Do you get as excited about etymology as I do? If so, read on…
by Matt G of Matt and Kyle and Matt
1. Fourth Wall.
‘The Fourth Wall’is a term describing the unseen wall that separates the actors from the audience, but a couple of hundred years ago, many productions would literally have a fourth wall. They soon realized this fourth wall blocked much of the action from the audience and usually added a couple of windows and a doorway, but still, many successful productions were staged entirely unseen.
To vamp (or revamp) a play means to improve it, reimagine it. But this was not always the word’s meaning. Hundreds of years ago, in several Eastern European districts, when a play wasn’t working, instead of drastically reinventing the show, the director simply added vampires that would appear at the end to maim and kill all the characters of the play.
3. Sight Gag.
The term ‘Sight Gag’ is not in fact a theatre or performative term. It was first used in the 17th century, amid the scientific revolution, when autopsies were often performed in front of a large audience. One reputed surgeon with a dark sense of humor, would mid-procedure, yank out the organs from their cavities and perform various acts or jests, for example pretending the intestines were a lute, or the heart a conch shell. Audiences usually gagged and vomited from the repulsive sights, hence the term ‘Sight Gag’.
Scrim didn’t always mean a curtain or screen. Hundreds of years ago, when men dressed as women, donning skirts and dresses, it was not uncommon for one of their balls to slip out of their droopy garments. The word scrim refers to that visible portion of ball. The only recourse was to draw the curtains, which is perhaps why the meaning evolved over time to its current meaning.
5. The role of the Tree or Rock.
These days, the role of rock or tree is usually reserved for the especially uncharismatic, but this was not always the case. In civilizations past, before the advent of written languages when stories were passed on orally, the rocks and trees were always the main characters. These characters would usually have rich fascinating back stories, and they’d certainly have all the best lines. The Rock, in particular, would often be portrayed as the villain, or the flawed tragic hero, who usually ended up killing his entire family in a enthralling finale.