Acting Terminology:
Terms & Definitions for Working Actors

Like any profession, Acting has its own vocabulary, including modernized definitions of long-standing terms, as well as, it's own unique set of modern actor slang.

What's the best way to learn the most important acting terms and definitions? We believe the best way is to ALWAYS be involved in the tradecraft of acting. One old definition of a Working Actor says that if an actor is not working in a show or film, they're working in an acting class. That's true now, as well. Learn the lingo by doing, not just memorizing a list.

A Strong Acting Vocabulary gives you much more confidence, whether you're in class, out on an audition, or working onstage or on-set.

Build your acting vocabulary by getting experience wherever you can: in community theatre, by volunteering at your local TV station, by taking classes not only in acting, but also voice, dance, tv/film acting, commercial acting, and much more

Pro Acting Vocab 101: Do you know the difference between 'Upstage' and 'Going Up'? How about the difference between 'Camera Right' and 'Stage Right'? If a director tells you to "Enter Right, In One" would you know EXACTLY what to do?

To get you started, here's a brief list of acting terms with brief definitions. We will be covering terms used by both stage and camera actors, and will be expanding and organizing this list FREQUENTLY so check back often for more entries.

Part I: Just a Few Basic Acting Terms - most of which are used in both stage and tv/film acting...

Working Actor: An actor who when not working in a show, is working in a class.

Basic Acting Vocabulary relating to blocking & movement on stage and on camera.

Blocking: Where the actor is told to move in the acting area (stage) by the director. So, a Blocking Rehearsal is mostly about giving the actors their movements, and is less focused on characterization and acting. A Camera Blocking rehearsal in TV is about giving the camera operators their movement and framing instructions.

Cross: When an actor moves (walks) across the acting area: left, right, up or down.

Upstage: In blocking, it's that part of the acting area (stage) that is away from the audience. In the old days of raked stages (tilted higher toward the back so the audience could see better) it was literally UP. In acting slang, it also means taking away the audience's attention from another actor.

Above: Toward upstage.

Going Up: Don't get either of the terms just above confused with "Going Up", which means forgetting your lines. When an actor forgets their next line during a rehearsal, it's common for them to say, "Sorry, I'm up." In the same scenario, an actor could also just simply say, "Line," and the stage/script manager will read them their next line. In NO case, should an on-camera actor say "Cut" if they forget their line or blocking -- that term is exclusively reserved for the director.

Downstage: The opposite of upstage, the acting area toward the audience.

Below: Toward downstage.

Acting Vocabulary Tip of the Day: Friday June 05, 2020

Do not trash other actors on social media, and if anyone trashes you -- demand they take it down.

Stage Right/Left: That part of the acting area that would be to the actor's right side when he is facing the audience. Stage Left, would obviously then be to the actor's left side. So, in blocking rehearsals, if an actor is instructed to "cross downstage left" it means to move across the stage in the direction of the audience and toward the left.

Camera Right/Left: For on-camera actors, it's the direction on the screen that the director/cinematographer sees, from the point of view of the camera that is shooting the scene. So, essentially it might be the opposite of the terms Stage Right and Left. Generally speaking, a tv/film director might speak in stage directions while they are blocking, and camera directions when they step behind the camera, or watch the recording monitors. Best practice if the actor is confused as to which left or right the director means, is just ask "Stage right, or camera right?"

In One: This is a stage acting blocking term, but is sometimes also used by film directors if they have some stage experience. It's the acting area just above (upstage) of the curtain line, and below (downstage)the first vertical side curtain (leg). Many star entrances in the theater occur down right, in one.

Backstage: Strictly speaking, it's the area behind the stage. In the theater, this is usually where the actors' dressing rooms are located. In most theaters there is a passageway backstage so that the actors can make entrances either from the left of right.

Offstage: Again, strictly speaking, it's the areas the audience can't see to the left and right of the acting area, usually masked from the audience's view by tall black curtains, called legs or torms. Most of the stage crew and tech related items such as props and set pieces are located Off Left or Off Right.

Professional Acting Dictionary

In the Wings: Basically this means the same as immediately Off Left or Off Right between the side curtains and just out of view of the audience. It is a more actor centered term. Usually an actor who is in the wings is waiting for their entrance, or has just made their exit from the stage. If you are asked to "Hold in the wings" it means to wait quietly just offstage.

Flats: A scenic element that is made up of a wood or metal frame and usually covered with stretched and painted cloth so that it appears to the audience to be a solid wall or surface. Flats are the most basic element of stage and film scenery.

Legs/Tormentors (Torms): These are the tall vertical curtains (or black flats) that hide (mask) the offstage areas left and right.

Borders/Teasers: These are the wide horizontal curtains or flats over the acting area that conceal the lights and other technical stuff overhead.

Open: Turn toward the audience or camera.

Close: Turn away from the audience or camera.

Cheat (Cheat Open): Open your body/face in the direction of the camera or audience while maintaining visual and emotional contact with another character who is usually upstage of you.

VOICE & VOCAL PERFORMANCE RELATED TERMS:

Lines: The dialogue. "Memorize your lines" means to memorize what your character has to say.

Cue: Something that motivates an actor's action or verbal response. For example, it could be another actor's line that cues your line, or a sound effect that cues your blocking, or the director yelling the cue "Action."

Rate: How fast or slow you say or do something.

Pacing: The time between spoken lines. A slow pacing means there's more time between the lines. Fast pacing means your line comes immediately after your cue line. Pacing can even overlap, meaning you don't even wait for the previous line to complete before you "break in" to say yours.

Breaking In: Not waiting for the end of your cue before you say or do something.

Projection: Primarily used in the theater, it means to produce your voice with enough volume and clarity so that it can be understood in the back of the hall.

Diction: The clarity and understandability of your spoken words .Many inexperienced actors drop the ending consonants of their words, making what they are saying difficult to understand.

Many More Acting Terms are Coming Very Soon!

Acting Terminology Books & Links

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We will be adding much more info on Acting Terminology over the coming weeks, so be sure to check back often.

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DISCLAIMER: This website is for entertainment purposes only, the content is opinion only, and should not be regarded as expert advice.

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