What Are Stage Directions?

lighting basics stagehand basics Feb 15, 2023

Whether you are working directly with musicians, setting up equipment, or planning your next staging design, clear communication is really important.  

I can’t count the number of times I've been setting up gear and heard someone say "does it go on the left, or stage left"?  

Whether just a volunteer or a professional user, knowing and being able to communicate what side of stage something or someone goes on is critical, not only for clear communication, but also safety!

What are Stage Directions?

The easiest stage directions to understand are stage left and stage right....What is the perspective of the performer’s? That’s your stage direction!

In this article, I want to quickly go over stage directions and house directions with this little guide to help you teach and communicate with your volunteer crews in “stage language” so that you can be more effective in your directions. This really applies to ANYONE who works on a stage – no matter how large or small.

When you are describing things that are onstage, you typically want to give directions as if you are standing as a performing, facing the audience.   This ensures a few key points – the people or objects you are directing will end up on the right portion of the stage (the first time!) and your instructions will be quickly carried out.

These are called “stage directions” and they are the way that stage pro’s refer to items on the stage. It doesn’t matter if you’re out front looking from the audience’s perspective or on the stage itself – using these terms as your default will make for the most clear communication on stage.

What if the person you’re working with doesn’t understand or know about stage directions? Teach them, and now one more person is communicating more clearly!

The terms we use for that are:

  • Stage Left (Left of the performer from their perspective)
  • Stage Right (Right of the performer from their perspective)
  • Center (same from stage perspective and house perspective)
  • Upstage (the rear of the stage, behind the performer)
  • Downstage (the front of the stage, closest to the audience)
  • Midstage (In between Upstage and Downstage)
  • Onstage and Offstage (used to direct fine adjustments, same from both house and stage positions)
  • House Left (Left from the audience perspective, usually describing something NOT on stage)
  • House Right (Right from the audience perspective, ditto)
  • FOH (describing the control position and/or house lighting position)

You always want to use “stage” in from of the left and right, and after up/down/mid. This is a double-confirmation to the person receiving your message that you are talking about the stage directions. If they’re on the stage looking out, then they will know that this applies to their right/left, and if they are in the house, looking at the stage, they will know that left and right are now backwards.

It takes a little getting used to, but it’s 100% worth it.

Why up and down stage?

If you’ve ever been to an “old-style” theatre with a raked stage, this makes a lot more sense.  In these older stages (which do still exist!), the rear of the stage is physically higher than the front of the stage - hence up and down!  I encourage you to begin learning these stage directions yourself and teaching them to anyone else you work or volunteer with.  

Though it does take some time to get the hang of, it’s so worth it.  Using these terms really can help your communication with your crews and help you see things from the performers perspective.


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