Acting Glossary

The definitive resource for acting and industry terminology.

3 Act Structure

The 3 Act Structure is a blueprint for storytelling where each act represents the beginning, middle and end of the story. Act 1 usually introduces the world, characters and main conflicts, Act 2 is where the conflict unfolds and Act 3 brings everything to a conclusion.

7 Questions

The “7 questions” are a set of questions, popularised by Konstantin Stanislavski, that actors use to develop their characters. Stanislavski believed that these questions would help actors understand who their characters truly were, and they’ve been used by actors all over the world ever since.

Acting Technique

Acting techniques, also known as methods or systems, are techniques that actors use to develop realistic characters and consistently give naturalistic performances at a high level without needing to rely solely on instinct.

Action

“Action” is a term used by TV and film directors to signal the start of a scene.

Actions

Actions are the things a character does or says in an attempt to achieve their objective.

Actors Access

Actors Access is an online casting platform for actors in the United States & Canada to view and submit to casting breakdowns for TV, film and theater productions.

AD

Abbreviation for Assistant Director. Assistant Director’s assist the director in achieving their creative vision and help ensure the production process runs smoothly.

Ad-lib

Ad-libs are improvised lines and actions that aren’t in the original script.

ADR

Abbreviation for Automated Dialogue Replacement. ADR is the process of re-recording or replacing dialogue during post production of a film or show.

Aerial Shot

An aerial shot is a camera angle that provides a birds eye view of a scene by filming from an elevated position such as a crane or drone.

Affective Memory

Affective Memory is an acting technique where actors recall emotions of past experiences to re-experience them within the context of the scene.

Aside

An Aside is a storytelling device where a character breaks away from the storyline to engage in self-dialogue or to communicate directly to the audience. This usually goes unoticed by the other characters within the scene.

ASM

Abbreviation for Assistant Stage Manager. An ASM is a crucial role in the theatre production team. Their primary responsibility is to assist the Director and Stage Manager in ensuring the production runs smoothly.

Auditorium

An auditorium is the area where the audience sits during a performance or event. Auditoriums can vary in size and capacity holding anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people.

Back to Ones

“Back to ones” is a phrase used by the director or assistant director on TV and films sets. It instructs the actors and crew to return to their starting positions and reset the scene for another take.

Background

The term “background” refers to the actors or elements in a scene that are not the primary focus. These actors are often known as background actors, supporting actors or extras.

Beat

Beats are fundamental elements of script analysis. Each beat is a specific moment within a scene that represents a distinct change in a characters dialogue, objectives, emotions, intentions, or actions. Actors often break down a script into beats to understand these shifts, allowing them to give a more nuanced and authentic performance.

Black Box

A black box is a studio or theatre space with black walls. The space can be used flexibly and can be customised to fit the directors needs. They provide a modern, intimate and creative space for performances that opposes the somewhat formal nature of a traditional theatre.

Blank

The term “blank” refers to the moment when an actor forgets their lines or loses concentration.

Blocking

Blocking is the process of planning and rehearsing the movements, positions and actions of the actors within a scene.

Boom Mic

A boom mic is a microphone mounted on a pole, used to capture dialogue, ambience and other audio on set.

Break a Leg

“Break a leg” is a traditional theatre phrase that wishes good luck before a performance.

Bums on Seats

The phrase “bums on seats” refers to the number of audience members attending a performance. Therefore, the producer wants to get as many “bums on seats” as possible.

Corpsing

Corpsing is a theatre term that represents involuntary laughter or breaking character during a performance. Corpsing is often believed to originated from when actors would play “dead” and other cast members would try to make them laugh and break character.

Demo Reel

A demo reel, also known as a showreel is a compilation of an actor’s on screen work that shows other industry professionals what they can do. They are an essential part of an actors portfolio as they allow Casting Directors to see them in an on screen setting which can then lead to auditions.

Emotional Memory

Emotional Memory, also known as emotion memory or is a controversial acting technique, popularised by Konstantin Stanislavski, where an actor uses memories to re-experience emotion.

Fill Light

A fill light is an additional light that is used to fill in the shaded areas of a subject that is left over from the key light.

Given Circumstances

Given circumstances refers to the essential background information and context of a character and scene, that has been given to the actor by the writer or director. Understanding the given circumstances of a scene helps the actor place themselves within that scene and allows them to give performances that are deeply rooted in that world.

Headshots

Headshots are photos of an actor that are used for auditions and promotional purposes. Good headshots will represent the actor and allow Casting Directors and industry professionals to understand who the actor is and what roles they can see them playing.

Iambic pentameter

Iambic pentameter is a rhythmic pattern consisting of ten syllables per line, where each line alternates between unstressed and stressed syllables. It’s known to resemble natural speech rhythm and is famously used by William Shakespeare.

Jib

A “jib” is a camera support with a long horizontal arm and a counterweight that enables smooth camera movements. It’s commonly used for dynamic and sweeping shots, adding a cinematic flair to scenes.

Key light

A key light is the primary source of light in a scene, used to illuminate the main subject. This is then filled in with the fill light.

Lav mic

A “lav”, short for lavalier is a small microphone that can be clipped to an actor’s clothing to capture dialogue. Lavs are often used as backup microphones or for scenes where it would be hard to hide a boom arm and shotgun mic.

Monologue

A monologue is a speech or solo performance in a film, series or play.

Objectives

Objectives are goals or desires that a character has within a scene, often found by asking the question, “What do I want?”

Pilot

A pilot is the term for the first episode of a television series. Pilot episodes are usually filmed before a show has received network funding and are used to sell the show to networks.

Quiet on set

“Quite on set”, is a phrase that you will hear from the Director, AD or Runner’s to maintain silence before shooting a scene.

Subtext

Subtext is the hidden meaning, emotion, and intentions beneath the surface-level dialogue or action that adds depth and complexity to performances.

Take

In film and TV, a take is a single continuous recording of a scene or specific portion of a scene. During a production day, the director will usually request multiple takes from multiple angles of each scene. While this provides flexibility during editing, it also extends the production timeline.

Upstage

Upstage is a theatre term that refers to the part of the stage furthest from the audience, but it can also be used in a figurative sense. To “upstage” someone is to draw the audiences attention away from another actor.

Uta Hagen

Uta Hagen is a German-American actress and acting teacher, especially known for her contributions to acting theory and technique.

Video Village

Video Village is a designated area on set where video monitors are set up for the director and production team to view footage.

Visualisation

Visualisation is the mental process of imagining, picturing and seeing a specific scene, object, action or emotion. Effective visualisation allows an actor to perform more believably, especially within modern film production where the use of greenscreens has become more common.

VO (Voiceover)

VO, short for “voiceover,” refers to the recording of a voice that can be used for TV, Film, Radio or other recorded media. Actors that engage in voiceover work are often refered to as voiceover artists or voiceover’s.

Walkthrough

In acting, a walkthrough is a rehearsal where actors walk through the blocking and staging of a scene. On set, this is often done a few times to allow the full cast and crew to be on the same page regarding focus points and marks they need to hit and allows the Director of Photography and Sound Department to plan out the technicals of the scene.

Wide

The term “wide” or “wide shot”, refers to a camera shot that captures a large area. Wide shots are often used to establish a setting, capture large-scale action and make characters or objects seem small or isolated within their environment.

Wrap

“Wrap” is a term that is used to signify the completion of filming or production of a film or series. This is most commonly used within the phrase, “that’s a wrap!”