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Drama glossary

A glossary of drama terms from the NZ Curriculum.

Nota Bene: These definitions reflect current usage in the New Zealand drama education context. Many of the terms are used differently in other drama contexts.

accent: a way of speaking particular to a country, society or culture.

action: (element) what each person in role is doing and thinking, alone and with others.

a day in the life: a process convention that works backwards from an important event in order to explain or give clues about the event; groups create freeze frames of significant moments in the past that cast some light on the event. These freezes are then examined by the participants.

agitprop theatre: a form of street theatre that uses humour, satire, symbolism, song and audience participation to influence audience point of view.

āhua: form, as applied in Māori performing arts.

alienation effect: the creation of a sense of distancing audiences from emotional identification with dramatic action for the purpose of making political or social comment through drama. (Verfremdungseffekt)

alter-ego : a process convention in which students work in pairs, one as the role, one as that role's thoughts. The role plays out the action and dialogue and the alter-ego plays out the inner thoughts and feelings.

annotate: make notes on the script about performance details such as interpretations, motivations, moves, blocking and intonation patterns.

antagonist: the character who is a foil to the protagonist, providing the obstacle or opposing force against which the protagonist must work.

art work: a product of art-making activity (for example, a devised drama, play script, comedy sketch).

articulation: the use of the lips, teeth and tongue to make sounds or the clarity with which words are uttered.

aside: a performance convention in which a line spoken by a character directly to the audience is not heard by other actors onstage.

back to back: a process convention in which two people explore ideas in drama while seated or standing back-to-back.

blanket role: a process convention in which all the participants take the same role within a whole-group role play. It is often used with younger students because it is a non-threatening way for them to begin to work in drama.

body language: communication that uses gestures, posture and facial expression instead of or as well as words.

building belief: the period spent in developing understanding and belief in the dramatic context; also called the initiation phase.

caption : a process convention in which audience groups reflect on the image by creating a caption, headline or title.

ceremony: a process convention in which students, either in small groups or as a whole group, plan and carry out a ceremony to celebrate something of significance.

chorus (of) movement: a convention in which a group moves together with a sense of purpose to heighten the moment or to create a particular visual or spatial effect.

chorus/chorus of voice: a convention used in performance and process drama in which individuals or groups provide spoken explanation or commentary on the main action of a drama.

circular role: a process convention in which groups of participants choose roles as particular characters and a leader in role as a central character improvises drama with each group in turn, linking the characters and getting a variety of responses to a common concern; also sometimes called circular drama.

collage of voice: a convention used in performance and process drama in which participants in role select a line of dialogue and improvise layering of voices.

collective character: a process convention in which a group speaks for a character, with one person representing the character without speaking while the rest of the group improvises his or her words. Alternatively an individual takes on the role while the rest of the group whisper advice and offer lines of dialogue to be spoken by the person in role. It can work as a dialogue.

collective mapping: a process convention in which a group draws a map together to represent the place where the drama is set, providing a concrete representation for the ideas that are being developed; also known as making maps.

commedia dell'arte: an improvised style of comedy popular during the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, originating in Italy and involving stock characters and the use of masks.

compilation: a devised drama structure that explains an idea or theme or subject through the use of self-contained scenes or vignettes. Each scene is independent of the others but unified by its connection to the central idea or theme. (montage)

conventions: established ways of working in drama (for example, hot seating, role on the wall, freeze-frame images) that explore meaning or deepen understanding; or established practices in theatre (for example, the soliloquy, aside).

cue: the signal (verbal or physical) for an actor to deliver his/her next line; the signal for a lighting change or sound effect.

culture: understandings, patterns of behaviour, practices, values, and symbol systems that are acquired, preserved, and transmitted by a group of people and that can be embodied in art works.

defining space: the process by which participants discuss, plan and set up the physical environment in which their drama will occur. Negotiation and decision-making are important aspects because they help participants to build their belief in and commitment to the drama. This is also known as shaping space.

devised drama: drama that is developed for performance without originating from a script, although a script may be developed as part of the process.

direction: where an actor moves to on the stage. This will often have meaning or effect for the audience.

doughnut circle: a process convention in which the participants carry out paired conversations in two groups standing in two concentric circles, with each participant representing a different person's perspective.

dramatic space: the physical environment in which drama occurs.

elements of drama: the key ingredients of drama (that is, role, time, space, action, tension, focus).

energy: the intensity of the movement or voice rather than just speed or volume. A movement could be slow and still have high energy: an utterance soft but still delivered with high energy.

epic theatre: a theatre genre developed by Bertolt Brecht which uses a particular set of conventions and where the performance is presented directly to the audience which is encouraged to respond intellectually to the issues in the play rather than emotionally identifying with characters or action.

