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Stage Terms

Here are some of the common terms used in the stage rigging and theatre profession. This would help the non theatre person to get familiar with some of the commonly used terms. This might also be useful to professionals like architects and engineers.
The terms are conveniently placed under different headings for quick and easy access.

See Correlation of Stage Rigging and Nautical Terms to find out why some of the commonly used theatrical terms are nautical in nature.

ARCHITECTURAL

Theatre:

A place which houses an auditorium and a stage.

Lobby:

The room or space between front entrance up to the point where tickets are surrendered.

FOYER (foy-ay’):

The space or room behind auditorium, between lobby and the seats.  The foyer does not have seats.

Mezzanine:

A smaller floor between floors.  In a theatre, this is the flat floor behind the lower portion of the balcony.

Loges, LOGAIS (lo’-jus):

A balcony of less than seven rows of seats.  In an exceptionally large balcony, the loges would be the extreme front row of seats provided there are less than seven and in front of a cross-aisle.

Auditorium:

The large room where the audience is seated. Stage personnel refer to this as the HOUSE.

Beam:

Location of lighting in the auditorium ceiling for illuminating the forestage and front part of the stage proper.  Sometimes referred to as the BEAM POSITION.

Proscenium Wall:

Structural wall separating the auditorium from the stage.

Prosecnium Arch:

Opening through which audience views the performance.  Also known as PROSCENIUM OPENING.  When the word proscenium is used alone, it means the Proscenium Arch.

Proscenium Line:

Imaginary line where place of the proscenium intersects the stage floor. For accuracy, this is aligned with the stage side of the proscenium columns.

Stage:

The area where actors perform but includes the side and rear areas for handling equipment.

Forestage, Apron:

Portion of the stage which protrudes thru the proscenium toward the auditorium.

Working Stage:

So equipped that curtains or drops may be hoisted one-half the height of the proscenium arch or 10’0” or more. 

Green Room:

The lounge area for all stage personnel.

 

STRUCTURAL

Grid, Gridiron, Gridiron Floor:

The floor above the stage on which is mounted hardware   pertaining to hoisting or lowering of equipment.

Loft:

Space above gridiron floor and below the roof.

Up-Right Grid:

Type on which the blocks are mounted on the topside.

Well:

Space between beams in grid thru which pass the cables supporting equipment.

Under-Hung Grid:

Type on which the blocks are mounted on the under side.

BRACER BEAM:

Steel beam affixed to the stage side head block beam for reinforcement.

Fly Rope:

The platform from which equipment is hoisted or lowered by means of ropes.

Lock Rail Floor:

The platform from which equipment is hoisted or lowered by means of counterweight rigging. In some instances, the fly floor or lock rail floor is at stage level thus not being a separate platform.

Loading Floor:

A platform above the lock rail, slightly farther away from the sidewall, suspended about 8’0” below the grid. From this platform the weight pieces of a counterweight system are changed to keep in balance the equipment hung over the stage.

Bridge:

Structural above stage from one side to opposite primarily to support lighting equipment which is frequently adjusted. Bridges are usually located near the proscenium wall. Also, some bridges are suspended on counterweight systems.

 

RIGGING

Batten:

Pipe above stage for supporting individual curtains, drops, scenery or lighting. equipment. In prior years wood was used for battens, but this practice is becoming obsolete. A smaller batten suspended from one or two regular battens is known as a JACK BATTEN. A pipe batten is sometimes used in the bottom hem of a drop to provide weight and help keep the drop smooth.  As a verb, batten means to fasten together two or more pieces of scenery by means of a length of pipe or wood.

Guy:

Supporting chain or rope run at an angle to support a batten.

Bridle:

Two supporting lines from or to a common point for supporting a batten, thus forming a “V” or lambda.

Traveler Track:

Used to support a bi-parting two-piece curtain.  The end with double pulley is LIVE END whereas the opposite end with single pulley is DEAD END.

Purchase Line, Operating Line:

Hand rope for operating a track, on a power system, a steel cable or wire center rope is used and is known as the DRIVE CABLE.

Sheave (shiv):

Grooved wheel over which rope or cable runs.

Block:

Assembly containing a sheave, axle and protective housing.

