Glossary of Genres
This short glossary explains many of the genre identifications used in this guide. The definitions may help the play-seeker to know enough about a given play to decide whether to pursue investigation. Many identifying terms supplied by authors or catalogers are idiosyncratic rather than common jargon in theatre, still they contribute to the investigator's search.
Genre is a synonym for type or kind. It groups various literary works by form, technique, or subject matter into types or categories. The term, often loosely used, reflects numerous principles and kinds of literature.
Traditionally, genres include the tragic, comedic, epic, lyric, pastoral. Currently, genre divisions might also include novel, short story, essay, perhaps television play or motion picture scenario--or one-act play.
Genre classification infers formal or technical characteristics among similar works regardless or time or place of composition, author, or subject matter; it also infers that characteristics defining a particular group of works are basic in discussions of literary art. Critics frequently regard genre distinctions as useful descriptive devices albeit arbitrary ones. A good explanation of genre appears in A Handbook to Literature, fourth edition, by C. Hugh Holman (Indianapolis, Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1980), pp. 119-20.
Here, each definition carries an example cited in the print volume one of
1/2/3/4 for the Show: A Guide to Small-Cast One-Act Plays.
Lewis W. Heniford.
- a shortening/rearrangement of another work. Example: "Villainous Company," an abridgment/adaptation by Amlin Gray of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Parts I and II, 3m.
- a play that is wholly or partly not representational. Example: "Ohio Impromptu," an abstraction by Samuel Beckett, 2m or 2f.
- absurd comedy
- a play that is clearly untrue or unreasonable, therefore laughable. Example: "What Did You Say 'What' For?" an absurd comedy by James Paul Dey, 1m1f.
- absurdist comedy
- a play that is clearly untrue or unreasonable, therefore laughable. Example: "The Froegle Dictum," an absurdist comedy by Mark Medoff, 2m2f.
- a theatre-of-the-absurd play, often using comedic elements in a nihilistic vein, that is, denying the existence of any basis for knowledge or truth. Example: "Let's Eat Hair!" an absurdity by Carl Laszlo, translated from the German by George E. Wellwarth, 2m1f.
- adult comedy
- a humorous treatment of the battle of the sexes, sometimes risqu‚. Example: "The Slot," an adult comedy by Tom Gillespie, 1m1f.
- a play in which people, things, and happenings have another meaning. Example: "Dansen," an allegory by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Rose and Martin Kastner, 2m.
- a play pushing the limits of convention. Example: "Little Fears," an avant-garde comic drama by Emanuel Peluso, 2m2f.
- a play requiring no scenery and no properties or minimum properties, sometimes called open-stage. Example: "Slow Memories," a bare-stage drama by Barry Litvack, 1m3f.
- bizarre comedy
- a play strikingly out of the ordinary treating trivial material superficially or amusingly or showing serious and profound material in a light, familiar, or satirical manner. Example: "The Lover," a bizarre comedy by Harold Pinter, 2m1f.
- black comedy
- a play essentially a comedy but emphasizing outrageous, serious elements. Example: "Play for Germs," a black comedy by Israel Horovitz, 2m.
- brief sketch
- a skit; a short, light, informal play. Example: "Night," a brief sketch by Harold Pinter, 1m1f.
- chamber opera
- an opera for intimate theatre. Example: "Agnes," a chamber opera by Michael John LaChiusa, 1m2f.
- chamber play
- a theatrical work for intimate staging. Example: "Listening," a chamber play by Edward Albee, 1m2f.
- a play in dance-accompanied verse form. Example: "From Okra to Greens: A Different Kind of Love Story," a choreopoem by Ntozake Shange, 1m1f (+ dancers).
- comedic monologue
- a solo playlet with more or less humorous treatment of characters and situation, with a nontragic ending. Example: "Axis Sally," a comedic monologue by Don Nigro, 1f.
- the genre of dramatic literature treating trivial material superficially or amusingly or showing serious and profound material in a light, familiar, or satirical manner. Example: "The Devil and Billy Marshall," a comedy by Shel Silverstein, 1m.
- comedy drama/comedy-drama
- a play blending light and serious elements. Example: "Brothers in Arms," a comedy drama by Merrill Denison, 3m1f. Example: "After the Fact," a comedy-drama by Jeffrey Sweet, 1m1f.
- comedy in rhyme and rhythm
- a funny play in music and doggerel. Example: "Ladies of the Mop," a comedy in rhyme and rhythm by Aurand Harris, 4f.
- a play in which abuses, follies, stupidities, and vices are ridiculed. Example: "Suppressed Desires," a comedy-satire by Susan Glaspell, 1m2f.
- comedy western
- a play blending humorous elements in an Old West context. Example: "Proposin'," a comedy western by Richard Slocum from Anton Chekhov, 1m2f.
- comic drama/comic-drama
- a play blending light and serious elements. Example: "Inflatable You," a comic drama by Jules Tasca, 2m. Example: "Two and Twenty," a comic-drama by Paul Parente, 1m1f.
- comic sketch
- a skit, or a short, light, informal play focusing on incongruities. Example: "Mr. Foot," a comic sketch by Michael Frayn, 1m1f.
