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Inside the Theatre (Theatre Interior, Staff, Purposes)


Throughout Western theatrical history, there have been six major types of theatre buildings and basic arrangements of audience seating: (1) the proscenium or picture-frame stage, (2) the arena stage, or theatre in the round, (3) the thrust or open stage, (4) the amphitheatre, (5) the black box or studio, and (6) created or found space. All are still used but with varying degrees of popularity.

The proscenium or picture-frame stage is the most prevalent type of theatre architecture in the West. The word proscenium, used by the Romans, originally referred to the area in front of the stage. Today, it refers to the wall with a large center opening that separates the audience from the stage. In the past the opening was called an arch or proscenium arch, but the shape of the opening is more rectangular than oval. In this type of theatre, the audience faces in the direction of the proscenium opening and looks into the stage, which is framed by the opening. The auditorium floor slants downward from the back toward the stage to provide greater visibility for the audience. Often at least one balcony is above the auditorium floor, protruding about a quarter of the way over the main floor. A curtain located just behind the proscenium opening hides or reveals the events taking place on stage. The proscenium wall conceals the complicated stage machinery and lighting instruments required by modern theatre production.

In some theatres, for instance in the Globe Theatre in London, audience members can sit on benches in one of the three covered galleries or stand in the open yard, just as audiences did in the original Globe Theatre of Shakespeare’s time. The projecting stage has a thatched roof and an elaborately decorated back wall. Large oak pillars, painted to look like marble, support a canopy, which has been painted to represent the heavens.


A prominent theatre director, Peter Brook of Britain, has said that for theatre to take place, an actor walks across an empty space while someone else is watching. In this empty space, called a stage, actors present themselves in a story about some aspect of human experience. The actors, the audience, and the space are three essentials of theatre. The fourth is the performance, or the actors’ creative work in production. The performance is very often a play—a tragedy, comedy, or musical—but it need not be. Theatre performances include vaudeville, puppet shows, mime, and other forms of entertainment. Imitation, costumes, masks, make up, gesture, dance, music, and pantomime are some of the theatrical elements.

Fundamental to the theatre experience is the act of seeing and being seen; Throughout the history of world cultures, actors have used a variety of locations for theatre, including amphitheatres, churches, marketplaces, garages, street corners, warehouses, and formal buildings. It is not the building that makes theatre but rather the use of space for actors to imitate human experience before audiences.

In addition to the actor and the audience in a space, other elements of theatre include a written or improvised text, costumes, scenery, lights, sound, and properties (props). Most theatrical performances require the collaborative efforts of many creative people working toward a common goal: the production.

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