 

ROPE SYSTEM

The plan whereby equipment is hoisted or lowered by means of hand operated ropes running thru blocks to the batten.

HAND LINES:

The ropes used in the system.

Pin Rail:

Horizontal railing, usually 5” diameter pipe, to which the hand lines are secured by wrapping around a belaying pin. A well-designed pin rail actually has two rails, one above and slightly farther away from the operator.  The curtain, for example, is tied on the lower rail according to the height desired for the scene. The same hand lines are tied onto the upper rail when the curtain is hoisted, without disturbing the lower rail setting.

Belaying Pin:

Steel or wood shouldered pin approximately 1-1/8” diameter by 16” to 24” long, free to rotate in holes thru the pin rail. The most popular type is made from hickory wood.

Line Cleat:

Hardware device, usually iron, with two long horns and used in place of the belaying pin and rail. The Line Cleat is securely fastened to the wall and is especially popular where but a few sets of hand lines are involved.

CLEW:

Metal piece, usually triangular plate, with single hole at one corner and multiple holes across opposite side.  The Clew is used for changing from one line to multiple lines.

Head Block:

Multiple sheave block above pin rail thru which pass the lines used in a set.  In a rope system sheaves operate independently.

Loft Block:

Single sheave block thru which an individual line passes down to the batten.

SET:

Pertaining to rigging, the collective noun comprising the total components of belaying pin, lines, blocks and accessories to support a single batten.

OUTRIGGER:

A frame, usually built from sidewall, to support a pipe rail beyond the moving equipment operated above the pin rail. This acts as a guardrail and is located approximately 10’0” above the stage floor thus allowing scenery to be stacked against it temporarily.  Behind the guardrail can be hung a strip of lights for illuminating the pin rail. Similarly, an Outrigger is also used above the Lock Rail in a counterweight system. The guardrail is sometimes called Outrigger Batten.

 

COUNTERWEIGHT SYSTEM

The plan whereby equipment is hoisted or lowered mechanically by means of lines thru blocks from a counterweight to the battens.

Counterweight Carriage:

Steel frame for supporting the individual weight pieces. Sometimes known as ARBOR.

Counterweight, Weight:

An individual weight piece, usually made from cast iron. Sometimes call IRON.

Lead Line (leed):

Supporting line running from carriage thru blocks to individual position along the batten.  Usually made from preformed 7 x 19 galvanized aircraft cable.

Purchase Line:

Hand rope, usually Manila for setting counterweight rig into motion. Sometimes called Operating line or Hand Line.  Note: Opportunity for confusion if latter name is used, especially if the stage has both counterweight and rope system is use.

Lock Rail:

Horizontal railing, usually angle iron, onto which are mounted the Rope Locks. Collectively, Lock Rail means the complete assembly containing Rope Locks, bumper rails for the carriage, supporting framework and an Index Strip.

Index Strip:

Metal strip mounted on or near lock rail to support cards to identify the individual sets of rigging.  A well-designed system will also have an Index Strip at the loading floor.

Rope Lock:

Clamping device for arresting movement of the purchase line.

Floor Block:

The block thru which passes the lower loop of the purchase line. When the lock rail assembly is at the stage level, the floor block is mounted within the lock rail assembly.  When the lock rail is mounted on an elevated platform, the floor block is at or near the stage floor. Similarly, if a pit were involved to increase carriage travel, the block would be at or near the bottom of such pit.  For the bottom loop of operating line on a curtain track, a floor block is used but of different design. If the curtain track is also counterweight, the floor block is of detachable design.

Head Block:

Multiple groove block thru which pass the lead lines and the purchase line.  Its sheave is usually single.  For an up-right system, the supporting beams are a pair of I-beams located so that one clears the sidewall 3” to 4” and their well is 24” to 27”.

Loft Block:

Single sheave block thru which an individual line passes down to batten. For up-right system, supporting beams are a pair of channels forming a well 10” wide between the web faces.

Muling Block:

A block used to divert the route of a lead line.

