Upright Stagehand’s Glossary

Heads up! When the kabuki drop comes in, you had better stay clear of the landing zone.

Like most skilled trade industries, the field of live show production has a language all its own. If want a career as a stage techie, you better start learning the vocabulary.

apron – the section of the stage in front of the proscenium arch.

array – a set of flown speakers.

ASMAssistant Stage Manager.

AX – an abbreviation for “Audio.” 

backline – equipment behind the band, usually consisting of amps, cables, and other audio gear.

ballyhoo – swinging a spotlight in a figure eight pattern.

barndoors – an attachment placed on a lighting fixture (usually a Fresnel) with two or four hinged metal plates, used to block light in a specific pattern.

Birdie – refers to a Par 16 or MR 16 luminaire. So-called because it is smaller than a parcan, or “one under par.” Takes its name from the golf term.

blocking – instructing the actors on specific movements during a scene.

boomerang – the apparatus in a followspot that allows the operator to change gel colors by pulling spring-loaded levers.

“Break a Leg” – the alternative phrase used for “Good Luck” (because it is considered bad luck).

c-clamp – a type of clamp found on most lighting instruments used to attach lights to a pipe or truss.

cans – term for headphones.

cheat – direction given to an actor, or a method of placement, where the person or object is slanted to face slightly toward the audience. Frequently referred to with the phrase, “cheat out.”

choke – rigging term for a slinging pattern. Passing one end of a sling through the eye of the opposite end.

clipping – term for audio distortion. Typically caused by an amplifier or mixer that is unable to handle the signal level being fed to it.

clove hitch – a type of knot commonly used in rigging and by other stage technicians.

company – the entire cast, crew, and staff of a particular show.

costume parade – all of the actors appear on stage in their complete costumes for the director’s approval. Conducted during final rehearsals.

crosstalk – two audio signals that are bleeding over one another. Also abbreviated as XT

cue light – a system of giving silent cues to actors and technicians. A single lamp is placed in a concealed position backstage or near a console operator. When it is turned on, it means “Standby,” and when it’s off, it means “Go.”

cue-to-cue – a technical rehearsal where each scene is run from one cue to the next, skipping dialogue and action in between.

curtain call – when the cast join together on stage to take a bow at the end of the performance.

cyclorama – a backdrop of fabric or solid wall (usually white) behind the set. Often used to reflect light to simulate day and night sky.

daisy chain – the process of connecting several pieces of electrical equipment in sequence. 

dead hang – a rigging point that is stagnant and cannot fly. The point is attached to structural steel beam.

deck – another term for stage. 

dimmer – electronic device used to control the amount of electricity passed to a lighting instrument, thus controlling the intensity.

DMX512 – the Digital Multiplexing Data cable used to control stage lighting and effects.

donut – a metal plate with a hole in the middle that is inserted into a lighting instrument to sharpen the focus and limit spill.

dress rehearsal – the final rehearsal of a show with full cast, costumes, props, and other technical elements. Run in real-time without pause.

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Want to land the best gigs in live events? Check out this guide to getting involved with IATSE, the premier union for artists, technicians and stage employees

ERS – the Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlight is a type of lighting instrument.

ellipsoidal – commonly referred to as a Leko, this is a profile lighting instrument with an elliptical reflector and at least one lens. 

flagging – method of waving your hand, or other object, in front of a light to differentiate it from other light sources during focus.

flat – a piece of scenery that represents a wall or door. Usually a wood frame made of 1-inch by 3-inch braces and covered in scenic canvas or plywood.

fly – manually or mechanically lifting an item out (up) or lowering it in (down) when attached to fly system.

flyman – person who operates the fly system.

FOH – front of house. Location where the control booth with sound and lighting consoles is located.

focus – to position the throw or beam of lighting instruments according to the direction of the lighting designer.

fourth wall – the imaginary wall between the audience and the actors on stage. Breaking the fourth wall is when the actor acknowledges the audience’s presence during a scene. 

frost – a type of diffusion filter placed in a lighting instrument to soften the edges of the projected beam.

gel – sheets of thin, colored plastic that are placed over the face of a lighting instrument to change the color of the beam.

ghosting – a method of identifying the position of a followspot before a pick-up, where the operator projects a faint beam of light onto an inconspicuous portion of the stage or surrounding area. 

ghost light – a single lamp left on in an unoccupied theater. Superstition states that the light is used to illuminate good spirits and ward off bad ones. It’s also helpful when entering a dark theater, so as not to trip over scenery and equipment.

gobo – a thin sheet of metal with a pattern cut into it that is inserted in a lighting instrument to project that pattern onto the stage.

grid – structure made of high structural steel or beams over the stage and audience. 

go – the order to execute a cue given by the stage manager.

heads – more commonly yelled as “Heads!” right before someone working over the stage or audience drops a tool or piece of equipment. It is meant to warn those below to get out of the way.

heatshield – made by Rosco, a clear gel that is placed between the lamp and colored gel to reduce the heat delivered through the gel. Prevents burn and extends the life of the gel.

Hollywood Flat – a double-sided wood flat that is wider than a standard stage flat. Typically used in film and television, but also adopted by the theater. 

hot spot – the hottest point in a lamp’s beam, generally at the center of the light.

house left – the left side of the theater determined by the audience’s perspective looking at the stage.

house right – the right side of the theater determined by the audience’s perspective looking at the stage.

IATSE – International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the union that represents stage, film, and television technicians.

impedance – electrical resistance in a/c circuits.

in – to fly a piece of scenery down toward the stage.

in the round – a performance space where the stage is surrounded on all sides by the audience.

instrument – term given to a lighting fixture.

jumper – a short extension cord, typically made in five-foot increments, starting at one foot.

Kabuki Drop – a method of dropping a fabric cloth backdrop from a fly bar. Either triggered manually with a pull line or by pneumatic/electric actuators that cause the bar to spin and drop the cloth from a series of prongs.

kill – to strike, remove, or turn off. 

lamp – there are no light bulbs in theater, only lamps.

leg – a segment of drapery on the side of the stage, hung to conceal the audience’s view of the wings and divide stage entrance/exit positions.

leko – a type of lighting instrument. See E.R.S.

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