Basic Stage Terms for Improvisors

For people with theater background these terms are common knowledge. But not everyone that enters improv has a theater background. For those of us without that it takes a bit of a learning curve to get used to the terms. 

Here for your knowledge are some of the basic terms that relate to theater that improvisors might need to to know. Most of them have to do with the stage and the basics of movement, timing, and positioning. But also some of the terms are for the people and the way that the stage operates from a technical aspect.

Stage Right/Left and Upstage/Downstage

Stage Right and Left are oriented for the person on the stage. So, stage right is the person’s right who is on the stage if they are facing the audience. And stage left is the left of the person on the stage, again as they face the audience.

Down stage would be moving forward for the person on stage toward the audience and upstage would be moving away from the audience.


The wings are the areas right off the stage. Used commonly when people are “waiting in the wings” or waiting just off stage to walk on and join the scene.


Exactly like it sounds, whether you are on the stage or off the stage. Seems obvious, but it’s good to know what to call it.

Cheat Out

Position your body on stage is common sense once someone tells you. But as those new to improv or theater can tell you, it takes practice. To cheat out just means opening up your stance so you are slightly facing the audience. It helps the audience be more engaged and see the actor/actress and hear what is being said on stage more clearly.

Call Time

Time when all the actors are expected to be at the theater or performance space. It helps give everyone time to group up/set up before a performance. It can be 20 to 60 minutes before a show typically.

Black Out

Turning off all stage lights, as in closing a vaudeville skit or separating scenes of a play. It’s often used in a Harold performance for the end of a show.


The movement of the actors/actresses and positioning on stage. Where everyone is positioned is important to line up for a better visual performance from the audience point of view. 

It’s also important the same way that cheat out is important. Actors/actresses don’t want to be in front of another person. And an important thing to note for beginners is to not just form a semicircle and stand there when talking in a group.


The actor/actresses’ lounge. A great place to hang out before or after the show. But also in practicality a small area to store personal items while on stage. 

House Manager

The person in charge of running or organizing the show. Decides things like when to let the audience in and communicates with stage manager and ushers.


Bringing in the set or props into the theater. Even though props and sets are not often used for improvisers. There is still a small set up, such as chairs. And some troupes use other small props such as doors for some structure to the stage.

Light Board/Sound board

The manual or computer operated board that controls the stage lights and sound respectively.