Vocabulary and definitions for discussing the arts as critics

Photography Packet & Terms

Photography, like any other art, speaks to people in different ways. Interpreting that art is a different conversation and is too often discussed. These readings allowed for me to gain interest in a whole new conversation, the importance of photography. With their reasonings, two authors stood out for me. Berenice Abbott and Larry Sultan had very interesting ideologies as to why photography was appealing for them and it really stimulated my mind to understand why I wanted to pursue it as well.

Berenice Abbott was a photographer, primarily of the 1930s and 1940s. Her story sheds light on her passion for capturing the significance of her time. She acknowledges that it has become a large aspect of human life to try and capture our lives. While living through the depression and World War II, it is needless to say that the times she lived in were interesting. They served as an example of what caused her to get interested, the fact that her time was inspiring. According to Abbott, “there is no more creative medium than photography to recreate the living world of our time.” That belief strongly appealed to me, because when I take pictures and look back on those from years ago, it’s the feeling of nostalgia that pushes me. The feeling of being taken back and having a grasp on another time serves as my motivation and I really connected with Abbott on that aspect.

Larry Sultan had a far different drive, yet it interested me because of it’s refreshing take on the matter. Sultan described how he used to take pictures as a child. His father would question him when he would use thirty roles of film and only take one or two pictures. His father always asked him why he only liked such a few amount. Larry would explain that he liked most of the pictures, but he would only publish the ones that worried him. He described an event where a picture of his mother was interpreted differently by Larry and his father. The understanding of opposing messages from the same picture interested him and although it isn’t what really drives me, it definitely interested me.

Some terms for our class to keep in mind are:

Aperture- A space through which light passes in an optical or photographic instrument, esp. the variable opening by which light enters a camera

Negative- The developed film that contains a reversed tone image of the original scene

Underexposure- A condition in which too little light reaches the film, producing a thin negative, a dark slide, or a muddy-looking print

Vignetting- A condition in which too little light reaches the film, producing a thin negative, a dark slide, or a muddy-looking print

Zoom Lens- A lens in which you adjust the focal length over a wide range. In effect, this gives you lenses of many focal lengths.



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Critical Terms

Protagonist – The leading character or a major character in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text

Antagonist – A person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary

Anticlimax – A disappointing end to an exciting or impressive series of events

Ad lib – This is short for the Latin word ad libitum meaning freely. Essentially, it is the same as improvising lines. Usually used when lines are forgotten

Libretto – The text of an opera or other long vocal work

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A very brief summary of the overall arc of a plot.

Whereas a paraphrase restates what you’ve seen in your own words, a précis is a distillation of the plot, with an emphasis on concision: sentences, rather than paragraphs.

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Critical Terms

Interrogative: (adj) of, pertaining to, or conveying a question
Interplay: (n) reciprocal relationship, action, or influence
Perception: (n) immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation, as of moral, psychological, or aesthetic qualities
Unruly: (adj) not submissive or conforming to rule; ungovernable; turbulent; intractable; refractory
Resurrection: (n)  the bringing back into use, practice
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Critical Terms

  1. melodrama: a play, film, etc, characterized by extravagant action and emotion
  2. dramatic irony: irony that is inherent in speeches or a situation of a drama and is understood by the audience but not grasped by the characters in the play.
  3. Conflict: a state of opposition between ideas, interests, etc; disagreement or controversy
  4. Dialogue: conversation between two or more people
  5. Monologue: a long speech made by one actor in a play, film, etc, esp when alone
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Critical Terms

1. Agon– A conflict that takes place, often between the protagonist and antagonist.  In Ancient drama, it is a formalized debate that usually occurs within a comedy.

2. Tragedy– A dramatic composition that typically has a great person, through an internal flaw or conflict with another opposing force, destined to downfall or destruction.

3. Monologue– a prolonged speech, or discourse made by a single speaker, especially one dominating a conversation.

4. Pantomime– The technique of showing emotions, actions, feelings, or anything of that nature by gestures that do not involve speech.