- comic skit
- a sketch, or a short, light, informal play. Example: "Man on the Ledge," a comic skit by Randy Galvin, 1m1f.
- craft cycle drama
- a medieval Bible-history play produced by the Trade Guilds of England and Scotland. Example: "The Fall of Lucifer," a craft cycle drama from "N. towne Plays," 4m.
- curtain-raiser comedy
- a play designed to precede on the program a more significant presentation. Example: "Mr. Happiness," a curtain-raiser comedy by David Mamet, 1m.
- dark comedy
- a play essentially a comedy but emphasizing profound elements. Example: "The Reticence of Lady Anne," a dark comedy by Jules Tasca, 1m1f.
- a serious play. Example: "Kaspar," a drama by Peter Handke, 1m.
- a hybridized play employing both drama and comedy, a play essentially a drama but with suddenly incongruous elements. Example: "Chucky's Hunch," a drama-comedy by Rochelle Owens, 1m.
- dramatic monologue
- a serious solo piece, usually but not necessarily short. Example: "Nightmare with Clocks," a dramatic monologue by Don Nigro, 1m.
- dramatic reading
- a staged reading of material other than a playscript. Example: "Great Moments in American Oratory," a dramatic reading by Val Cheatham, 4 narrators (male or female).
- a play for two actors. Example: "Pepper and Sand," a duologue by Emlyn Williams, 1m1f.
- a play characterized by comic elements amid unrestrained fancy, extravagance, caprice, eccentricity. Example: "This Way to Heaven," a fantasy-comedy by Douglas Parkhirst, 2m2f.
- a play characterized by dramatic elements amid unrestrained fancy, extravagance, caprice, eccentricity. Example: "Conversations with the Spanish Lady," a fantasy drama by Robert Schenkkan, 1m1f.
- a funny play in which plot and broad action dominate. Example: "The Adjustment," a farce by Albert Bermel, 1m1f.
- farce melodrama
- a funny play in which plot and broad action dominate, with extravagant theatricality, superficial characterization, and predominance of plot and physical action. Example: "The Banker's Dilemma," a farce melodrama by Cleve Haubold, 2m2f.
- a carnival or Shrovetide secular play from 15th-century Germany, usually a broad farce and abbreviated morality play; a Mardi Gras play. Example: "The Narrenschneiden," a fastnachtsspiel by Hans Sachs, 3m or 3f.
- half-hour monologue
- a solo performance of approximately a half-hour's duration. Example: "A Chip in the Sugar," a half-hour monologue by Alan Bennett, 1m.
- K'unshan play
- a highly stylized one-act play from the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644. Example: "Longing for Worldly Pleasures," a traditional K'unshan play by Ssu Fan, 1f.
- light and dark show
- a play blending comedic and tragic elements. Example: "Recensio," a light and dark show, a drama by Eddie de Santis, 1m1f.
- a short allegorical stage entertainment, popular in the 16th and 17th centuries but still used, that features masked actors. Example: "Motel," a masque for three dolls from America Hurrah, by Jean-Claude Van Itallie, 3m or 3f.
- a play with extravagant theatricality, superficial characterization, and predominance of plot and physical action. Example: "The Pedestrian," a melodrama by Ray Bradbury, 2m.
- a play without words. Example: "Act Without Words (1)," a mime by Samuel Beckett, 1m.
- a play for one actor. Example: "One Person," a mono-drama by Robert Patrick, 1m.
- a play for one actor; sometimes, a portion of a play. Example: "Help, I Am," a monologue (drama) by Robert Patrick, 1m.
- morality play
- a play employing allegorical characters, that is, personifications of abstractions, popular in the 15th and 16th centuries but sometimes useful in modern communication from playwright to audience. Example: "Dawn Will Come," a morality play by David Weinstock, 3m.
- multimedia theatre
- "a blending of a variety of art forms on a live stage. This can range from music to visual art to, most specifically, film and video. While I can't think of any Multimedia Theatre pieces currently available to the public, my play "CANADA ENDING and Other Wars of 1812" (which I will be listing with you within the next half-hour) is a prime example. The two actors perform and interact onstage with eleven televisions. The televisions provide setting, take on characters, display text, and show a wide variety of file footage and other easily recognized images designed to generate an emotional and intellectual response from the audience." Definition sent to present author by R.Bartel via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org March 26, 1996. Example: "____________," a multimedia theatre play by ______________, _m_f. [Anyone with a good example should contact the Webmaster.]
- musical comedy
- a funny play with integrated music. Example: "The Hunting of the Snark," a musical comedy by R. Eugene Jackson, 4m or 4f.
- used in two different ways in dramatic literature, it can be a medieval play about any of the fifteen events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, or it can be a play focusing on the unexplained, secret, or unknown, usually with a revelation in the final resolution. Modern Example: "Two Bottles of Relish," a mystery by Lord Dunsany, 2m2f.
- mystery melodrama
- a play focusing on the unexplained, secret, or unknown, usually with a revelation in the final resolution; it uses extravagant theatricality, superficial characterization, and a predominance of plot and physical action. Example: "The Rats," a mystery melodrama by Agatha Christie, 2m2f.