Compound Carriage:

A plan whereby the lead lines initiate at the head block beams, pass down thru a block atop the carriage, thence up to the head block and across to the loft blocks.  This system doubles the mechanical advantage thus causing the batten to travel twice the distance as the carriage travel.  Such method is used when carriage travel is restricted, but it requires twice as much iron to balance a set. When a carriage exceeds 900 pounds, its supporting rods should be of high-tension steel.  Similarly, the purchase line can be compounded thru the top block and another block on the lower side of the carriage, with or without the lead lines being compounded. This will make it easier for the operator to pull the carriage into motion, as sometimes desired for exceptionally heavy sets or for sets to move faster. This is often designated as MULTIPLE SPEED or HIGH SPEED HOIST.

Mule, Donkey:

A motor-winch, usually portable, for moving counterweight sets, which are not properly balanced. This device can become very hazardous if the operator is not exceptionally alert.

 

CURTAINS

Proscenium Curtain, Fire Curtain:

Fire resistive curtain, which is usually made from asbestos yarn interwoven with small wires for support. The rig is designed to lower automatically in response to rising temperatures.  Most states require such a protective curtain on a working stage. In the strict sense, a curtain is a masking device, temporary or permanent. A curtain made from fabric with additional material for fullness is rightfully called DRAPERY, but in theater a drapery is traditionally called a curtain. Stage curtains are measured according to width and height, never as to length.

Border:

A curtain which does not reach the stage floor, usually much wider than high.

Drop:

A fabric curtain which reaches the stage floor.

Leg Drop:

Usually made in pairs, one on each side of the stage, normally much higher than wide.

Valance, Valance Border:

A fabric border with fullness, usually the first curtain behind the proscenium.  Note:  Valance is a term used in chemistry, spelled and pronounced differently.

Cornice:

A rigid structure, usually wood, used for masking in place of a valance.

Lamberquin:

A fabric border without fullness used for masking in place of a valance, usually stretched over a rigid structure.  This term is also applied to a fabric border with fullness in front of a valance and in front of the proscenium wall.

Main Curtain:

Located approximately 10” behind the proscenium and is a drop, usually with fullness, serving as the prime masking between the auditorium and stage. Also know as ACT CURTAIN, GRAND DRAPERY, FRONT CURTAIN AND HOUSE CURTAIN, but sometimes erroneously called Proscenium Curtain.

Proscenium Legs:

Matching or for use with the Main Curtain and located in front of the Main Curtain.

Tormentor Legs:

Similar to proscenium legs but used on the backside of the Main Curtain.

Grand Border:

Made from fabric matching or for use with the main curtain.  Normally it is used behind the main curtain, but it is sometimes located between the valance and the main curtain, especially when the proscenium arch is unusually high in relation to its width.

Front Curtains:

Plural collective noun which includes all curtains matching or for use with the main curtain.

Teaser Border:

This is the first border behind the main curtain regardless of presence or absence of other curtains. Thus, if there were a Grand Border behind the main curtain, such could be designated as Teaser, Teaser Border, and Grand Teaser.  If there were no Grand Border, the Teaser would be the next border curtain regardless of its ultimate position up-stage.  Hence, it would likely be the first border in the Cyclorama Set. In some areas, subsequent borders in the Cyclorama Set are also erroneously called Teasers; but rightfully, they would merely be numbered.  Similarly, in some areas, the first pair of Leg Drops behind the main curtain is called Tormentors, despite not matching nor for use with the main curtain.

Traveler, Traveller:

Usually a two-piece bi-parting curtain operating on a horizontal track.  A single independent curtain on a track is called Dead End Traveler or One-Way Traveler.

Tab:

Curtain, which is pulled aside and upward from one edge without disturbing the opposite edge of the same piece or half.

Guillotine:

Large one-piece drop with fullness so rigged it has to be hoisted or lowered.

Concert Curtain:

A two-piece curtain, usually a traveler, which matches the main curtain and is located behind it. Also known as OLIO, but the term is losing popularity.

Intermission Curtain:

Similar to concert curtain but does not match main curtain nor match the cyclorama set.

Scene Curtain:

This is a name as to use rather than location for it is used between scenes for short periods while equipment is shifted behind it.  It could also be closed and promptly opened to indicate to the audience that there has been a change in time or location.  If a great deal of time is required for mechanical changes behind, the performance could continue in front of the Scene Curtain and such action is still called a Scene in the usual manner, provided it is related to the general theme of the performance.  However, any action in front of any curtain, but not pertaining to the general theme is known as an Intermission Act or Number.

