For the film by René Clair, see Entr'acte (film).

Entr'acte (or entracte [ɑ̃tʁakt])[1] means "between the acts" (German: Zwischenspiel and Zwischenakt, Italian: Intermezzo, Spanish: Intermedio). It can mean a pause between two parts of a stage production, synonymous to an intermission (this is nowadays the more common meaning in French), but it more often (in English) indicates a piece of music performed between acts of a theatrical production. In the case of stage musicals, the entr'acte serves as the overture of act 2 (and sometimes acts 3 and 4, as in Carmen). In films that were meant to be shown with an intermission, there was frequently a specially recorded entr'acte on the soundtrack between the first and second half of the film, although this practice has died out in recent years.


Originally entr'actes resulted from stage curtains being closed for set or costume changes: to fill time as not to halt the dramatic action, to make a transition from the mood of one act to the next, or to prevent the public from becoming restless. In front of the closed curtains, the action could be continued during these entr'actes, albeit involving only players with no scenery other than the curtain, and a minimum of props.

An entr'acte can take the action from one part of a large-scale drama to the next by completing the missing links. The Spanish Sainete often performed a similar function.

The role of music

In traditional theatre, incidental music could also bridge the 'closed curtain' periods: ballet, opera and drama each have a rich tradition of such musical interludes. The literal meaning of the German word, Verwandlungsmusik refers to its original function – "change music". Eventually, entr'actes (or intermezzi) would develop into a separate genre of short theatrical realizations (often with a plot completely independent from the main piece), that could be produced with a minimum of requisites during intermissions of other elaborate theatre pieces. These later entr'actes were distinctly intended to break the action or mood with something different, such as comedy or dance. Such pieces also allowed the chief players of the main piece to have a break. Eventually the idea of being an insert into a greater whole became looser: interlude sometimes has no other connotation than a "short play".

Other dramatic devices

When the insert was intended only to shift the mood before returning to the main action, without a change of scene being necessary, authors could revert to a "play within a play" technique, or have some accidental guests in a ballroom perform a dance, etc. In this case the insert is a divertimento (the term is Italian; the French divertissement is also used) rather than an entr'acte.

In the French opera tradition of the end of the 17th century and early 18th century (Jean-Philippe Rameau, for example) such divertissements would become compulsory in the form of an inserted ballet passage, a tradition that continued till well in the 19th century. This was eventually parodied by Jacques Offenbach: for example, the cancan ending Orpheus in the Underworld.

By the middle of the 18th century, a divertimento had become a separate genre of light music as well. These divertimenti could be used as interludes in stage works, many of the divertimenti composed in the last half of the 18th century appears to have lost the relation to the theatre, the music in character only having to be a "diversion" in one or another way.


Pendant l'entracte (During the entr'acte): lithography by Alexandre Lunois published in L'Artiste (1894).

Some more or less elaborate and/or independent entr'actes or intermezzi became famous in their own right, in some cases eclipsing the theatre productions for which they were originally written:


  1. Since 1932–35 the French Academy recommends this spelling, with no apostrophe, so historical uses (such as the 1924 René Clair film title) are still spelled Entr'acte.


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