5. Scrim– A piece of fabric used as a drop, or border, for creating the illusion of a solid wall or backdrop under certain lighting conditions. It can also create a semitransparent curtain when it is lit from behind.

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5 Critical Terms

Anticlimax – A disappointing end to an exciting or impressive series of events

Staging – An instance or method of presenting a play or other dramatic performance

Schmaltz – Excessive sentimentality, especially in music or movies

Charismatic – Exercising a compelling charm that inspires devotion in others

Textured – The quality given to a piece of art, literature, or music by the interrelationship of its elements

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Critical Terms

Monologue – A lengthy speech by a single character given to other characters in the play, this should not be confused with a soliloquy

Soliloquy – This is used as a device to let an audience know what is going on through a character’s mind. The speech given by the character is what the character is thinking. A famous soliloquy would be Hamlet’s “To be or not to be”

Ad lib – This is short for the Latin word ad libitum meaning freely. Essentially, it is the same as improvising lines. Usually used when lines are forgotten.

Exposition – The part of a play that fills in the audience on things that have already happened so they can make sense of who’s who and why they’re doing whatever. This can be done with the use of actual narrators who address the audience directly. Another way is to use the opening dialogue and have the exposition cleverly bound to it.

Deus Ex Machina – The Latin phrase means, literally, “a god from the machine.” It refers to the use of artificial means to resolve the plot of a play.

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Critical Terms for Theater

Cue – An act that a stage manager does to remind an actor of their line or an act that a stage manager does to tell the technical crew to perform a certain action.  May be verbal of with an action.

Hot Spot – An area on the stage that is very bright because lights are pointed at it. It adds a sense of importance to the spot and to whatever actor may be occupying that space. Portrays importance to whatever/whoever is in the “Hot Spot.”

Sightlines – Lines that are imagined by the crew to determine where on the stage is visible to the audience, and where on the stage the view is blocked. Actors must be aware of these imaginary lines at all times or risk having the audience lose sight of an action done on stage.

The Fourth Wall – An imaginary wall put towards the front of the stage that the actors use to pretend as though the audience is not there, allows for no interaction between audience and actors.

Escape Stairs – Stairs that are out of sight from the audience and allows for the actors to move around on different levels of the stage without the audience realizing it. Portrays a lager sense of scene differentiation.

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5 Critical Terms


The overture is the introductory musical piece played before a musical which contains many of the musical motifs and themes of the score.


The mark is the place on stage where an actor is to deliver a particular line or carry out some action.


Vaudeville is the form of show consisting of mixed specialty acts, including song, dance, acrobatics, comic skits and dramatic monologues.


From the Latin interludium (between the play), the term refers to a short dramatic sketch in early English drama. The short, light pieces would be performed between the acts of more serious plays.


The narrative dialogue or spoken part of a musical play, as opposed to the lyrics and the music.

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Critical Terms

Revue: It is a play (of many acts) consisting of musics, skits and jokes, and is a review on a recent event.

Casting: It is an event to select the performers for a live performance on stage before the actual performance.

Director: It is someone who often work with many other artists (playwright, music composer, etc) to make sure the quality and the quantity of a production. He or she would also alter the production during rehearsal time accordingly.

Punch lines: It is usually the last part of a joke, a comedy skit or a statement. After a set up during the whole time, the joke, sketch or statement usually ends with a word, a sentence or a dialogue that is intended to be funny. It can be considered the climax of a joke.

Emotional range: It refers to the change of emotions or feelings within a character or the entire play.

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Critical Theater Terms

Trap Door – An opening on the stage floor (opens into the bottom of the stage) where performers and/or props can appear in/disappear from stage. It is hidden from the audiences’ view.

Wings – Areas of the stage that are, usually the opposite sides of the stage, not visible due to curtains.

Prologue – The speech or poem that introduces the play; it tends to have an explanation or commentary of what is to come.

Backdrop – A painted canvas or plain surface where light could be shown. It is often hanged from the grid or with the wings to form a set on stage.

Comedy – A play that is satirical or humorous in nature; it should be noted that unlike tragedies where most of everyone dies, comedies have happy endings.

