Question • Morphing From Non-diegetic to Diegetic

I'm trying to think of an example of a character in musical theatre singing a non-diegetic song which later in the story is performed as a diegetic song by that same character or even someone else. Any ideas?


Examples of diegetic musical theatre songs : 

  • Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man - Showboat
  • Edelweiss - The Sound of Music
  • Beautiful Girls - Follies

Examples of non-diegetic musical theatre songs :

    • People Will Say We're In Love - Oklahoma!
    • If My Friends Could See Me Now - Sweet Charity
    • I'm Not My Father's Son - Kinky Boots

    The terms diegetic and non-diegetic are borrowed from the film world, but as a theatre artist I find them useful in pinning down what is really happening with any given musical moment. (Thanks to Stephen Banfield for introducing me to this idea in his book, Sondheim's Broadway Musicals, many years ago.) Here are some good definitions from a film perspective:

    Diegetic sound

    Sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film: 

    • voices of characters 
    • sounds made by objects in the story 
    • music represented as coming from instruments in the story space ( = source music)

    Diegetic sound is any sound presented as originated from source within the film's world

    Digetic sound can be either on screen or off screen depending on whatever its source is within the frame or outside the frame. 

    Another term for diegetic sound is actual sound


    Non-diegetic sound 

    Sound whose source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action: 

    • narrator's commentary
    • sound effects which is added for the dramatic effect
    • mood music

    Non-diegetic sound is represented as coming from the a source outside story space.

    The distinction between diegetic or non-diegetic sound depends on our understanding of the conventions of film viewing and listening.  We know of that certain sounds are represented as coming from the story world, while others are  represented as coming from outside the space of the story events.  A play with diegetic and non-diegetic conventions can be used to create ambiguity (horror), or to surprise the audience (comedy). 

    Another term for non-diegetic sound is commentary sound.


    Christopher Gurr2 Comments