Theatre Spaces

A quick post about theatre spaces for possible use in the classroom by Drama/Theatre teachers.

Proscenium Arch: The most common stage in purpose-built theatres, where the audience is placed on one side of the stage. Performers must be largely aware of facing the audience most of the time, who themselves act as Peeping Tom’s peering through the (invisible) Fourth Wall. Advantages include the opportunity to hide performers in the wings and sets in the fly tower and wings. Restrictions include sight-line issues with set pieces and a lack of intimacy between actor and audience. Anyone who has sat 2,000 seats away from the stage in the balcony of a large theatre, or at the side of the stalls or dress circle trying to see part of a stage set around a solid wall, will tell you all about the problems of a proscenium arch stage!

Traverse: Uncommon form of staging where, similar to that of a fashion parade, the audience sits on two sides of a long rectangular stage, facing each other. Traverse staging allows for even the worst seats in the house to be relatively close to the stage, but often there is an absence of wings for the performers. Depending whether the seating is raked or not, sometimes props need to be small(ish) and set pieces are often hung from above instead of being placed on the stage. Most of the audience is either going to see actor profiles or backs much of the time.

Thrust: The three-sided stage was the preferred option for William Shakespeare. With the audience sitting around threes ides of the acting space, this square or circular space is the inverse of proscenium arch staging. Instead of the acting space being set in, rather it juts out, or ‘thrusts’ itself into the audience area. Considerable advantages occur with the ability to place a large audience around the performance space and yet still feel a certain intimacy. Disadvantages include actors facing their backs to large sections of the audience, the question of whether to block action deep in the space or at its leading edge, and an inability to have any sense of set due to audience sight lines.

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Arena/In The Round: Whether square or circular, this is the four-sided stage with the audience placed all around the performance space. This type of staging has similar, but enhanced features of the thrust stage. Large audiences can be seated close to the action in theatre-in-the-round, but blocking and sight line issues abound, as do set design considerations. Dressing rooms are often built under a raised performance space or elsewhere, with performers often moving through the audienace area in order to get to them.

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13 comments on “Theatre Spaces

  1. Hi there!
    I’m doing homework for school and I was wondering what another use for a traverse stage was? (Not a fashion show?)
    Thanks 🙂

    • I have seen a piece where Traverse was used to create a debate for an election and it made the audience feel like they were being persuaded into voting for each person. I hope this has helped.

    • Am shibin Xavier from India.We have folklore festivals in which they uses travers for healthy art competitions like competing each other one by one. it can be usefull for other ‘two group’ competitions. For instance chessboard kind of structured play can be done in this way. Considering the fact this is a school,frame the event with a little bit fun so that the interraction will be high. Thank you

  2. Traverse staging for theatre shows can be tricky and, in my experience anyway, is uncommon in professional theatre. Of the handful of traverse staged shows I have seen, the audience is placed on both (long) sides of a rectangle (and not at the ends), often raked (downward to the flat stage below). The scenery needs to be minimal and/or low to the ground, hanging high from above, or transparent. This is because the scenery in a traverse stage can easily block the view of the actors by the audience on the other side. There are two “fronts” to the traverse stage, actors often perform sections to one side or the other, depending on the direction given. Traverse staging is somewhat challenging, but worthwhile if not for the novelty factor, alone.

  3. great stuff m808

  4. This is great. I like this because it gives you a lot of information and explains some advantages and disadvantages. Justin Cash you have done a great job.

  5. i am writing my project, and it is giving me a lot of problem, i need a help with ‘ found spaces and the challenges of aesthetic finishing

  6. Are there any more advantages and disadvantages of thrust staging? I need three of each.

  7. hello i need to find ot
    WHAT IS BODY POSITIONING
    SPACES IN DRAMA
    EXPLANATION OF EACH SPACE

  8. Hi, I was wondering what are some advantages and disadvantages of a black box stage.

  9. Hello,
    I was wondering if you could add a little bit more about Proscenium Arch stages and there advantages and disadvantages.

  10. Georgia,

    The proscenium arch stage has stood the test of time, still being the most common performance space for theatres across the world. The main advantage is that the performers and set pieces only have to face one direction. As long as this is maintained properly, everyone in the audience can see the facing side of actors, props and sets. And those sets can be as tall and wide as the opening of the proscenium (though time and time again proscenium arch theatres are built with sight line issues because the audience seats fan out too wide for the arch opening and/or theatre companies build or position set pieces that cannot be seen by some seats of the house). Add to this the ability to hide performers in wings off stage behind a solid wall, lighting instruments behind hung curtains, and some set pieces in fly towers above the stage, and you have all you need for the illusion of theatre to be created. One of the reasons the thrust stage was so popular in Elizabethan times is because it thrust out into the audience space, effectively being surrounded by spectators on three sides – the inverse of the proscenium arch stage. Hundreds of spectators could see the action on stage from close range, creating an intimate actor-audience relationship (albeit some spectators would see the side or back of actors at various points in the performance). This situation can rarely be achieved using a proscenium arch. One of the best and worst examples of a proscenium arch stage is the Metropolitan Opera House in New York – 3,800 seats on six levels, all on ONE side of the stage! A sight to be seen! Both a magical and somewhat impractical experience at the same time.

    – Justin

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