An introduction to different types of theater layouts. Proscenium, alley, thrust, in the round and environmental.
- Proscenium Theater: Audience faces stage, which usually has an archway over the stage.
- Alley Theater: The stage is surrounded on two sides by the audience.
- Thrust Stage: The stage is surrounded on three sides (or 270Ëš) by audience. Can be modification of proscenium staging. Sometimes known as “Three Quarter Round”.
- Theatre in the round: The stage is surrounded by audience on all sides.
- Environmental theatre: The stage and audience either blend together, or are in numerous or oddly shaped sections. Includes any form of staging that is not easily classifiable under the above categories.
A Proscenium theater is a theater space whose primary feature is a large archway (the proscenium arch) at or near the front of the stage, through which the audience views the play. The audience directly faces the stage, which is typically raised several feet above front row audience level. The main stage is the space behind the proscenium arch, often marked by a curtain which can be lowered or drawn closed. The space in front of the curtain is called the “apron.” The areas obscured by the proscenium arch and any curtains serving the same purpose (often called legs or tormentors) are called the wings. Any space not viewable to the audiences is collectively referred to as offstage. Proscenium stages range in size from small enclosures to several stories tall. In general practice, a theatre space is referred to as a “proscenium” any time the audience directly faces the stage, with no audience on any other side, even if there is not a formal proscenium arch over the stage. Because of the somewhat incongruous nature of a theatre called a proscenium theatre without a proscenium arch, these theatres are often referred to as “end-on” theatre spaces.
In theater, a thrust stage (also known as a platform stage or open stage) is one that extends into the audience on three sides and is connected to the backstage area by its up stage end. A thrust has the advantage of greater intimacy between audience and performer than a proscenium, while retaining the utility of a backstage area. Entrances onto a thrust are most readily made from backstage, although some theatres provide for performers to enter through the audience using vomitory entrances. An arena, exposed on all sides to the audience, is without a backstage and relies entirely on entrances in the auditorium or from under the stage.
As with an arena, the audience in a thrust stage theatre may view the stage from three or more sides. If a performance employs the fourth wall, that imaginary wall must be maintained on multiple sides. Because the audience can view the performance from a variety of perspectives, it is usual for the blocking, props and scenery to receive thorough consideration to ensure that no perspective is blocked from view. A high backed chair, for instance, when placed stage right, could create a blind spot in the stage left action.
THEATER IN THE ROUND
Theatre-in-the-round or arena theatre is any theatre space in which the audience surrounds the stage area. In 1947, Margo Jones established America’s first professional theatre-in-the-round company when she opened her Theatre â€™47 in Dallas.
As outlined by Margo Jones, her theatre-in-the-round concept requires no stage curtain, little scenery and allows the audience to sit on three sides of the stage. That stage design was used by directors in later years for such well-known shows as the original stage production of Man of La Mancha and all plays staged at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre (demolished in the late 1960s), including Arthur Miller’s autobiographical After the Fall. Such theaters had previously existed in colleges but not in professional spaces.
The stage itself in this arrangement is typically round, square, or triangular, with actors entering and exiting through the audience from different directions or from below the stage. Such a space is usually configured with the stage on an even level with or lowered below the audience in a “pit” or “arena” formation. This configuration lends itself to high-energy productions, and is especially favored by producers of classical theatre. Theatre-in-the-round was common in ancient theatre, particularly that of Greece and Rome but was not widely explored again until the latter half of the 20th Century; it has continued as a creative alternative to the more common Proscenium format.
Theatre-in-the-round presents problems since actors at all times have their back facing some members of the audience. However, it also allows for interesting and realistic staging. The configuration is also commonly employed when theatrical performances are presented in non-traditional spaces such as restaurants, public areas such as fairs or festivals, or street theatre. Special consideration needs to be taken in regard to the set design, so as not to obscure any audience member’s view of the performance.
The innovations of Margo Jones were an obvious influence on Albert McCleery when he created his Cameo Theater for television in 1950. Continuing until 1955, McCleery offered dramas seen against pure black backgrounds instead of walls of a set. This enabled cameras in the darkness to pick up shots from any position.
When an arena staging was conceived for the progressive-rock group Yes by their tour manager Jim Halley in the mid-1970s, it prompted a redesign of rock concerts and venue seating arrangements.
George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia is home to the largest Arena Stage Archive and contains material from the theater’s 50 year history. Included in the collection are photographs, production notebooks, scrapbooks, playbills, oral histories and handwritten correspondence. According to their website, the total volume is 260 cubic feet or 440 linear feet and is housed in the Fenwick Library.
Alley theatre is a form of theatrical staging in which the stage is surrounded predominantly on two sides by audience. It is also commonly known as a traverse or corridor theatre. In alley theatres, sometimes one end of the stage space ends in audience, similar to a thrust or three-quarter round stage. Other times the ends of the alleys are much larger than the alley itself allowing for more space for actors, sets, and scenery. Although not commonly used for the production of plays, this form of staging especially popular for fashion shows.
There are many practical implications for the actor performing in Traverse theatre, such as projection of voice (as when the actor faces one audience, he turns his back to the other) and making sure that every action is visble to both sides of the audience. From a design perspective, staging is very limited so as not to block sight lines across the stage. Furthermore, lighting the stage from one side only will cast a shadow over the actors’ faces when viewed from the opposite side.
While not strictly an alley theatre-stage, the hanamichi of a kabuki stage, which is basically a wide catwalk that extended outward from the main stage to the rear, can be considered one.
Environmental theater, sometimes called site-specific theater, is a style of theatrical performance which strives for greater authenticity and audience engagement by staging its action in appropriate real-world settings rather than in traditional theater spaces.
Examples include Psycho-So-Matic and Downsize, staged by Chicago’s Walkabout Theater in a landromat and a series of public restrooms, respectively; Girls Just Wanna Have Fund$, staged by Women’s Project in the lobbies, escalators, and bridges of New York’s World Financial Center (; Supernatural Chicago, staged in an allegedly haunted nightclub ; and Small Metal Objects, staged by Australia’s Back To Back Theater at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal.
A secondary definition of environmental theater is used to describe any production that attempts to immerse the audience in the performance by bringing the action off the stage area. For example, some acting may happen in aisles. In the case of a black box theater acting platforms may even be built between audience section. Sometimes a performer will talk to, or otherwise involve an audience member in a scene. This can be a real audience member, as in interactive theater, or an actor planted to appear as an audience member.
A subset of this is promenade theater, in which there is little or no seating for audience members, who watch the action happening among them and may follow the performers around the space. An example of promenade theater is the performances put on by Punchdrunk, a UK based theater company.