Theatrical conventions and performance styles

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Performance Styles

The way in which the plot is conveyed in a performance, sometimes to a particular philosophy of performance, or to an historic period.

Theatrical Conventions

Things done on stage by the actors, that contribute to an overall performance style

Theatrical convention


Related performance style


Comic banter or verbal game playing; ‘spin’

Commedia del’Arte, stand-up comedy, clowning


Any ludicrous take-off or debasing caricature,

To burlesque …(a person) to create a mocking representation

Greek &, Roman Comedy, cabaret, farce, satire, Absurd Theatre


Exaggeration of character that is often ludicrous or grotesque, using voice, gesture and movement

Melodrama, Roman Comedy, Commedia dell’Arte, Story-telling, cartoons, Asian styles,

Character transformation

The actor plays more than one role, shifting from one to another without going off stage. Transformation is made using expressive skills, characterisation, use of props and costume.

Story-telling, Documentary Theatre, Realism.

Psycho/social characterisation

Actor portrays an in-depth psychologically rounded character

Naturalism & Realism


Use of a group in performance, to comment on the plot or action of a play, usually using heightened use of language, direct address, stylized and choreographed movement and tableau.

Greek Drama, Medieval Drama, Epic Theatre,

Continuous time sequence

Dramatic structure follows a continuous time pattern, possibly using real time

Naturalism, Realism

Disjointed time sequence

Dramatic structure that does not unfold chronologically. Past, present and future events are performed in a non-sequential order.

Story-telling, Epic Theatre, modern Realism

Direct address

The actor speaks directly to the audience, either as their character or as the actor stepping out of character.

Stand-up comedy,

Epic Theatre (Brecht), circus, Realism, Greek Theatre

Dramatic metaphor

Heightened symbolic use of word, object or gesture beyond the literal meaning.

,Greek theatre, physical theatre, Symbolist Theatre, Total Theatre, Epic .

Audience Endowment

The audience is constructed by the actor as a particular group of people, usually through direct address. E.g. audience as citizens of Vienna in Measure for Measure

Elizabethan Theatre, Greek Theatre, Epic Theatre, story-telling, Stand-up comedy, cabaret, clowning, realism


Use of reported or researched fact to convey a particular set of views or ideas.

Cabaret, Epic Theatre, Realism.

Exaggerated Movement

Action that is deliberately overstated for a dramatic purpose, often for purposes of ridicule.

Clowning, Commedia Dell’ Arte, Greek Theatre

Fourth Wall

Often called ‘slice of life’, a style dependent on the life-like representation of every day life. No manipulation of time or space. Audience not recognized.

Naturalism and Realism

Heightened use of language

Poetic or exaggerated use of language. Includes choice of words whose syntax, alliteration and rhyming patterns lead to heightened delivery.

Greek theatre, Epic Theatre various non-naturalistic

Heightened use of movement

Ritualized, dance-like movement sequences either individually or in a group, often using repitition, symbolic gesture,

Physical Theatre, Greek Theatre, Medieval Theatre ,Opera, Kabuki , Noh Drama, Asian performance styles, realism.

Implied character

Actor creates a sense of another person being present or addressed

Monologues, realism,

Implied space

Actor creates a sense of a particular environment through voice and action

Monologues, Realism, Elizabethan Theatre, Story-telling, Epic theatre, Non-Naturalistic styles

Lazzo/ Lazzi (pl.)

A short comic routine based in a single ludicrous idea, often using sight gags, or slapstick.

Commedia Dell’ Arte, other comedy.


Use of verse, heightened song or movement, including the use of poetic imagery

Greek Drama, Musicals. Opera. Asian performance styles, Elizabethan Theatre


Use of false noses, half masks, or full masks, for purposes of caricature, stereo-type, abstraction, or ready identification with known characters.

Clowning, Greek drama, Commedia dell’ Arte, Noh Drama, Kabuki, Other Asian performance styles


Unvoiced physical performance implying object and space

Realism and non-naturalistic


Juxtaposition of dramatic images or vignettes often presented in rapid succession uses: introduction of ideas summary of characters/events/actions.

Story-telling, visual theatre, epic theatre, other non-naturalistic styles.


Direct address where plot elements are conveyed

Story-telling, Epic Theatre, Stand-up, Realism


Use of objects or puppets as characters

Black Theatre, Visual Theatre, Shadow Puppetry, Bunraku, Object Theatre Asian styles


Use of sarcasm, irony and ridicule in denouncing , exposing or deriding vice , folly and abuse.

Cabaret, stand-up comedy, Farce, Clowning, Sit. Coms,


Comedy technique using physical humour, often stage violence

Clowning, Cabaret

Stillness and Silence

Absence of sound or movement to enhance dramatic effect

All styles


Monologue addressed to self to argue an issue. Usually has a thesis/antithesis or argument structure

Elizabethan Theatre, especially Shakespeare


Use of song to break up or comment upon a narrative or plot

Opera, Musicals, Epic Theatre, Music Hall, Cabaret


Characterisation that uses highly recognisable simplistic or cliched character elements for dramatic purpose.

Melodrama, Commedia Dell’ Arte, Agit Prop., Sketch comedy. Cartoons, Cabaret

Transformation of Place

The actor creates more than one place or setting without the use of scenery. This may be achieved using transformation of props or through use of expressive skills.


Transformation of object

A prop is used to represent more than one object

Story-telling and design styles which require minimal set.

Use of symbol

Minimalist focus on objects to represent ideas

Realism, & Non-naturalistic styles, Ritual Theatre,

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