Accompaniment – Music played to support a featured melody in a musical.
Act – A large subsection of a theatrical work (play or musical)
Actor’s Equity Association – Also known as “Equity”, it is the American union for professional actors.
Advance – Ticket sales prior to opening night.
Alto – term used for a lower pitched female voice
Artistic Director – Individual hired by a theatre company to make and implement broad directional decisions for the company including play selection, stage directors, musical directors and choreographers.
Audition – The process where prospective cast members (singers, actors or dancers) show their talents and abilities through a brief trial performance in order to be selected as part of the cast for a musical theater production.
ASCAP – the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is an agency that assists in collecting royalty fees for copyrighted works from theater groups and companies.
Aside – A comment made directly to the audience rather than to another character in the play.
Ballad – A quiet, lyrical song, often in the form of a narrative or musical monologue, most often sung by a single individual.
Baritone – term used for a mid-range male voice, lower than tenor, higher than bass.
Bass – term used for the lowest range male voice.
Benefit – A performance of a show or play in which the entire performance or a large block of tickets were presold to a charity for a significant discount then resold to supporters at face value for the benefit of the charity.
Blackface – Late 19th-century custom of using dark face makeup to simulate African-American performers in minstrel shows. Blackface was practiced not only by Caucasian performers but also by African-American performers to create an exaggerated caricature of minstrel performers. Blackface practice extended into vaudeville performance in the early decades of the 20th century.
Bit – A brief comic moment, frequently visual, occasionally verbal, totally unrelated to the plot or story that exists only for its humorous effect.
Blackout – A sudden and complete elimination of stage lighting.
Blocking – Stage movement not tied rhythmically to the music (such as walking, sitting, entrances and exits) compared to choreography, which is completely dependant on the rhythm of the music.
Board – A device controlled either manually or by computer which aids in the changes of lights or sound during a performance. A lighting or sound board may control as many as dozens of microphones or hundreds of lights.
Board of Directors – a group of individuals who oversee the administrative and artistic direction of a theatre company or building.
Book – contemporary term for the spoken portion of the musical; musical theater’s version of the 19th-century opera “libretto.”
Book Musical (also Book Show) – A musical based on a coherent story line with connected characters and plot.
Boomer – An audience member hired to cheer and applaud wildly with the purpose of encouraging and inciting audience appreciation of a performance; also called a “schill.”
Box Office – location where tickets for a performance can be purchased or reserved.
Bows (also Curtain Calls) – post-performance appearance of performers to acknowledge applause of audience. Bows traditionally happen in reverse order of performer’s roles; with the chorus taking the first bows and the lead performers taking the final bows.
Broadway show – technically a show that plays in one of the main theaters in the New York theater district known as “Broadway.” Shows opening outside this district in New York are known as “off-Broadway shows.” It is common, though not always correct, to refer to a musical theatre production as a “Broadway show” even though it may have appeared off-Broadway or even in another city, such as London or Los Angeles.
Burlesque – Originally a form of vaudeville that emphasized satirical skits and songs, but by the 1940’s the term was used to refer to strip shows.
Cakewalk – a “walk-around” competition in minstrel shows where performers would mimic “high society” manners while strutting around the stage; the best imitators winning a cake.
Can-Can – a risqué French dance in which the female dancers perform high kicks while lifting their skirts as part of the rhythmic tease for the audience.
Cast – the group of individuals who form the onstage performers appearing in a play, musical, or revue.
Catalog Show – a theatrical work that combines songs or dances created for separate situations into a single production. Often the songs might be from a single composer such as George Gershwin or Irving Berlin.
Character song – a song that is devised to explore and express the personality of a single character in a musical production.
Choreography – planned dance steps and movement performed by an individual or chorus to specific music.
Choreographer – individual in charge of designing and teaching dance moves to the individuals or chorus in a musical.
Chorus – a group of singers in a musical; also the repetitive refrain of a verse-chorus form of song.
Chorus line – the non-featured performers of a production who would sing and/or dance as a group.
Circuit – a series of theaters that formed a sequence of geographical stops for performers during the vaudeville era.
Close – The final performance of a theatrical production.
Commission – a fee paid in advance for a work of art such as a song, musical, play, painting, sculpture.
Company – a group of theatrical performers; see also Troupe.
Compilation show – see Catalog show.
Composer – the person who writes the music for a song or musical.
Concept musical – a show that is unified to a central idea rather than a linear plot.
Concert performance – a musical theater performance that omits choreography, blocking, and sets and concentrates on the singing and dialogue.
Coon song – an old term for a minstrel song written or performed in a 19th century African-American dialect; now considered highly derogatory.
Costuming – the attire or dress worn by the members of a cast to lend to the credibility of the time period, geographical location or the character of the actor.
Cue (or stage cue) – a theatrical signal, sometimes visual, verbal or musical that triggers an entrance, line or song.
Curtain call – see Bows
Dance captain – a member of the chorus line who trains new dancers to replace performers who have left the show before the run is complete. They are also responsible for keeping the dance portion of the performance polished throughout the run of the show.
Dialect – an actor’s accent or pronunciation which conforms to the ethnic, racial, or geographic background of the character being played.
Downstage – the area at the front of the stage closest to the audience.
Duet – a song featuring two performers.