Blocking (stage)

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In theatre, blocking is the precise staging of actors in order to facilitate the performance of a play, ballet, film or opera.[1]


Both "blocking" and "block" were applied to stage and theater from as early as 1961.[2] The term derives from the practice of 19th-century theatre directors such as Sir W. S. Gilbert who worked out the staging of a scene on a miniature stage using blocks to represent each of the actors.[citation needed] (Gilbert's practice is depicted in Mike Leigh's 1999 film Topsy-Turvy.)[3]

Blocking in theater and film[edit]

In contemporary theater, the director usually determines blocking during rehearsal, telling actors where they should move for the proper dramatic effect, ensure sight lines for the audience and work with the lighting design of the scene.

Each scene in a play is usually "blocked" as a unit, after which the director will move on to the next scene. The positioning of actors on stage in one scene will usually affect the possibilities for subsequent positioning unless the stage is cleared between scenes.

During the blocking rehearsal, the assistant director, stage manager or director take notes about where actors are positioned and their movements on stage. It is especially important for the stage manager to note the actors' positions, as a director is not usually present for each performance, and it becomes the stage manager's job to ensure that actors follow the assigned blocking from night to night.[4]

In film, the term is sometimes used to speak of the arrangement of actors in the frame. In this context, there is also a need to consider the movement of the camera as part of the blocking process (see Cinematography).

Stage directions[edit]

House left/right are from the audience's perspective

The stage itself has been given named areas to facilitate blocking.[5]

  • The rear of the stage area, farthest from the audience, is upstage. The front, nearest the audience, is downstage. The terms derive from the once common use of raked stages that slope downward toward the audience.
  • In English-speaking cultures generally, stage left and stage right refer to the actor's left and right when facing the audience. Sometimes the terms prompt and bastard/opposite prompt are used as synonyms. (See also Prompt corner)
  • House left and house right refer to the audience perspective. In productions for film or video, analogous terms are screen left/right and camera left/right.
  • To cross is to move. An actor placed up-stage right in blocking may be instructed by a director to cross down-stage left when speaking a line.

Non-English-speaking cultures[edit]

  • In French, stage left is côté cour (court side) and stage right is côté jardin (garden side).
  • In German and Arabic, left and right always refer to the audience perspective.


  1. ^ Novak, Elaine Adams; Novak, Deborah (1996). Staging Musical Theatre. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books. ISBN 978-1-55870-407-7. OCLC 34651521. 
  2. ^ Harper, Douglas. "block". Online Etymology Dictionary.  Harper, Douglas. "blocking". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  3. ^ Topsy-Turvy (Motion picture). 1999. Event occurs at 1:41:52. 
  4. ^ Spolin, Viola (1985). Theater Games for Rehearsal: A Director's Handbook. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0-8101-4002-8. OCLC 222012533. 
  5. ^ Cameron, Ron (1999). Acting Skills for Life. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-0-88924-289-0. OCLC 43282895.