Cyclorama, Cyc:

In the strict sense, this is a large drop without fullness and forming a half circle around the acting area.  In liberal sense, a Cyc can have fullness and other contour.

Horseshoe Cyc:

Straight across the rear with curves at two corners thence continuing toward the proscenium wall at 90 degrees or more.

Box Cyc:

Similar to horseshoe, but not curved at the corners.

Open Cyc:

Similar to box, but with entrances into the acting area between the side curtains and rear curtains.  Additionally, an Open Cyc could have entrances between their Side Leg Drops, an increasingly popular arrangement.

Cyclorama Set:

Collective noun, which includes matching border curtains along with any of the foregoing cycloramas.

Header:

Narrow width border primarily used above openings for doors or windows.

Skirt:

Similar to header but used below windows.

Sky Drop:

Plain drop without fullness, usually dyed or painted blue, for use to represent a sky. If its batten is curved, it is called Sky Cyc.

Scrim Drop:

Made from transparent fabric to obscure action behind it.  This is popular for illusions of mist, dream sequences or for brief scene transitions. Proper use of a Scrim requires highly skilled lighting so as not to illuminate behind it when not desired. In Europe, this is called a GAUZE. Exacting technicians insist upon Sky Drops and Scrims being made from fabric without seams. Such premium width fabrics are imported from Europe in widths up to thirty meters.

Painted Drop, Scene Drop:

Usually without fullness and has a scene painted thereon.

Intermediate Traveler:

Usually matching the Cyc Set and located behind the Intermission Curtain.  If there are two, they are designated as Mid-Stage and Up-Stage.  If there are more, they are numbered.

Backdrop:

The rear curtain on the stage, with fullness and is part of the Cyc Set. This name is also given to the rear curtain of a full scene, whether Sky Drop, a painted drop or the formal curtain with fullness.

 

 

STAGE DIRECTIONS

Acting Area:

The portion of the stage proper, excluding the forestage, viewed by the audience during a given scene.

Up-Stage and Down-Stage:

These terms evolve from the fact that it was quite popular to have stage floors actually slope, being higher at the rear, so as to offer excellent perspective of depth to the scene.  Hence, Down-Stage is toward the audience and Up-Stage is toward the rear.  Sloping stages are more common in Europe than U.S.A.

Left and Right:

These directions are strictly according to the performer as though he were facing the audience regardless of the direction he is facing at the moment.

One, Two and Three:

Segments of the acting area whereby ONE is the down-stage third, TWO is the center third and THREE is the rear or up-stage third.  These can be divided into three areas each:  Left, Center and Right. Thus, a performer could be in Right Three, which would also be known as Up-Right.  Occasionally, the acting area is further divided.

Wings:

The areas on each side of the stage beyond the acting area.  Hence, Left Wing and Right Wing.  In earlier decades, the use of scenery was more popular than curtains and if a piece of scenery was placed on each side of the stage without being connected to another piece, it was called a Wing.  In some areas, the Wings are regarded as the space between the leg drops (or wing pieces if scenery is used) and the space beyond is called part of the Backstage.

Backstage:

Area beyond the acting area toward the rear wall.  Sometimes Backstage is construed to mean this area along with the Wings thus being a collective noun for all stage space beyond the acting area.

On and Off:

As a performer moves toward the acting area, he is considered to be moving On-Stage.  Conversely, Off-Stage, because these two words sound so much alike, the practice is losing popularity in favor of ON and OUT.

Working Side:

The side of stage from which rigging is operated.

Dead Side:

Opposite working side. Also known as far side.

Prompter’s Side, P.S.:

The side, usually close to the proscenium wall on the actor’s right, where the Prompter is located.

Opposite Side, O.P.S.:

Opposite the Prompter’s side.  Note: that in instances the Prompter is not on the Working Side there is great opportunity for confusion.

Cross-Over:

Corridor formed between backdrop and rear wall so that performer or stage hand may cross to opposite side of stage while a scene is in progress.