Alan Marshall Bella Edwards Bob Howourth Brian Davis Brenda Cook Carol Chilcott Claude Rimmer David Conn David Glover-Kirk David Parry-Jones David Scott David Talbot faustus group Jack Mundy Jacky Long Joan Clews Joan Goodyear John Vowles Kathy Stewart Kevin Hogan Lizzie Lane Lyn Martin Mary Lansdown Nicholas Selway Peter Sutton Richard Edwards Robert Chapman Robert Tooze Royston Tanner Sarah McGreevy Stephen Canaby This River Winding Tina Kelly Tom Hodson georgeT

Glossary of Faustus theatrical terms

Here we explain some basic technical terms associated with the theatre, along with references relevant to Faustus, which will help to clarify the names used in the learning resource.

Jump to a section of the glossary: C - D | F - M | P - S | T - Z


Actors take characters ‘from page to stage’. They take the dialogue written by the playwright, and from it create a personality that they then enact each performance.

There are many different theories of acting, and many opinions on what good acting looks like. Very broadly theories of acting can be divided into those that are naturalistic - being like real life, and those that are in some way non-naturalistic. Some of the most famous thinkers on acting are Konstantin Stanislavski, and Lee Strasberg, creators of Method acting and Bertolt Brecht, whose ‘representational’ form of acting is very like the Portway Players’ performance style.


In the style of Bertolt Brecht (1898 - 1956), German playwright, poet and director.

Especially in his work with his company the Berliner Ensemble, Brecht created a new style of theatre called Epic Theatre. Brecht wanted his audiences to think their way into the political and social dilemmas he dramatised in his plays. To do this, his plays had an episodic structure, would often include music and poetry, and scenes where the actors would step out of character to introduce the audience to a new perspective on the situation they had just been watching.


A form of dance originating in Japan after World War II. It borrows elements from contemporary Western and traditional Japanese dance forms. Dancers generally wear the white makeup of traditional Japanese dance, though the makeup colour may vary. The dancers may have elaborate costumes or may be naked, they may be solo or in a large group, and they may dance to frenzied music, or very slowly and subtly. Butoh shares with meditation and martial arts a belief in the directing of energy through the performer to the audience and the environment. Typical images in butoh dance are decay, eroticism, fear, and stillness.


A character is created by an actor onstage, drawing upon the script created by the playwright. Characters are the agents of the stage action - they come to life at the beginning of the play, and cease to exist at the end.

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In the context of a play, this is a group of actors who fulfil the same function, often presenting the prologue and usually commenting on the play’s action in some way. This theatrical convention comes from classical Greek and Elizabethan drama.


Lines spoken in a drama or fiction, by two or more characters, in conversation or discussion.


The task of a director is, in the words of Tyrone Guthrie, to be "an ideal audience of one." The director is responsible for the overall concept of the play - ensuring that all the elements of a production come together to form a coherent artistic whole. The director generally casts the actors, rehearses the play, and gives instruction to the technical crew (design, costume, lighting, sound) to make sure that their work melds together.

The job of director is a relatively recent one - only a little over a hundred years old, and has sometimes been referred to as ‘producer’. This is now a position in its own right, mainly concerned with financial and administrative elements of production.


A work that is created to be performed by actors on stage, screen or radio, can also mean a situation or sequence of events that is emotionally charged, tragic or turbulent. 


The limitation or loss of opportunities to take an equal part in society. This may be a result of social or environmental barriers. Disability, like racism or sexism, is discrimination.


Also known as Faust, first name John or Johann. He appears in an old German legend, where he was a doctor, alchemist and magician who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power. His story is the basis of Marlowe’s play ‘Doctor Faustus’.

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Grandmother’s Steps

A game, also known as Grandmother’s Footsteps. One person (A) faces a wall and the rest of the group creeps up behind. He/she turns around suddenly, and anyone who is caught moving is sent back to the starting line. When someone gets close enough to touch A the game is over. Director and improvisation specialist Keith Johnstone uses this game to encourage actors to stay concentrating in the moment, instead of anticipating what may happen next in an improvisation.


