Definition: Theater

From New World Encyclopedia


From Middle English theater, theatre, from Old French theatre, from Latin theatrum, from Ancient Greek θέατρον or théatron (a place for viewing), from θεάομαι or theáomai (to see, to watch, to observe). Doublet of tiatr.


theater (countable and uncountable, plural theaters) (American spelling)

  1. A place or building, consisting of a stage and seating, in which an audience gathers to watch plays, musical performances, public ceremonies, and so on.
  2. A region where a particular action takes place; a specific field of action, usually with reference to war.
    His grandfather was in the Pacific theater during the war.
  3. A lecture theatre; a theater-like room in a university where lectures are held.
  4. (medicine) An operating theatre or locale for human experimentation.
    This man is about to die, get him into theater at once!
  5. A cinema or movie theater; a theater where motion pictures are shown, often on a large screen.
    I can't wait to see classic Shaye Saint John films in a theater!
  6. Drama or performance as a profession or art form.
    I worked in theater for over twenty years!
  7. Any place rising by steps like the seats of a theater.

Usage notes

The spelling theatre is the main spelling in British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand English, with theater being rare.

In United States English, theater accounts for about 80 percent of usage in the major corpus of usage.

Among American theatre professionals, there is some usage of the two spellings in order to differentiate between the location theater (as in definitions 1–5) and the art-form theatre (definition 6). A variant of this differentiation is the usage of theatre for things relating to live performances (as in definitions 1 and 6) with theater being used for all other uses, especially in the case of cinema.

Derived terms

  • theaterette
  • theatric
  • theatrical
  • theatrically


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