Theatre Spaces All it takes is someone watching and someone performing.
Some of the first formal performing spaces were built by the Greeks. These out door spaces were called amphitheaters and were usually built into a hillside to help the sound from the stage travel up to the seats.
The Greek Amphitheaters did not have a proscenium or fly space. In order to change scenery quickly they developed a device called a periaktoi. Periaktoi are triangular columns that are arraigned in a row. This way they could paint three different scenes and change backgrounds quickly. Periaktoi are still in use today. In this area you have probably seen periaktoi in the form of changing billboards on the highway.
In the Renaissance one of the most famous theatres was the Globe theatre of William Shakespeare. This space was circular with the stage sticking out into the floor where the commons stood. There were covered seats around the walls of the space for the rich people. There was very little official scenery and the costumes were clothes of the current period. The place for the scene was set by the words and actions of the performers.
Later in the Renaissance court theatre was were the technology of performing spaces was advanced. A rich person would pay to have a theatre in their palace or seat of government. A number of technical devices to create different scenes on stage were permanently installed and the scenery attached was changed from show to show. The seating in court theatre was somewhat odd. The rich person was paying for everything so the entire audience was seated facing the Duke (or whoever) and often had to look around, over, or passed this guy to see the show.
These days there are several forms for performing spaces in common use. The first we will talk about is the Proscenium theatre. The proscenium is the large frame that we see the show through. This allows us to control what the audience sees. The audience shares roughly the same perspective and we can hide a lot create great effects that everyone can appreciate.
The down side of proscenium theatres is that they usually have a great space between the performers and the audience. In modern theatre we would like a greater intimacy with the audience and the orchestra pit gets in the way.
The solution to this is called a Thrust Theatre. This is a 3/4 thrust. It means there is audience 3/4 of the way around the performers.
In Thrust Theatres the performing space sticks out and has the audience on three sides. The action of the play takes place among the audience and there is a great difference of sightlines. The staging of the show has to take into account that the audience will be looking at people’s backs for some of the time.
This is an unusual shape for a Thrust. This is a square space and to maximize seating and playing space they have put the stage in the corner. There is no backstage and no crossover from SL to SR in this theatre.
The next step in this idea is to put the audience on all sides. This is called Arena. Or playing in the round.
But in order to maintain the most flexibility a common kind of performing space is the Black Box theatre. This is a large room with no specific seating areas and no specific performing areas. The stage and audience positions are set differently for each show.
In a Black Box theatre you don’t have a center line and a plaster line, you just have two center lines.
This Black Box is setup as a proscenium space. The ground plan view is on the bottom and the section is on top.
This is by no means a limit on the types of performance spaces around. There are many “found spaces” in use today. Old parking garages, supermarkets, warehouses, churches, train depots, have all been converted into theatres. These theatres have there own specific benefits and problems.