Quick intro here: Since deciding I wanted to focus more on some theatrical things, I decided that Mondays (when I’m actually on schedule/track/whatever you want to call it) would be a day to discuss theatre terminology. Most of this is pretty readily available, but my hope is that by reading this, you might learn something you either wouldn’t have looked into before or may have been confused about before. Also I hope that I can trick a few of you into becoming more interested in the world of theatre (technical or otherwise). Just kidding about tricking of course, though I would be happy if this helps a few more people into the world of theatre.
Anyways, the first term(s) I wanted to discuss is Stage Directions. Gotta start with the basics, right?
Learning stage directions is easy and difficult all at once. It is straight forward, don’t get me wrong, but every now and then we all get our lefts and rights backwards for any number of reasons on a regular day. We’re tired or frustrated or facing the upstage versus downstage or focusing on something else at the moment and then we have the silly little moment of being on the opposite side of the stage from where the director had asked you to be. Yes, we’ll do the quick silly laugh because we’ve all been there at one point or another and then get on with things, but we still end up with the “crap, I know better” moment.
Stage Directions are the areas of the stage based on an actor standing at center on the stage and facing the audience. Audience seating is referred to as the House. So to a person sitting in the house left and right directions are reversed for the actor on stage.
Stage left – an actor’s left if they are standing at center on the stage (for a person in the house this is house right).
Stage right – same as stage left but to the right.
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Upstage vs Downstage
I always feel like this is the biggest area of confusion when it comes to stage directions. Personally I probably get this backwards more often than the stage lefts and rights.
Upstage is moving further away from the audience (normally moving closer to backstage) while downstage is moving closer to the audience (and away from backstage).
There was a period of time when stages were built with a rake or an incline because the audience would be on level ground. Think of any theatre (movie or live performance) and picture how the audience seating is compared to the stage. Okay, now reverse that image so the stage is angled like the seating and the audience is on flat ground. Thats what theatre spaces were like for years before the modern convention.
So with those stages the actor was literally moving up the stage or down the stage because of the incline which is why upstage is further away from the audience than downstage is.
I hope that was informative. Please let me know if you have any questions if I didn’t explain something well enough. If there is a particular term you are interested in reading about (that you haven’t found much info on elsewhere) leave me a comment and I’d be happy to write a post on it if I’m able.
**I will not claim to be an expert, I’m just someone that works in the industry every day and is learning every day and is doing my best to share my own knowledge.