A long-term attribute of a person which affects the functioning of that individual’s mind or body, or affects the appearance in such a way that is not acceptable to society. This may or may not be the result of disease or injury.

John Nicholson

Actor and member of theatre company Peepolykus.


Stage lighting does more than help the audience to see the actors (though this is very important!). Lighting can also tell the audience where to look onstage; it can suggest moods and emotions; sometimes it can be so important to the visual appearance of a production that it almost becomes a character in the play.

Live Art

Hard to define, but often a kind of fusion of theatre performance and visual art, focusing on the human body in space and time. art + power participated in a live art project with the Arnolfini in Bristol, called Fresh Today, and worked with artists Eve Dent, Aaron Williamson and Elaine Kordys.


A devil in medieval mythology, and the devil’s servant in the legend of Faustus. The spelling of the name of this character varies from edition to edition of Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’. It is variously: Mephostophilis, Mephastophilis, Mephistophilis, and Mephistopheles. At the time when Marlowe wrote, spelling of words, and especially of names, was quite fluid.

Method acting

A technique of acting based on the theories of Stanislavski, where the actor bases the role on the perceived inner motivations of the character played.


A long speech made by one actor usually alone on the stage, or a dramatic piece for one person.


Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said, ‘The plot is the imitation of the action - for by plot I here mean the arrangement of the incidents.’ Aristotle thought that a play would be about one thing "the action" and that all the events in the storyline of a play, would lead towards the portrayal of this action.

We could say that the central question of Faustus is: ‘Will Faustus see his folly and repent of his contract with Lucifer?’ All the different scenes of the play would then lead towards asking and answering this question.

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A preliminary act, scene or lines that can be used to introduce a play, sometimes a narrator summarises the main action that will follow.


Short for property, this refers to any movable object used on the set or stage during a play.


Plural: rostra. In theatre, an elevated platform that forms part of the stage set. They are frequently made with wooden frames, and are designed to lift up and fold away easily. The word rostrum comes from the Latin work for beak; the ancient Romans would speak from an elevated platform decorated with the prows, or rostra, of defeated enemy ships.


A written document containing (in modern times) all the dialogue and stage directions the writer thinks are necessary for a director and actors to create the play on the stage. In the time of Shakespeare and Marlowe scripts did not contain written stage directions as today. This means that any you see at the beginning of scenes, such as ‘Faustus sitting alone in his study’, have been added by modern editors to help us imagine the scene visually when we’re reading.


The physical environment the actors use onstage. There is a spectrum of different sorts of set design, ranging from realistic - a box set with real furniture (and sometimes working cookers and water taps) - to non-realistic. Some productions will not have any set at all, but work in a ‘black box’ made of black-painted scenery or curtains.

Some sets use revolving rostra or platforms to speed up scene changes between different locations. The Portway Players use a revolve in Faustus to change between Faustus’ study and Mephistophilis’ chair.


A synopsis is a brief description of the content, or story, of a play. It typically covers both storyline and themes. art + power include a synopsis in the programme because it helps the audience to know where they are in the play.


Plural: tableaux. A theatrical visual image, likened to a freeze-frame or a snapshot. A tableau expresses an idea through the physical shape of non-moving actors on a stage.

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Theatrical convention

A theatrical convention is a practical device used by the playwright or director to help tell the story of the play in the theatre. For example, Marlowe uses a chorus to tell the ‘back story’ or life history of Faustus. Perhaps the most common theatrical convention is that of the actors/characters talking to each other and pretending not to notice the audience. This is often called the convention of the ‘fourth wall’  - the set has three, and the invisible one between the actors and the audience is the fourth.


A theme is a preoccupation in a play with a situation or emotion that relates to specific events in the play, but is also true to everyone’s lives. For example, the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet centres around Prince Hamlet preparing to kill King Claudius. So you could say that one of the themes of Hamlet is death - it’s related to the plot, but is both broader and less specific. We have identified various themes in ‘Faustus,’ to help understanding of the play, see Investigate the play > theme.


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