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Elements of Drama

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Drama
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A story written to be performed by actors.
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Drama
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There are several different forms of presenting this; each has a very specific format. Plays have a very simple format; teleplays, for television shows, or screenplays, for movies, have more complex and strict rules for formatting.
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Drama
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The first of these to be written for the express purpose of being performed were created by the Greeks. Many of our modern terms derive from Greek origins.
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Comedy
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In the Greek sense, a play that doesn’t end in death. In modern usage, refers to a play that is humorous.
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Tragedy
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In the Greek sense, a play that ends with the death of at least one of the main characters. In modern usage, refers to a play that doesn’t have a happy ending.
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Irony
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general name for moments in literature that involve surprising, interesting, or amusing contradictions
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Dramatic irony
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a contradiction between what the character thinks and what the audience or reader knows to be true
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Script
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the written text of a play. Usually includes a list of characters that appear in the play with a brief description of what the character is like (Dramatis Personae), brief descriptions of the sets or setting, and the lines the characters will speak.
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Dramatis Personae
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“People of Drama” in Latin; a list of the characters in a play, usually found on the first page of the script; often includes important information about the character
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Character
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as in a story, people or creatures that appear in a script by speaking or doing something (the “something” may be as simple as walking on stage, then walking off again); someone in a script who is involved with a plot
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Dialogue
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the lines spoken by the actors; in the script, preceded by the name of the character that is to speak the words
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Monologue
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A speech given by a single character while that character is alone on stage; also called a soliloquy
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Soliloquy –
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In drama (especially Elizabethan [Shakespearean]), an extended speech by a solitary character expressing inner thoughts aloud to him-or herself and to the audience; a monologue
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Aside
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A monologue performed by a character while other characters are on stage; the information in an aside is not heard by the other characters on stage, even though they may be standing very close by; it is intended to convey the character’s private thoughts to the audience. Other characters on stage at that time may freeze, to show that the words being said are not being overheard; other times, the other characters will go about their business but ignore the character giving the aside.
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Exposition
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A speech or discussion presented in a very straight-forward manner that is designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand
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Stage directions
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a description (as of a character or setting) or direction (as to indicate stage business) provided in the text of a play, usually indicated with italics and/or parentheses. May indicate where the scene takes place, what a character is supposed to do, or how a character should deliver certain lines.
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Enter
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A stage direction – tells the character(s) to come onto the stage. Often includes a direction (left or right) or additional information about how characters are to enter the scene.
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Exit
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A stage direction – tells the character(s) to leave the stage and the scene. Often includes a direction (left or right) or additional information about how characters are to leave the scene.
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Act
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A major section of a play, similar to a chapter in a book; an act is usually made up of several scenes
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Scene
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a subdivision of an act; usually, a scene indicates a specific location or time, and changes if another location or time is supposed to be presented. A scene usually ends when all the characters in the scene leave the stage.
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Line
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Shakespeare’s plays were written in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter, 10 syllables per line); as in a poem, a line might end though the sentence continues. Current copies of Shakespeare’s scripts usually have numbers listed in the margins of the pages so readers can find lines quickly.
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Three Number System
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***Specific points in the play can be found with this (ex: “3.1.159” refers to a specific line: Act Three, Scene Two, Line One hundred fifty-nine; “2.2.2-7” indicates a series of lines in Act 2, Scene 2, starting at Line 2 and ending at Line 7)***
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Chorus
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a character or group in a drama who speaks the prologue and epilogue and comments on the action
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Extra
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a minor character who doesn’t have many or any lines; usually, extras don’t have names, but are identified by what they do (“servant,” “boy,” “policeman”) and sometimes a number if there are more than one of that type of extra
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Theater
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building, structure, or space in which dramatic performances take place. In its broadest sense theater can be defined as including everything connected with dramatic art—the play itself, the stage with its scenery and lighting, makeup, costumes, acting, and actors. (alt. spelling: refers to the actual building itself)
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Delivery
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how an actor says his or her lines. The delivery of lines is as important as what an actor does or looks like, or how he or she dresses.
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Emote
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from the word “emotion”; to deliver lines with feelings appropriate to the scene; to show emotion through one’s voice. If you overdo this, it’s called “chewing the scenery.”
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Project
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When the “o” is long and the emphasis is on the second syllable, this word means, “to speak loudly and clearly”; refers to the volume of an actor’s voice
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“Line reading”
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refers to the volume, tone, and emotion an actor uses when reading a line. The way an actor reads a line can completely change the meaning of the words, which can change an entire scene. For example, an actor might read lines sarcastically, rather than “straight.”
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Actor
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a person who plays the role of a character in a play. This term is currently accepted as being “gender neutral”; it applies to both men and women.
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Acting
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in drama, pretending to be someone else, usually through a combination of line delivery, costumes, props, and how the actor presents him or herself.
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Lead
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a principal or main role in a dramatic production; also: one who plays such a role
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“Larger than life”
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Actors must not only project their voices (so they can be heard at the back of the theater), they must also project their motions and emotions. Motions and emotions need to be exaggerated (though it is possible to overdo it; see “chewing the scenery” in “emote”). What looks overblown in person looks wonderful from the audience.
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Motivation
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Actors need to consider not only what a character is supposed to do, but WHY a character behaves in a certain way; this is the character’s motivation. Understanding motivation helps an actor understand the emotional state of their character, which influences how the character moves, speaks, and behaves.
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Suspension of disbelief
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When an audience goes to see a play, they have to pretend that what’s happening on the stage is real, even though it is only a staged performance.
