Acting 101: A Glossary of Terms
If you’re just starting out in professional acting, the learning curve may be steep. The world of entertainment is broad and full of details, many of which you will have to master to perform your job effectively. Whether you are just auditioning or you’ve landed your first role, chances are you’ll come face-to-face with some terminology you don’t quite understand.
We’ve compiled a list of important terms for beginners to understand, so you can hit the ground running in your acting career. While this is not a comprehensive list, it should help you become acclimated to your new surroundings.
Action: What the director says to indicate that the camera is rolling and a scene has started.
Ad-Lib: When an actor goes off-script and is expected to improvise in a scene.
Adjustment: A change in direction regarding the playing of certain material.
Advance: An amount of money paid before work has started to secure a professional’s place on a production.
Aside: A bit of dialogue directed only at the audience on stage, unheard by other characters.
Audition: A try-out for a role.
Back to one: A verbal cue indicating actors should return to where they started a scene.
Background: Extras in a production. Often the verbal equivalent of ‘action!’ for extras.
Backstage: The area behind the stage in a production or unseen by the audience.
Beat: A deliberate pause in dialogue or action.
Black out: When all stage lights are shut down.
Blocking: The physical movements orchestrated in a scene.
Booking: Formally scheduling an actor for a role.
Breaking character: When an actor stops acting and steps out of their role.
Call back: A second audition, in which an actor is ‘called back’ to show their skills again.
Call sheet: The list of schedules for all cast and crew in a production.
Camera left: When performers take up the left side of the shot from the camera operator’s perspective.
Camera right: When performers take up the right side of the shot from the camera operator’s perspective.
Camera ready: The state of being ready for filming, with hair, makeup, and costuming done.
Casting: The process of choosing the performers for a production, done by the casting director, director, or other professionals.
Closing off: When an actor turns away from the audience.
Cold reading: In an audition, when an actor is asked to use material they haven’t studied or seen previously.
Commission: A portion of an actor’s earnings taken by an agent or manager.
Craft services: The on-set table containing food for cast and crew on a production.
Cue: A signal for an actor to begin or continue their performing.
Cut: The verbal cue for filming to stop.
Dailies: Raw footage shot on the same day.
Demo reel: A compilation of highlights of an actor’s previous on-camera roles.
Downstage: The section of the stage that is closest to the audience.
Dress rehearsal: A rehearsal in full costume, usually right before an actual show.
Exit: A stage direction indicating an actor should leave the stage.
Eye line: The direction or point an actor should be looking at in a scene or shot.
Feature: A full-length film.
Fourth wall: The imaginary area that separates an actor from the audience. The fourth wall is broken when an actor makes an aside directly to the audience.
FX: Special effects.
Holding: The area extras wait while not on set.
Hot set: A set that is ready for filming.
Improvisation: When an actor performs spontaneously with no script.
Mark: The exact position assigned to an actor on set.
Monologue: The term for a lengthy speech given by a single actor in a scene.
Motivation: The ‘why’ behind a character’s actions.
Off book: When an actor has their lines completely memorized and does not need to refer to a script.
On book: When an actor has not yet memorized their script.
On hold: When a casting director identifies that they want an actor for a production, but has not yet formally hired them.
Open call: A day for auditions open to anyone.
Opening up: When an actor turns toward the audience.
Out of frame: When a performer is outside of the camera’s field of view.
Pace: The speed at which a scene unfolds, or the speed at which actors deliver their lines.
Pantomime: When actors in a scene pretend to speak.
Pick up: When a scene is started at a place aside from its beginning.
Places: A command to inform performers to take their assigned positions on stage.
Props: The objects used by actors in a scene.
Rush call: Last-minute booking of actors or extras.
Script: The written form of a film or production, containing all actors’ lines and directions.
Sides: Pages or scenes from a script.
Slate: A quick statement of a performer’s information before an audition begins.
Soliloquy: A long speech by an actor without anyone else on stage, sometimes directed at the audience.
Spiking the lens: When an actor looks directly into the camera during filming.
Stage left: The area to the actor’s left.
Stage right: The area to the actor’s right.
Standby: The verbal indication that actors should be ready and awaiting their cue.
Take: A shot in progress.
Upstage: The part of the stage farthest away from the audience.
Wrap: The end of filming for a day.
With the knowledge of these terms under your belt, you’re all set for your next acting opportunity!