fale'aitu: traditional Samoan comic theatre, usually addressing social issues or problems.

flashback or flashforward: a structural convention which involves shifting backwards or forwards in time so that participants or the audience can experience or investigate action or context from another perspective.

focus: (element) the concentration of meaning and the giving of shape to experience in order to form drama.

focus: (2) the specific point of attention on stage at any moment created by the shaping of any aspect or aspects of the dramatic experience in such a way as to purposefully direct the attention of the audience.

focus: (3) personal concentration and commitment to the role and action.

form: the compositional structure or structures that shape a dramatic work; or a broad category of drama, which may include within it a number of styles (for example, puppetry is a form, and glove puppets, marionettes, and shadow puppets are styles).

forum theatre: a theatre form created by Augusto Boal in which a problem or dilemma is enacted by a group while others observe. The observers (spectactors) have the right to stop the action whenever they feel it is losing direction or authenticity. The person who stopped the drama then steps in and takes over the role in order to redirect the action.

found object: a process convention in which drama is inspired by objects found in the environment.

frame: the viewpoint or perspective of a role on the central dramatic action, usually from within the action or on the edge oroutside the action, distanced by time or place.

freeze-frame image : a convention used in performance and process drama in which a person or the members of a group use their bodies to make an image capturing an idea, theme, or moment in time; also called a group sculpture or still image orfrozen image.

games: games or variations of games can be used to highlight human situations within the context of a process drama.

gesture: a movement of any part of the body that expresses an idea.

gestus: a major function of Brecht's epic theatre. Gestus refers to physical actions which expose an underlying main social theme of a play.

given circumstances: the term that Stanislavski gave to the essential information about characters' past lives and relationships and the circumstances and incidents which are revealed by the playwright.

gossip chorus/circle: a convention in which the group speaks the rumours about an event in the drama, sharing fragments of conversation which can be developed into a chorus work.

groupings: how characters are placed in groups onstage to create an effect or to communicate an idea.

guided depiction: a dramatic reconstruction of a key moment with an accompanying commentary, either by one of the characters or by someone outside the action.

hakari: a Maori celebratory meal or feast.

hot seating: a process convention in which class members question or interview someone who is in role (for example, as a character from a play, a person from history) to bring out additional information, ideas, and attitudes about the role. The class members may or may not be in role.

idea: a visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic concept, or a combination of these, within an arts discipline.

improvisation: spontaneous invention and development of drama without use of scripts or preparation.

inflection: the rise and fall in pitch of the voice.

inner action: the private thoughts, motivation or intention of a character.

interpretation: analysis or appreciation of meaning in an art work by a viewer or listener; or the particular meaning communicated by the performer of an existing art work.

interview: a process convention in which a face to face meeting of two parties in role takes place to ascertain particular information for a purpose.

intonation: patterns of rising and falling of pitch in sound. A rising intonation can signal a question. A falling intonation can signal a person has finished speaking.

issues-based drama: a devised drama structure used to explore and discuss some issue important to the participants. It usually employs the techniques of one of, or a combination of, three noted drama practitioners: Bertolt Brecht, Augusto Boal and Dario Fo.

korero paki: storytelling and riddles.

levels: the use of different heights on the stage achieved by platforms, rostra or stairs; the use of different heights in a group by actors standing, sitting or lying down.

mantle of the expert: a process convention in which the participants become characters endowed with specialist knowledge relevant to the situation of the drama. The situation is usually task-oriented so that expert knowledge or understanding are required to perform the task.

mapping: a process convention in which maps or diagrams are made in order to develop or reflect on drama.

marking the moment : a process convention where, in reflection, participants choose a moment from the drama that had impact for them and use another convention (for example, sculptures, frozen images, overheard thoughts) to reveal the impact.

meaning: what an artist expresses in an art work; or what a viewer or listener understands and interprets from an art work.

meeting: a process convention where students in role take part in a gathering where they might hear information, discuss issues, plan action, make decisions or solve problems.

melodrama: a style of drama which uses stock characters and always portrays a tale of good triumphing over evil. It was an extremely popular form of entertainment throughout the nineteenth century.

mime: a form of theatre performance in which action and character are suggested using gesture, movement, and facial expression without words or sounds.

mokowā: space, as applied in Māori performing arts.

monologue: a lengthy speech for one person. Often a monologue is required for audition.

montage: a series of brief scenes showing contrasting angles on a drama or story and juxtaposed to emphasise the different viewpoints and to add interest to the devised piece.

mood: the emotional dimension or feeling of a play scene or moment in the action.

motif: a distinctive idea, image or sound that is repeated throughout a work, or that underpins a work, so that the theme of the motif resonates through the work.

narration: a performance convention in which a person narrates the action that occurs within a drama.

