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What is theatre, anyway?


L-R: Sharon Lawrence, York Walker, Mae Whitman and David Pittu in “The Mystery of Love & Sex” at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Written by Bathsheba Doran and directed by Robert Egan, “The Mystery of Love & Sex” plays February 10 – March 20, 2016, at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. For tickets and information, please visit or call (213) 628-2772. .Contact: CTG Media and Communications/ (213) 972-7376/ by Craig Schwartz.

All Uses © 2016 Craig Schwartz

The four main types of onstage storytelling.

Theatre is an art form that has existed for hundreds of years. While the art of theatre has changed over time due to cultural shifts and technological advancements, the core of the art form has remained the same. At the heart of all theatre is storytelling. This could be one person or multiple people telling a story through words, music, or movement to an audience. But what are the different types of theatre?


Plays are a form of theatre in which one person or multiple people tell a story through dialogue, aka talking, either with other actors on stage or the audience. There are many different genres of plays—some are serious, some are silly, and some art somewhere in between. There can be one-person plays, like Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (February 12 – March 12, 2023), or feature a cast of characters like the new production of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992at the Mark Taper Forum (March 8 – April 9, 2023).


Musicals are plays with music. They often have a book, of scenes with dialogue, and a score, of songs throughout the show. Musicals can sometimes be more exaggerated than plays, as characters often sing when they are so emotional that words alone cannot contain their feelings. This is the case in The Secret Gardenat the Ahmanson Theatre (February 19 – March 26, 2023), where the characters sing about their passions, long-lost loves, and wonders about the world, but they also spend time speaking to each other as well. 


Operas are highly stylized performances where the entire story is song. There is no dialogue whatsoever, only song! And because everyone’s emotional enough to sing, everything is over-the-top—from the costumes and scenic design to the plot! Our neighbors at The Music Center, the LA Opera, produce operas each season.


Operettas are a light form of operas—existing somewhere in between opera and musicals. These are often music-heavy shows, but lighter in subject matter and size than their operatic counterparts. Most of the story is conveyed through song as opposed to dialogue. There may be some lines of dialogue scattered throughout, but most of the conversations are through song! One popular example is Les Misérables, which performed at the Ahmanson in 2011. While the cast sometimes speaks, the main plot and actions of the characters are driven through song.

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