RELATED TERMS: Epic theatre - Brecht; Theatre of Cruelty; Tragic theatre - Aristotle; Performative; Deixis and Indexicality

Keir Elam (1980) makes a distinction between ‘theatre’ and ‘drama’. He takes ‘theatre’ to refer here to the complex of phenomena associated with the performer-audience transaction, with the production and communication of meaning in the performance itself and with the systems underlying it. By ‘drama’, on the other hand, he means that mode of fiction designed for stage representation and constructed according to particular ‘dramatic’ conventions. The epithet ‘theatrical’, then, is limited to what takes place between and among performers and spectators, while the epithet ‘dramatic’ indicates the network of factors relating to the represented fiction.

Both ‘theatre’, in the context of environment-people interactions, and ‘drama’, in the context of narrative-people interactions, are relevant for the design of narrative environments. The distinction between ‘theatre’ and ‘drama’ highlights the difference in levels of deictic act involved in theatre, and thus in the design of narrative environments, discussed by Brandt (2016), who frames the discussion in terms of cascades of deixis. He notes that in theatre, the first instance is the framing deixis of theatricality: “I am now acting, and not behaving naturally”. The second instance is the narrative deixis: “I am now playing the role of a character in the story X”. The third instance is the aesthetic deixis: “I am shaping this role in a certain way and signing this version as “this way” of playing it here now”. The framing deixis relates to Elam’s ‘theatre’. The other two, narrative and aesthetic deixis, relate to Elam’s ‘drama’

For a discussion of the relationship between contemporary European philosophy and theatre, see Bayly (2002).


Bayly, S. (2002) A Pathognomy of performance. [PhD thesis]. University of Surrey. Available at: (Accessed: 11 May 2021).

Brandt, P. A. (2016) ‘Deixis – a semiotic mystery: Enunciation and reference’, Cognitive Semiotics, 9(1), pp. 1–10. doi: 10.1515/cogsem-2016-0001

Elam, K. (1980) The Semiotics of theatre and drama. London, UK: Routledge.