to Othello. Mrs Lyons is the antagonist to Mrs Johnstone. The old woman/witch is the Antagonist to Hansel and Gretel.

Atmosphere                       The atmosphere of a performance is closely linked with everyday feelings such as pity, anger, desire or frustration. It is the ambience or mood created by the actors/lighting/ sound in a play.

Audience Interaction     When the actor Breaks the fourth wall between the stage and audience and talks directly to them. Sometimes Audience members are invited to be part of the performance (e.g. In a Pantomime)

Audience Response        How the audience react to the play as a whole, certain moments in the play or to specific characters.


Black Box Theatre           A simple performance space, usually a large square room with black walls and a flat floor. It is an intimate space and can be easily adapted to suit many performance styles. The seating is not in a fixed position.

Body Language                 Links closely with facial expression to communicate to the audience how a character feels, non-verbally.


Character                            A person in a play or devised performance which the actor must interpret or portray for an audience to understand the story

Characterisation              How the actor uses his/her acting skills to show their class/age/gender/ status as well as their emotions and opinions.

Choreography                   Dance movement that is planned and rehearsed

Climax                                  The moment that the play has been building up to. Sometimes the Climax is also leaves the audience on a cliff-hanger.

Costume designer           The person who designs the costumes for a performance. The costume department of a theatre is often called the wardrobe.


Delivery of Lines              How an actor says their words to get their point across. They need to consider Tone of Voice, Intonation, Speed, and Volume.

Direct Address                  When a character breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience. Commonly seen in pantomimes or Melodrama.

Director                               A director is in charge of the artistic elements of a production. A director will have the initial creative idea (‘concept’) for a production, will work with the actors in rehearsal, and will collaborate with designers and the technical team to realise this idea in performance.

Dramatic Intentions       What you aim to achieve as a group and as an individual. For example, in a play about World War 1, you intend to show the audience the impact of the loss of life on a small community like Bodmin.

Dramatic Irony                  When the audience know more about the action than one or more of the characters in the play. E.g. Romeo and Juliet – the Audience know that Juliet is sleeping deeply, Romeo does not and so kills himself, making it a tragic ending.

Dress Rehearsal               A full run through of the piece with no stops, using all props, costumes, lights and sound, that will be used in the performance itself. It is exact.

Duologue                            Two actors on stage performing together.


End-On Staging                 The most traditional stage type, where the audience are separated from the actors by an imaginary 4th Wall.

Ensemble                            an approach to acting that aims for a unified effect achieved by all members of a cast working together on behalf of the play, rather than emphasizing individual performances.

Eye Contact                        You can make eye contact with your audience when speaking a monologue or in a scene with other actors. You can hold their gaze or avoid eye contact too. It makes the connection between the characters more believable.


Facial Expression             The actor uses facial expressions to show how a character feels, or wants to be seen to feel. Facial expressions should change throughout scenes as the mood or opinion changes, and is a skill that must be sustained the whole time the actor is on stage – even when not speaking.

Flying                                    Set that comes down from above the stage ie. It ‘Flies in’

Fourth Wall                        The imaginary wall that separates the actor from the audience. If the actor directly addresses the audience, they are “breaking the fourth wall”


Gait                                       The way someone walks (eg. stiffly, with a bounce, cautiously)

Given Circumstance       What the actor already knows about the character, as it is mentioned somewhere in the script. E.g. we know that Eddie Lyons is a middle class Liverpudlian. We know that Hansel likes to read and Gretel likes to invent things.

Genre                                   The type of performance or text (Romance, Thriller, Comedy etc.)

Gesture                               A movement of the arm/hand that usually indicates a command (Stop, move etc.)

Gobo                                     A thin metal filter that goes in front of a light and casts a shadow onto the surface where the light is facing. (it can create a shape eg. A door, a star)


Historical context            The background of the play, particularly when the play is set. This should help the actor with their choices of how to respond to certain people or situations. E.G. we know ‘Blood Brothers’ is set during a time of high unemployment and severe differences in class in Liverpool.


Idiosyncrasy                       A habit, verbal or physical that is unique to the individual. (Cracking knuckles, a stammer, clicking a pen lid are all examples of this.)

Improvisation                   Making a performance up on the spot with little or no information.

Intensity                              How intense the lights are relates to whether they are very bright or dim

Interpretation                   Each actor must decide how the character is to be portrayed, and a director must decide what they want to achieve with a script. All theatrical roles have to interpret their discipline.

Intonation                          The way a person uses pitch and emphasis when speaking. Talking to young people usually depends on varied intonation, as opposed to being monotone. (eg. Using expression or a different tone of voice)


Juxtaposition                     If you juxtapose two contrasting objects, characters, images, or ideas, you place them together or describe them together, so that the differences between them are emphasized. An example of juxtaposition could be in a WW1 play where a fight scene in the trenches is juxtaposed with women laughing together at home in the ammunition factories.



Levels                                   levels are used in terms of actual set, and the actual position of the actors (Standing, sitting, lying down). Levels often help represent power, status and hierarchy.

Lighting designer             The lighting designer is responsible for designing the lighting states and, if required, special lighting effects for a performance. The final design will result in a lighting plot which is a list of the lighting states and their cues.

Live Music                           Use of a band or singing in a performance, which is not recorded.


Make-up                             Make up can be used to age a person, or to show their social status. Special effects make up can create wounds, scarring or birthmarks. Make-up design is often part of the Costume Designers role.

Masking                               An actor is not visible to the audience because of another actor or some set.

Motivation                         In performance, a reason for a character to move, speak, act (a purpose)

Mood                                    The mood of the play will set the atmosphere for the audience. Comical, (light) horror (Dark), romantic (light and hazy)etc.

