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2M. 2F. 3 F Extras:
Reading a Play Publisher's Catalog

by Chris Polo

In 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:

Casting Information

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 unit.

Non-speaking or walk-on roles. "3m. 3f. 3f Extras" means the show requires three men, three women, and three female extras.
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).
Set Descriptions

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 backdrop.

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 here.

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 throughout.
  • 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 set changes.

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 multiple locations.

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!

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