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“The Fourth Wall”
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A stage set only has three walls, but actors usually pretend there is an invisible fourth wall between themselves and the audience. When a character directly addresses the audience, recognizing that they are being watched, he or she is “breaking the fourth wall.” Exposition and monologues sometimes break the fourth wall.
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“In character”
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when an actor is pretending to be someone else
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“Breaking character”
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when an actor abruptly stops acting, or “falls out” of character; this can ruin the audience’s suspension of disbelief
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Director
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The person who decides which actors will be in the play, where they should stand or move to, how they should speak, and what they should wear.
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Concept
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the idea a director has that ties together the look, feel, and performance of a play. One concept might be “The Old West”; costumes would be cowboy-and-Indian outfits, actors would use Old West accents when they spoke, sets would include saloons and cactuses, etc. The concept is seen in the LOOK of the play, and it may influence how the audience UNDERSTANDS the play, but the concept does not change the WORDS of the play. The concept is outside of the script; it is up to a director to come up with a concept. Directors are always thinking of CREATIVE concepts they can use to stage old plays.
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Cast
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(n) 1) The actors in a play 2) The process of selecting which actors will play which characters; (v) to choose actors to play specific roles
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Blocking
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1) The process in rehearsals wherein the director tells the actors where to go and how to move. 2) The act of physically marking the stage (usually with tape) to indicate to where an actor is supposed to move.
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Body Language
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an important part of acting; the physical actions of an actor can be even more important than what the actor says. Body language reflects characters’ thoughts and feelings just as much as words.
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Business
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silent actions that actors do when they are on stage but don’t have lines and are not part of the main action or dialogue; “business” might include pretending to talk to someone, pretending to shop, pretending to play a game, etc.
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Prompt
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a reminder to an actor when the actor forgets a line
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Promptbook
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a copy of a script that an actor or director has added notes to. These notes are usually about the emotions of a character during a scene, the character’s motivation, ideas for blocking or business, suggestions for line readings, or other important notes.
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Stage
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the area where a play is acted out; generally, this area is raised above the regular floor level. ** Originally, this was built so that it angled toward the audience; the “back” of it was higher than the “front,” so the audience could see equally well actions at the back of it and at the front. Now the floor of the seating area is angled upward to provide the same effect. This helps explain the terms “down-stage” and “up-stage.”** **All directions should be given from the actor’s point of view**
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Stage Right
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the right part of a stage from the viewpoint of one who faces the audience
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Stage Left
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the left part of a stage from the viewpoint of one who faces the audience
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Down-stage
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the part of a stage that is closest to the audience or camera
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Up-stage
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the part of a stage that is farthest from the audience or camera (If you “upstage” someone, you steal the audience’s attention from someone who is supposed to be getting it; you may do this physically by placing yourself down-stage of them [thus making them up-stage from you], or by performing better than they, or in other ways)
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Proscenium
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1 a : the stage of an ancient Greek or Roman theater b : the part of a modern stage in front of the curtain c : the wall that separates the stage from the auditorium and provides the arch that frames it
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Proscenium stage
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a traditional stage
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Proscenium stage (Front View)
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Main Curtain (“The Curtain”)
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Usually refers to the main curtain, which conceals the stage from view when closed and reveals the stage and actors when open.
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Backdrop
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A picture or flat that is hung from a pipe and which depicts a background for a scene
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Valence
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a short curtain that runs across the top of the proscenium; it blocks the audiences view of hanging lights and fly pipes, and can be used to create a frame for the scene.
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Proscenium stage (Top View)
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Orchestra Pit
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a sunken area between the stage and the audience where an orchestra can set up and play music during the performance without blocking the view of the stage.
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Cyclorama
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a large curtain, often at the very rear of the stage, that acts as a backdrop for an entire show
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Travelers (also “legs”)
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curtains, usually black, on the wings that obstructs the audience’s view of the backstage area
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Wings
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Usually refers to the area that is not visible to the audience; also called backstage
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Apron
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An area (or areas) forward and to the side of the proscenium in a modern stage.
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House
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The portion of the theater where the audience sits; the area that is not the stage
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Theater in the round –
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a theater in which the stage is located in the center of the auditorium — also called arena theater
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Theater in the round (Top View)
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Thrust stage
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a stage that projects beyond the proscenium so that the audience sits around the projection
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Thrust
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a forestage that is extended into the auditorium to increase the stage area
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Thrust stage (Top View)
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Set
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the stage and the items upon it that are used to create the illusion of a certain setting
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Set design
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a drawing or model that shows what the stage will look like during a particular play, act, or scene.
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Flat
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A piece on which scenery can be painted; often constructed of a light wooden frame covered by stretched canvas
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Fly pipes (also “pipes” or “flies”)
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pipes suspended over the stage by a pulley system that allow curtains, flats, and backdrops to be lowered into a scene or raised out of a scene
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Props
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(short for “properties”) the items used by actors as they act out a scene
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Costume
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The clothing worn during a play by an actor to help show the audience that the actor is playing a role.
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Stage hand
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A person who builds sets, props, or costumes before the play, or who moves them during the play
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Lighting
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refers to the way lights are used to illuminate the stage. Sometimes the lighting is solely to illuminate the actors so the audience can see; sometimes the lighting is used to complement scenery with colors and effects; sometimes it is used to suggest the mood of characters, also with colors and effects.
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Gaffer
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someone who designs, sets up, or operates lighting for a production
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Intermission
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A break in the play, usually between acts, to allow the audience a break or rest, and to allow the actors to change costumes or set the stage.