narrative: a devised drama structure which tells a story with events linked by cause and effect and usually leads to a climax. The narrative structure may be chronologically linear or employ flashbacks or flash-forwards to tell the story.

naturalism: a theatre form requiring the actor to identify with the psychology and consequent behaviour of their character. The naturalist plays of writers such as Ibsen and Chekhov provided the fundamental building blocks for Stanislavski's system for acting.

negotiated text: a process convention in which students independently write a line of dialogue. The lines are redistributed so that no one has his/her own line. In groups, students negotiate a scene making sense of the lines. As a variation, this negotiation can be done silently (silent negotiation) .

news reports: a process convention in which students in role as either radio or television news readers present a news item they have written.

open script: a script that has few or no stage directions, set or character description. Often characters are merely identified as 'A', 'B', 'C' ...

outer action: what the actor does physically to achieve what a character wants. The outer action is affected by the inner action. It is the manifestation of the inner action.

overheard conversation: a convention used in performance and process drama in which a conversation that would not normally be overheard by others is disclosed in order to add tension or provide information. The conversation can be heard in a variety of ways - a telephone conversation, one side of a telephone conversation, in groups, in pairs or individually.

pace: the speed with which a character speaks or with which a body of text is delivered (for example, how fast the cues are).

paired conversation: a convention used in performance and process drama in which two characters in a drama carry out a conversation expressing their different perspectives on a central topic.

pause: a break between words in a character's speech or between the end of one character's speech and the beginning of the next.

performance poetry: interpreting a poem using voice and movement to portray meaning through performance.

personal space: the space around an individual that makes him/her feel uncomfortable if someone else intrudes; this will vary with different characters and relationships.

pitch: the relative highness or lowness of tone of the voice.

playing against : when an actor plays a scene or lines with an emotion that is contrary to what he/she is really feeling (for example, being very angry but delivering the lines in a quiet and measured way).

posture: describes the way a person stands or sits (slumped, upright, stooped).

prepared improvisation: invention and development of drama with limited preparation. Rehearsal of lines is not part of this process.

presentational: a style of performance in which actors in the drama recognise and directly address audiences by such devices as asides, documentary commentary and Brechtian devices.

pretext: the "hook" that activates the drama. It could be a story, an image, a headline, a song or any number of different things.

projection: the control of the volume and the quality of the voice so that it can be heard clearly.

process: the sequence of steps needed to achieve a dramatic outcome (for example, devising a play, putting on a production, making puppets).

process conventions: strategies for working in process drama.

process drama: a form of drama in which the purpose is to participate in learning, inquiry, or discovery rather than to present drama to an external audience.

props: (properties): real life objects that characters use in drama.

protagonist: the first, the principal character; originally the only character who stood out from the chorus in ancient Greek drama.

reflective circle: a process convention in which students stand in a circle and one at a time contribute a sentence reflecting on the drama work.

realism: a theatre form based on the notion of art impersonating life. Realist theatre is traditionally performed on a proscenium arch stage.

reo: voice, as applied in Māori performing arts.

representational: a style of drama where actors seek to portray reality through dramatic action by creating a world which the audience observe but are separate from.

Restoration Theatre: a period of English drama dating from 1660 (with the re-opening of the theatres after the Commonwealth) to the early 1700s.

ritual: this convention used in performance and process drama involves stylised enactment bound by traditional rules and usually repetitious in nature. It is a powerful means of moving participants more deeply into the drama because it enables them to recognise the importance of their actions.

role: (element) the imaginative identity taken on by an actor.

role-in-role: a convention used in performance and process drama in which the participants act as actors acting.

role on the wall: a process convention in which an important role is represented in picture form "on the wall" (usually on a large sheet of paper) so that information can be collectively read or added to as a drama progresses.

role-playing: using the imagination to identify with someone else in order to explore and represent experience from their perspective or viewpoint; also called being in role .

sculpting : a process convention where, either individually or as a group, the participants create a sculpture to convey meaning .

silent negotiation: a process convention where, after students write a line of dialogue independently, the lines are redistributed so that no one has their own line. Then, in small groups, students silently negotiate the sequence of these lines to make a scene.

situation: the set of circumstances at a particular moment in the action.

slow motion: a convention used in performance and process drama in which movement, expressions and gestures are slowed down and exaggerated to heighten tension or isolate an important moment.

social text: an art work that refers to the society or culture in which it is made and that reflects the dynamics within that society or culture.

soliloquy: a performance convention where a speech delivered by a character alone onstage reveals that character's innermost thoughts.

soundscape: a sequence of sounds shaped to enhance action and mood in a drama.

source: poems, stories, newspapers, books, artefacts, diaries, personal experiences, songs, visual art, film clips or anything a pretext is sourced from.