Green Room – A room or space near the stage where actors and crew members use during the play or waiting to go on stage.

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5 Critical Theater Terms

Comic relief– comic episodes in a dramatic or literary work that offset more serious sections.

Shakespeare often incorporated episodes of comic relief in his plays, even after very serious, heavy scenes. 

Diction – the choice and use of words and phrases in speech or writing.

The actor’s diction, consisting of choppy words, stuttering, and terse phrases, indicated that he was playing a skittish character. 

Pantomime – To act out very physically without using words; a style of acting that is most often utilized in Children’s Theatre.

To help the little students better understand Spanish, she pantomimed “el coche” by pretending she was turning an imaginary steering wheel. 

Fly System:  A system of rigging and ropes that is used to raise and lower scenery within on stage, operated by hand or mechanically from backstage.

“The acting was utterly mediocre compared to the way you handled that fly system,” said the New York Times reporter to me. “how did you manage to lift the curtain at such a perfect speed?” 

Fourth Wall: The imaginary divide that separates the audience from the performance space.

We all gasped as the actor burst through the fourth wall and into the front row, where he boldly embraced a member of the audience. 


Pit: The area, usually below the front part of the stage, where the orchestra is set up to play the music for a live performance.

The loud, clashing sounds produced by the pit orchestra below the stage added to the intensity of the suicide scene. 


5 Critical Terms

1. Aria – a musical structure that expresses emotions as opposed to advancing the plot of a drama

2. Improvisationthe situation in which actors spontaneously invent the dialogue and action of the character he plays

3. Futurism – a movement, originated in Italy in the 20th century, emphasized the impact of technology on society

4. Drama – a literary work that tells a story, opposite of comedy, through dialogue intended to be performed by actors

5. Interlude – short, light pieces in which are performed in between acts


5 Critical Terms in Theater

Climax – The point of greatest dramatic tension or transition in a theatrical work

Denouement – The final resolution of the conflict in a plot

Crisis – A decisive point in the plot of a play on which the outcome of the remaining
action depends

Character Arc – The emotional progress of the characters during the story

Protagonist – The leading character or a major character in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text

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Critical Terms of Theater

Blocking: Movement of an actor onstage. It is often identified in relation to the movement and position of other actors in the scene.

Catharsis: Alleviation of own emotional tension after watching a tragic play. The audience experiences this emotion when comparing their lives to the tragic lives of the characters.

Characterization: Creation of a well rounded character through the use of words, actions, and manners. Characterization helps the audience understand the character and his purpose in the story.

Falling action: Part of a story that follows the climax and precedes the resolution. This is the time when the conflict between the two opposing forces is being resolved.

Stock Character: Character who is common in many pieces of literature and is easily identifiable by his/her personality. The character is a social stereotype and the audience knows how he/she will behave.


5 Critical Terms

1. Personification

The ability of giving lifeless objects human attributes.

2. Apex

The highest part or the climax.

3. Epilogue

The closing section of a performance.

4. Anachronism

An invention mentioned before its time.

5. Motif

A repeating theme in a story.


Critics’ Corner

Writing encourages us to process what we have encountered, to articulate global impressions or break them down into more analytical components. Here in the Critics’ Corner, we respond in writing to events and excursions.

Feel free to express your own point-of-view, but back it up with details — especially visual ones — that support your opinions.

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For Tuesday: Critical Terms for Theater

Dear Arts in NYC students, For Tuesday, I asked you to bring in at least five critical terms that you think would be useful in writing about the theater. Try to include basic terms like cast and set as well as terms such as protagonist, backdrop, denouement, etc. Please upload the terms to our class blog. Our ITF Ben Miller is adding another sub-category, critical terms under the category Critic’s Corner.  Once you have uploaded your terms, please read through the other terms and add your comments/suggestions for sharpening and/or refining the definitions. We will look at these in class.

Here is the information on The Train Driver

Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center

480 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenue)

The performance is at 7:30 PM but we will meet at 7:00 PM so that I can distribute tickets.


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