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A Glossary of Acting Terms

There are many different terms and things to know about in the acting world. If you're an actor just starting it can be a little overwhelming, but don't sweat it. We've compiled this list of positions, terms, and organizations for easy reference. 


Types of Roles/Jobs in Front of the Camera
Background/Extra Performers - Non-speaking roles.
Bit Part - A role in which there is direct interaction with the principal actors, but no more than five lines of dialogue.

Day Player - A principal performer hired on a daily basis, rather than a long term contract.

Lead Actor/Actress - The main protagonist in the production. It is typically the largest role.

Photodouble - An actor who resembles a principal actor who is used to perform on camera in place of that person.

Principal Actor - A performer with lines.

Stand-in - A background/extra performer who is used as a substitute for the principal actor for the purpose of setting up the upcoming shot. This allows the director of photography to set the lights and rehearse the movement that will take place in front of the camera.

Stunt Person - A specially trained performer who performs stunts on camera.

Supporting Actor/Actress - A speaking role that is less than that of a lead actor, but larger than a bit part.

Understudy - A performer hired to do a role only if the featured actor is unable to perform; used primarily in theatre.



Director - The person who coordinates all of the artistic and technical aspects of a production.

Director of Photography (D.P.) - Supervises all decisions regarding lighting, lenses, filters, color, camera set-ups, the camera crew, and the processing of the film.

Production Assistant (P.A.) - Assists with all aspects of production. Some work in the production office, some on set. 

Stage Manager - This person handles the organization of a theatrical production, which includes being the link between director and crew and the actors and production management.

Wardrobe Department - This department handles all of the costuming for the actors performing in the production. They hold fittings for performers to dress them specifically or give instructions as to what type of clothing and colors are acceptable for the actors to wear.

Assistant Directors:

1st A.D. - The right hand person to the director. Assists the director by coordinating all production activity and supervising the cast and crew.

2nd A.D. - The right hand person to the 1st A.D. Prepares the Call Sheet each day and supervises actors and crew. Is responsible for actors being where they need to be.

Casting Directors:

Background Casting Director - The person responsible for booking all of the background/extra performers, stand-ins, and photodoubles.

Casting Director - The person responsible for auditioning and choosing principal performers for consideration by the producers and director of a production.


Unions and Organizations

AEA Actors' Equity Association

AEA or Actors' Equity Association is the labor union that represents American actors and stage managers in theatre.

SAG-AFTRAScreen Actor's Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists

SAG-AFTRA or the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is the labor union that represents film and television actors, broadcast journalists, radio personalities, recording artists, singers, voice actors, and other media professionals.

AGVAAmerican Guild of Variety Artists

AVGA or the American Guild of Variety Artists is an AFL-CIO affiliated labor union that represents performing artists and stage managers for live performances in the variety field. This includes singers & dancers in touring shows, theme park performers, skaters, circus performers, comedians & stand-up comics, and cabaret & club artists.

AGMAAmerican Guild of Musical Artists

AGMA or the American Guild of Musical Artists is the American labor union that represents opera singers, ballet dancers, opera directors, opera and dance company production personnel, and figure skaters.

TYATheatre for Young Audiences 

TYA or Theatre for Young Audiences is a national service organization which is an advocate to try to strengthen and diversify the field of theatre for young audiences.


Some General Terms  

Audition - The tryout for a role in a film, television show, or stage production.

Blocking - The actual physical movements by performers in a scene. 

Booking - A firm commitment to the performer to do a specific job.

Callback - A second interview or audition.

Call Time - The time that an actor must be on set.

Dialect - A distinct regional or linguistic speech pattern.

Holding - The designated area where background/extra performers report and stay while waiting to go on set.

Sides - Pages from a script used to audition or shoot with.

Standard Union Contract - The contract approved by the unions and offered to performers prior to the job.

Union - This indicates work for members of the particular union concerned only.

Upgrade - The promotion of a background/extra performer in a scene to the category of principal performer (the performer is given lines).

Voucher - The time slip with all of the pertinent info needed for a performer to be paid after working.

Waiver - Union approved permission for a non-union performer to be allowed to work as union for the day. 

Walkaway Lunch - A meal break in which cast and crew are responsible for getting their own lunch.

Wardrobe Allowance - A fee paid to on-camera talent for the use and cleaning of the performer's own clothing.

Wardrobe Fitting - An appointment in which the wardrobe department meets with the talent to prepare the clothing they will wear in the production.

Weather Permit Call - Due to weather conditions, the production company has the option to release the talent from working that day for a reduced rate of pay.


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