- mystery play
- a drama from the European Middle Ages portraying an event in the life of Jesus. Example: "The York Play of the Crucifixion," a mystery play, 3m.
- nonliteral exercise
- a practice of acting virtuosity and technique. Example: "Comings and Goings," a nonliteral exercise by Megan Terry, 1m1f.
- passion play
- a stage presentation of the life and crucifixion of Christ. Example: "Crisscross," a bare-stage five-minute passion play, 2m.
- piece for voice and percussion
- a theatrical program relying only on the spoken voice and sharp striking sounds. Example: "Tongues," a piece for voice and percussion by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin, 1m.
- a script of unidentified genre by the author, catalog, or agent. Sometimes this is intentional; sometimes it is carelessness. Example: "Mr. Tucker's Taxi," a play by Leonard Melfi, 2m2f.
- play with music
- a play thoroughly integrated with music. Example: "Out of Our Father's House," a feminist drama with music by Paula Wagner, Jack Hofsiss, and Eve Merriam, 3f.
- a short play. Example: "Colette in Love," a playlet by Lavonne Mueller, 1m1f.
- radio play
- a script for the mind's eye via radio (and sometimes stage). Example: "Sanibel and Captiva," a radio play (drama) by Megan Terry, 1m1f.
- revue sketch
- a short dramatic/comedic situation presented as a separate unit in a program; sometimes called a blackout. Example: "Applicant," a revue sketch by Harold Pinter, 1m1f.
- a play in which the emphasis is on love and/or adventure. Example: "Still-Love," a romance by Robert Patrick, 1m1f.
- romantic comedy
- a comedy centering on love between the sexes. Example: "The New Quixote," a romantic comedy by Michael Frayn, 1m1f.
- romantic farce
- a broad comedy blending incongruous situations with lightly treated love. Example: "Pastiche," a romantic farce by Nick Hall, 2m2f.
- a play in which abuses, follies, stupidities, vices are ridiculed. Example: "If Men Played Cards as Women Do," a satire by George S. Kaufman, 4m.
- satiric comedy
- a play in which abuses, follies, stupidities, vices are ridiculed. Example: "Queens of France," a satiric comedy by Thornton Wilder, 1m3f.
- satiric fantasy
- an unreal play in which abuses, follies, stupidities, vices are ridiculed. Example: "Motel," a satiric fantasy by Jean-Claude van Itallie, 3m or 3f (in doll masks and bodies + offstage voice).
- science-fiction play
- a play extrapolating man's use of science between the currently possible and the ultimately possible. Example: "Camera Obscura," a science-fiction play by Robert Patrick, 1m1f.
- sentimental comedy
- a humorous, emotional play. Example: "The 75th," a sentimental comedy by Israel Horovitz, 1m1f.
- short audio and visual piece for the stage
- here, an experiment in minimalism. Example: "Breath," a short audio and visual piece for the stage by Samuel Beckett, 1 voice.
- sing-along musical mellerdrammer
- a parody of a melodrama welcoming audience participation through singing. Example: "Bloodline," a sing-along musical mellerdrammer by Richard S. Dunlop, 2m2f.
- a speaking, an autonomous prologue to an old play, not to revolutionize but to sensitize. Example: "Self-Accusation," a Sprechstuck by Peter Handke, 1m1f.
- suspense drama
- a play focusing on the unexplained, secret, unknown, usually with a revelation in the final resolution. "Diary," a suspense drama by Marcia Ann Shenk, 1m1f.
- symbolical play
- a play emphasizing allusions and allegory. Example: "Someone from Assisi," a symbolical play by Thornton Wilder, 1m3f.
- ten-minute drama
- a serious play under ten minutes in playing time. Jon Jory has exploited and published this format and even has established an annual festival for it in Actors Theatre of Louisville. Jory writes, commissions, and solicits plays in this format. Example: "Blind Alleys," a ten-minute drama by Michael Bigelow Dixon and Valerie Smith, 2m2f.
- theatre poems
- separate poetic selections woven into a program. Example: "Savage/Love," a bill of theatre poems by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin, 1m.
- a play hugely dependent on plot surprises and twists. Example: "The Shirkers," a thriller by C. M. S. McLellan, 2m1f.
- traditional K'unshan play
- a highly stylized one-act play from the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644. Example: "Longing for Worldly Pleasures," a traditional K'unshan play by Ssu Fan, 1f.
- a little tragedy. A Shavian term born of his beginnings as a musical critic. Example: "The Glimpse of Reality," a tragedietta by George Bernard Shaw, 4m.
- a play combining elements of tragedy and comedy. Example: "The White Whore and the Bit Player," a tragicomedy by Tom Eyen, 2f.
- a short play with an odd twist or a starring focus. Example: "Wandering," a turn by Lanford Wilson, 2m1f.
- whimsical comedy
- a humorous play with oddly abnormal elements. Example: "Three on a Bench," a whimsical comedy by Doris Estrada, 2m2f.
- white version
- a play originally written for white actors portraying Negroes, here given in a version for white actors portraying whites. Example: "The No 'Count Boy," a white version by Paul Green, 2m2f.
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