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'Moths' And 'Cockroaches' A Lighting Designer's Greatest Pests


And finally this hour, our latest batch of Trade Lingo. We've been collecting insider terms from various lines of work. Today, some theater words from a former opera stage manager, David Grindle.

DAVID GRINDLE: There is a term that some lighting designers use to refer to people on stage. Occasionally, we have moths, and we have cockroaches.

BLOCK: Moths and cockroaches. And you're not referring to insects here?

GRINDLE: I am not. I am referring to those people who, when you turn a light on, they either immediately flock to the center and brightest spot of the light or they seem to skitter away from being able to be seen.

BLOCK: That's kind of nasty.

GRINDLE: It is. Usually, once someone discovers they're a cockroach, they convert to a moth fairly quickly.

BLOCK: Now, would you tell somebody, like, you're a cockroach; you've got to find the light?

GRINDLE: No, typically what I would end up doing is pulling them aside and say, do you know what cockroaches do when they get in the light? And typically, that will get them to move over. But sometimes, you physically have to go on stage, stand behind them and say, now step with me to the left and point up and show them the center of the light and how to get them to stand there. That's how you have to force someone into being a moth.

BLOCK: (Laughter). And they can't even be a butterfly. They're still a moth.

GRINDLE: Well, you know, one time I did - somebody said, why can't I be a butterfly? I said, if you will stand in your light, you will be.

BLOCK: (Laughter). You will miraculously transform.

GRINDLE: You will turn into the most wonderful butterfly because your performance will do that for people.

BLOCK: Well, what else from the world of theater, stage managing and design should we know about?

GRINDLE: My other favorite word that we use in theater is practical.

BLOCK: Practical.

GRINDLE: Practical. In the electrics department, if there is a lamp on a table, the lamp itself is called a practical. But most of the time in theater, the light inside it is wired in with all the other lighting. And so it is turned on electronically.

BLOCK: By the guy who's...

GRINDLE: By the guy in the booth running the light board. But every once in a while, it'll actually be a functioning light. The actor physically turns the light on and off. So that makes it a practical practical.

BLOCK: (Laughter). I see. OK.

GRINDLE: But then, if you move over to the props department, it means something completely different. So you can have practical food, which is edible food. Or a paper that gets ripped up every night is practical.


GRINDLE: And so the challenge is, in your budget meetings, you get the potential that it's impractical to have a practical.

BLOCK: (Laughter).

GRINDLE: Or it could impractical to have a practical practical because of something the actor has to do.

BLOCK: Is there anything on the stage that wouldn't be a practical?

GRINDLE: Sure, if you have an entire plate of food that is all fake.


GRINDLE: That's just prop food, so that's a non-practical prop.

BLOCK: David, I feel like I could just keep asking you for lingo all day, and you'd have more to tell us.

GRINDLE: Oh, we could because remember, if it goes out, it's up. If it's in, it's down. If it's right, it's left. If it's left, it's right. If it's up, it's back. If it's down, it's forward.

BLOCK: I'm not even going to ask.

GRINDLE: Exactly. And those are all just stage directions.

BLOCK: Well, David, thanks so much for sharing a bit of theater lingo with us. It's been great.

GRINDLE: Thanks so much, Melissa. Glad to do it.

BLOCK: That's David Grindle of Syracuse, New York. He's executive director of the United States Institute for Theater Technology. Now please, be a moth, not a cockroach. Flock to the light, and send us your trade lingo. We're on Facebook and Twitter, @npratc. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.