by Chris Polo
the description of a play you're thinking about ordering, the
publisher has helpfully provided the following information: "8m.
11f. 6f with doubling. 3f Extras. 2 Comp Int. 3 Ext." What
exactly are they telling you about the play? Forthwith, an explanation
of the abbreviations and descriptions you're likely to run across
in play catalogs:
The following information indicates what you need to know about
the actors required for the show:
- M and F
- Preceded by a number, indicates the number of male and female
roles in the play. "3m. 3f." means the play requires
three men and three women.
- Doubling or Tripling
- Actors may play two (doubling) or three (tripling) characters.
For Douglas Anderson's The Beams Are Creaking, the
description reads:"Large Cast. May be doubled for 8m. 2f."
This means that the minimum number of actors you need
is eight men and two women; with that number, some actors will
play more than one role. On the other hand, "8f. 6m. (3f.
can be doubled.)" means you can actually do the show with
only 5 actresses; two of those actresses would play the same
role throughout, and the other three actresses would play the
remaining six roles.
- Often seen with shows composed of a series of vignettes or
monologues, it generally means that there are many different
characters, scenes or monologues in the show, and they can be
divvied up among a number of actors. With a show of this type,
there are often no real leads; the cast works together as a
- Non-speaking or walk-on roles. "3m. 3f. 3f Extras"
means the show requires three men, three women, and three female
- Flexible Cast(ing)
- Actors may play more than one character, or you may be able
to add extras or divvy up parts.
- Roles may be played by either men or women as the director
sees fit. You don't often see this -- note that you can get
in real trouble if you do it just because you didn't have enough
men to fill all the roles, and the publisher hasn't specified
that the show is gender-flexible.
- Multiple Roles
- Usually means "multiple roles per actor," i.e.,
roles may be doubled or tripled.
- Often seen as "1m (or f) voice." Lines are required
to be delivered offstage by an unseen actor (or recorded ahead
of time and played back during the show).
Here is the information that publishers provide to tell you about
the sets required for a show:
- An indoor setting -- a living room, restaurant, bedroom, etc.
"2 Int." in a catalog would mean that the show requires
two different sets, and both of them are indoors.
- An outdoor setting -- a front porch, a garden, a city street,
etc. Neil Simon's Proposals is an example of this --
it all takes place in front of the main character's vacation
home. "One exterior set" is the same thing. A show
that has "2 int., 3 ext." would be one that has five
scene changes -- two indoor sets, three outdoor sets.
- This stands for "composite," not "complicated!"
A composite set represents more than one space. A "Comp.
Int." set would be one that represents more than one interior
space. Examples of this are Belles, where the rooms
of six sisters living in various locations across the country
are all represented on the stage.
- The set represents only one space. Opposite of composite set.
- Unit set
- A one-set show -- all the action takes place in one location.
- Area setting and staging
- Show uses areas of the stage set off with lighting for different
locations rather than a traditional set.
- Bare stage
- Exactly what it sounds like: no set at all, often with back
- Show requires cyclorama, a curtain on a curved track across
the back and wings of the stage.
- Drop and wings
- Show requires painted backdrop ("drop") and side
pieces ("wings"). For a good example of this type
of design, check
Int. with inset
- An interior set with space set aside for a small scene that
takes place elsewhere.
- Open stage
- May use set pieces that are taken on and off as needed, or
areas of the stage that represent various locations as opposed
to building an actual set.
- Platform Stage
- Set using platforms to provide different levels rather than
a traditional set.
- Representational set
- You can use a few pieces to suggest a setting, such as two
chairs and a table to represent a restaurant, or abstract pieces.
Pieces may be hauled on and off as needed.
- Show requires that some scenes be played behind a scrim, a
curtain that is opaque when lit from the front and transparent
when lit from behind. Often used for dream sequences or scenes
that took place in the past.
Unit set, platforms
- A one-piece set using different levels.
- Various scenes
- Several locations needed, often representational.
- Show requires a wheeled or railed platform with a set on it
which travels in a straight line across the stage surface.
To get back to our original example, "8m. 11f. 6f with doubling.
3f Extras. 2 Comp Int. 3 Ext.," we now know the following:
- This show requires 8 male actors
- There are 11 female roles.
- One of the female roles must be played by the same actress
- The other ten female roles can either be played by ten separate
actresses, or you could assign 5 women to play two roles each.
- You need three more women to use as as walk-ons.
- You need at least 9 women, but can use as many as 14.
- The show requires 2 sets that represent more than one indoor
location, plus three separate outdoor sets, for a total of 5
Taking the above into account, our theater would probably pass
on even ordering this hypothetical play, because it would be too
difficult to do -- even if we could find the minimum 17 actors
to fill all the roles, our stage is too small to be able to accommodate
5 complete set changes, especially when two of the sets represent
There's a wealth of information contained in all those abbreviations,
and now you know how to decode them! Many thanks to Jenna, who
posted the original question on our discussion board that led
to this article. If anyone has any additions, corrections, or
questions, write me!