Monologue                        A speech made by one actor. It can be directly addressed to the audience (breaking the fourth wall) or spoken to another character on stage.

Movement                         The general fluidity or stiffness with which a character or characters move on stage.

Multi-role                           When an actor plays more than one character in a stylised piece of theatre. Often used for comical effect.

Music                                    Music can be used as an underscore or sound-effect and can be live or recorded. It helps set atmosphere or pace.


Naturalism                         the most believable performances are as truthful as possible, often taking on the actor’s own experiences to create something ‘real’. Performances are in real time.

Non-Naturalism               When an actor uses multi-role, or exaggerates. Performances can be abstract and may interact with an audience.


Off-text Improvisation  an improvisation where information and characters are given from a piece of text but the scene itself is completely original.

On-text Improvisation   an improvisation where information and characters are given from a piece of text, and the scene already exists, but is improvised (not learned) to help develop character.


Pace                                      How quickly the piece of theatre moves, and how quickly an actor responds to the line before.

Pause                                    A silence where the audience can really appreciate how the characters are feeling. There is more said when nothing is being said.

Performer                           A performer is an actor or entertainer who realises a role or performance in front of an audience.

Pitch                                      How high or low an actor’s voice is, to convey age, gender, excitement etc.

Physical Skills                    How an actor uses their physical traits to show age, gender, health, emotions etc., without the use of verbal communication.

Playwright                          This is the name given to the person who writes the play.

Proscenium Arch              The Physical arch that frames a stage

Protagonist                        The central character in a play’s narrative, sometimes referred to as the                                                 hero or heroine.

Props/Properties             An object that is used on stage by an actor in a performance. Generally                                                 something movable or portable (a phone or letter for example)

Projection (1)                    The strength of speech or singing whereby the voice is used clearly and                                                  loudly

Projection (2)                    Images or video footage that is transferred to a wall or screen within a                                                    performance. It may be used as a vessel to communicate dates, times and                                            locations, or as part of the play itself

Promenade                        Where the audience stand and walk about the performance space, rather                                             than sit and observe, and where the action is happening amongst them.

Posture                                The position of a person, sitting or standing. Examples include straight,                                                   upright posture, or stooped posture.

Puppet designer               The person who designs the puppets for a performance. Q


Recorded Music               Often a familiar piece of music to create links for the audience, establishing mood and context

Revolve                               A mechanically controlled platform which is rotated to speed up the changing of a scene.


Set designer                       The set designer is responsible for the design of the set for a performance. They will work closely with the director and other designers so that there is unity between all the designs and the needs of the performance.

Social Context                   Understanding what life was like for people during a particular time or setting, to give characters depth

Soliloquy                             A type of monologue where the character reveals their true feelings to themselves or to the audience (direct address) Usually not heard by other characters onstage.

Sound designer                The sound designer is responsible for designing the sound required for a performance. This may include underscoring, intro and outro music as well as specific effects. The final design will result in a sound plot which is a list of the sounds required and their cues.

Sound Effect                      Usually a recorded sound that can set the scene (e.g. birds chirping) or move the story along by prompting characters’ to react. (e.g. a doorbell)

Spatial Awareness           Knowing where other characters or important bits of set are on stage and how space can affect the characters relationship with them.

Stage manager                  The Stage Manager is in charge of all aspects of backstage, including the backstage crew. They will oversee everything that happens backstage before, during and after a performance. During the rehearsal period, the Stage Manager and their team will make sure that all props are found or made, scene changes are rehearsed and smooth, and all other aspects of backstage are prepared. They are also in charge of the rehearsal schedule.

Stage Directions               Given in a script, a playwright may give clear instructions of what each character should be doing at that time. Directors and actors may add their own Stage Directions to a script (in pencil!)

Stage Positioning            Stages are typically split into sections which makes it easier for the actor and director communicate where they should be moving to. These include Downstage, Upstage, Stage Left, Stage Right and Centre Stage.

Structure                             The general shape of the plot and order of the scenes

Style                                      The way the character or play is acted (Naturally, exaggerated, melodramatic, etc)

Sub-text                              The message that is being portrayed beyond the lines that are spoken; understanding when a character might be lying or communicating something different to another character / the audience.


Technician                          Somebody who controls aspects of the performance other than the actor such as operating the sound or lights. A person who works backstage either setting up technical equipment such as microphones or rigging lights before a production or operating technical equipment during a performance.

Theatre in the Round     When the audience is on all sides of the stage. The actor must remember to change positions frequently to communicate effectively with the audience.

Theatre manager             This person is responsible for and manages the front-of- house team who deal with the audience during the performance.

Thrust Stage                       Part of the stage that comes out from the main stage and has audience members on three sides.

Traverse                              A catwalk style stage, where audiences are on two parallel sides of the stage.

Tone of Voice                    The way in which a line is delivered to convey a specific meaning or mood. E.g. to say something with cheek or with sarcasm


Underscore                        Music used underneath a scene to help build the atmosphere.

Understudy                        An actor who studies another’s role so that they can take over when needed.


Vocal Skills                         All of the acting choices used to deliver a spoken line (pace, volume, tone etc)

Volume                                The loudness or quietness of a speech, which must always be heard by an audience but also matches their emotions


Wings                                   Curtains at the side of a performance space used as an entrance and to conceal props and scenery from the audience





Reading List, Sample Assessment Materials and Other

Evaluating Acting
Evaluating Theatre
Example Answers
Interpreting Character
Sample Assessment Material
Theatre Question
Vocal Skills
Writing Mat