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Pro Production: Understanding The Language Of The “Show”

A glossary of common terms you'll likely to hear in a performance venue.

By Alan Hamilton May 16, 2013

When first starting out in audio, a newcomer will hear terms that may seem like a whole new language. These terms are very common to hear in arenas, union halls, theatres, and similar venues.

While not so common in clubs, even there you can hear some of these terms used by the seasoned veterans of the business. This would be particularly true of clubs that work with regional and national touring acts.

You can expect to hear experienced production people barking out instructions such as: “That rack goes ‘front of house left’ and that case goes ‘upstage center’”

Learning the common terms of the business can make the day go smoother for everyone. In the above phrase, ‘front of house’ refers to the house mixing position. ‘Front of house ‘left’’ would be from the engineer’s perspective facing the stage.

In the second part of the example, ‘upstage’ refers to the part of the stage farthest from the audience while ‘center’ refers to… well… the center of the stage. Therefore, a piece to be positioned ‘upstage center’ would go to the center and rear of the stage.

Editor’s note: The ancient folk of Europe built their stages raked, so that the rearward portion was actually a little higher than the front-most part. That way, people in the audience could see all the action, rather than straining to see something transpiring at the back of the stage. This was the quite literal origin of the terms ‘upstage’ & ‘downstage’.

Perhaps the simplest and most commonly used terms are ‘stage left’ and ‘stage right’. These terms are referring to the performer’s perspective as they are facing the audience.

Standing on the stage and facing the audience the area on your left would be ‘stage left’. Obviously, following form, the area to your right would be ‘stage right’.

Below are simple but important terms that you should know for working in this field. Where appropriate, common abbreviations are shown. Many times you will find these abbreviations stenciled onto the road cases.

Also, it is common for only the abbreviations to be used on stageplots. With that in mind, it is important to also familiarize yourself with the common abbreviations.

Positional Terms
Stage Left (SL): Left side of the stage from the performer’s perspective facing the audience.

Stage Right (SR): Right side of the stage from the performer’s perspective facing the audience.

Downstage (DS): This would be the part of the stage closest to the audience. You would consider it the front of the stage.

Upstage (US): This would be the part of the stage farthest from the audience. You would consider it the rear of the stage.

Center Stage (CS or C): This one is self explanatory.

Off-stage: This refers to the area just off the main performing area of the stage.

The above terms can be combined for a more descriptive location on the stage. For example: Downstage Left (DSL): Would be downstage (front area of stage nearest the audience) and stage left.

Other common stage position terms and abbreviations are
Downstage Right (DSR)
Downstage Center (DSC)
Off-stage Left (OSL)
Off-stage Right (OSR)
Upstage Left (USL)
Upstage Right (USR)
Upstage Center (USC)

Note: The term ‘backstage’ does not apply to a position on the stage but rather refers to the area behind the stage (or sometimes beside the stage) that is used for dressing rooms, storage, production equipments, etc. This area is not viewable by the audience.

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