space: (element) the place where, imaginatively, the action occurs within a drama.

speaking thoughts aloud: a convention used in performance and process drama in which the action freezes and a character speaks his/her thoughts aloud in order to add tension, provide information, or for some other purpose; also can be calledspoken thoughts.

spectactors: what the audience become when to enter the dramatic action in order to transform its outcome. It is an innovation used mainly for political purposes by Augusto Boal and others.

split focus: having two different dialogues or actions happening simultaneously on stage. Split focus can be used deliberately to strong effect but may also occur unintentionally in an improvised context.

spoken diary: a convention, used in performance and process drama for reflecting on the action in the drama, in which the character writes a diary or letter speaking the contents aloud and thereby explaining his /her feelings to the audience or other participants.

statementing: a process convention. Students stand in a circle. A chair in the middle has a prop on it to signal role. Those in the circle take the role of someone who knows the person signalled in the chair, for example, family friend, neighbour, family member. Everyone moves and stands in relation to the chair according to how well they know the "chair" person. The teacher moves round the group and collects a statement from the roles about the "chair" person.

storytelling: a performance convention in which a story is presented through action, dialogue, and narration (by an external narrator or by characters within the drama).

style : a specialised type of drama within a broader form (for example, commedia dell'arte is a style within the form of mask comedy); or the recognised manner or distinguishing way in which a particular type of drama is created and presented and according to which it is interpreted. Style often relates to a particular historical period, movement, writer, or performer.

subtext: the unspoken thought or motivation underlying dialogue.

symbol: the use of a character, prop or aspect of the set to exemplify an idea (for example, a red rose to represent love; white as a sign of purity or innocence).

tag role: participants in an improvisation can be tagged or appeal to be tagged and so replaced in the improvisation by another group member. The object is to keep the flow of the improvisation no matter how many people participate.

tauhanga: body stance, as applied in Māori performing arts.

teacher in role: a process convention and teaching strategy where the teacher manages a class from within a drama by taking a role to deepen and extend students' inquiry and learning.

technique: a particular method or procedure used to achieve a specific purpose. In drama, the term relates to the use of voice, body (for example, facial expression and gesture), movement and use of space.

technologies: equipment that helps to create, present, explain, document, analyse, view, interpret, or learn about dramatic work (for example, puppets, masks, lighting, props, sounds, costumes, recording equipment).

telephone conversations: a one way conversation where the group only hears one side of the dialogue; or a two-way conversation devised in pairs to illuminate a situation or to inform or to advance plot. Telephone conversations may be used to create outside pressure or to introduce new information.

tension: (element) where mental pressure or emotional intensity is used to provoke a response, focus attention, or heighten involvement.

text: any expressive work (artistic or otherwise) that can be "read", whether it uses words, images, or sounds.

Theatre of the Absurd: a form of theatre in which language is unconventional and in which political and social problems are examined and presented in unconventional ways.

Theatre of Oppression: a form of theatre, developed and used by Augusto Boal, which examines the problems of oppressed peoples. (Theatre of the Oppressed)

theatre piece: a process convention where the teacher or a small group prepares and rehearses a piece of theatre as a pretext.

this way/that way: a convention used in performance and process drama that highlights different characters' interpretations of the same event by enacting versions from different perspectives with especial attention to details.

thought tapping: a process convention in which the action freezes and a leader moves among the participants, tapping individual's shoulders to activate the speaking aloud of the thoughts of that role.

thought tracking: a reflective process convention that reveals the private thoughts of roles at specific moments in the action.

time: (element) when (time of day, year, period) the dramatic action takes place; or the action can take place in "real time" or "dramatic time" when the action is shorter or even longer than real time.

timing: the execution of a line or movement at a specific moment to achieve the most telling effect.

vignette: an improvised scene refined to capture a snapshot of a moment.

voices in the head: a process convention in which a participant who is not in role speaks the thoughts of another person who is in role. It can be facilitated by a teacher freezing the action in a scene and nominating a student from the audience to stand beside or make physical contact with a student in the frozen scene and speak the "voice in the head" of that role.

volume: describes how loud or soft the voice or sound is.

wall of thought: a process convention in which participants stand in two rows and, as a character walks between them, the participants speak the thoughts that may be in the character's head or offer the character advice, or make comments about the character, either as themselves or in role as other characters; also known as conscience alley or wall of conscience.

whole-group role play: a process convention in which all the participants are in role and in an imagined setting so that everyone is involved in the drama at the same time and shaping the drama while it is in progress. This strategy can be very powerful when a teacher works from within the action.

writing in role: a convention that involves writing as the character, using the character's voice to express his/her thoughts and/or feelings about the situation. The writing may take different forms; dairies, letters, reports, text messages, reviews, statements.

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