REPERTORY/REPERTOIRE: easily confused terms

A repertory company is a theater company with a standard group of actors who present a variety of productions in the course of a season.  The actors shift among roles as the production changes.

A repertoire, however, is a file of  songs, poems, monologues, or other production pieces that a performer is prepared to present at any given time.   A singer, for instance, might have a hundred or more songs (he) has practiced, committed to memory, and is ready to sing at the slightest invitation.

In a cross-over way, a repertory company may have a prepared repertoire of productions it is prepared to present in a season.   But the two words have distinct meanings, not to be confused.  Repertoire comes to us from the French, in which the word means inventory.”  That’s a pretty mundane definition for such a rich word, considering that an opera company’s repertoire may contain numerous operas considered to be “jewels.”

Repertory,  on the other hand, is from the Latin, and means to discover, or produce.   It points to the incredible feat of being able to draw from an existing repertoire of productions.    In the early days of theater in this country, there would be repertory companies which traveled from town to town providing productions.   The company would choose a particular play or musical production for a specific town and the next night, in another town, might create another completely different production.

In today’s parlance, a repertory company, such as Trinity Rep in Providence will produce a series of shows over the course of a season.  It is less likely that they will switch back and forth, given the need for staging which supports the production and which, for the most part, cannot be dissembled and re-assembled in time for the traditional style of repertory theater.

I am awed by a performer who can draw from (her) repertoire of songs with a moment’s notice.   Or an actor who can step into a role at an invitation and perform a monologue which (he) may not have performed in years.  I have trouble remembering items on the grocery list I prepared an hour ago!

Obviously, both of these wonderful words are related to the performance industry and can easily be confused.   Both have to do with flexibility and great skill.


Illustration Credit: Trinity Rep

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