The two words, theater, and theatre are often used interchangeably but in reality, there is a subtle difference between them.
Both words have been used interchangeably for centuries. While both words refer to the same concept, they differ in terms of historical origin. Theatre is derived from the French word ‘theatre’ while theater is derived from the Latin word ‘Theatrum’. Although both words are used to describe a form of entertainment involving actors and/or music, theatre has become more commonly used in British English, while theater is more frequently used in American English. Over time, however, their meaning has been somewhat blurred as both words continue to be used interchangeably across different regions.
Interchangeable Yet Different
Theater refers to the building or venue where plays, musicals, operas, and other theatrical performances take place. It is usually an enclosed space with a stage, seating area, and sometimes even an orchestra pit. The beveled-edge marquee outside of the theater typically advertises what's playing inside.
Theatre, on the other hand, is more associated with the art form itself — it is the craft of storytelling through imaginative characters and dialogue that has been developed over centuries. In this sense, it's more than just a performance; it's an emotional journey that can leave us feeling inspired, moved, or even transformed by what we have experienced through watching a live show.
Take Your Pick
Although different, it can be confusing to use both spellings in the same instance. It's probably best to stick with one, but the questions can be a great one on Jeopardy nights -- it can be interesting to know who knows the difference. And now you do!