Stage (theatre)

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Theatre

Interior of the 1928 B. F. Keith Memorial Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts. This theatre features a proscenium stage, the most common type of stage in the West.
Interior of the 1928 B. F. Keith Memorial Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts. This theatre features a proscenium stage, the most common type of stage in the West.

In theatre, the stage (sometimes referred to as the deck in stagecraft) is a designated space for the performance of theatrical productions or other events. The stage serves as a space for actors or performers and a focal point for the members of the audience. As an architectural feature, the stage may consist of a platform (often raised) or series of platforms. In some cases, these may be temporary or adjustable but in theaters and other buildings devoted to such productions, the stage is often a permanent feature.

There are four types of stages that vary as to the usage and the relation of the audience to them. The most common form found in the West is the proscenium stage. In this type, the audience is located on one side of the stage with the remaining sides hidden and used by the performers and technicians. Thrust stages may be similar to proscenium stages but with a platform or performance area that extends into the audience space so that the audience is located on three sides. In theatre in the round, the audience is located on all four sides of the stage. The fourth type of stage incorporates created and found stages which may be constructed specifically for a performance or may involve a space that is adapted as a stage.

Types of stage

Proscenium stage

Since the Italian Renaissance, the most common stage used in the West has been the proscenium stage which may also be referred to as a picture frame stage. The primary feature is a large arch, the proscenium arch, through which the audience views the performance. The audience directly faces the stage--which is typically raised several feet above front row audience level--and views only one side of the scene. This one side is commonly known as the fourth wall. The proscenium arch evolved from the proskenium in Ancient Greek theatres. This was the space in front of the skene or backdrop where the actors actually played.

The proscenium hides the sides of the stage, called the wings, which may be used by theatre personnel working on the particular performance as well as a space for storage of scenery and theatrical properties, typically obscured by side curtains, called legs. Often, a stage may extend in front of the proscenium arch which offers additional playing area to the actors. This area is a referred to as the apron. Underneath and in front of the apron is sometimes an orchestra pit which is used by musicians during musicals and operas. The orchestra pit may sometimes be covered and used as an additional playing space in order to bring the actors closer to the audience. The stage is often raised higher than the audience. Space above some proscenium stages may include a flyloft where curtains, scenery, and battens supporting a variety of lighting instruments may hang.

The numerous advantages of the proscenium stage have led to its popularity in the West. Many theatrical properties and scenery may be utilized. Backdrops, curtains and lighting can be used to greater effect without risk of rigging being visible to the audience. Entrances and exits can be made more graceful; surprise becomes possible. The actors only have to concentrate on playing to the audience in one direction.

Theatre in the round

This method of stage design consists of a stage situated in the centre of the theatre, with the audience facing it from all sides. The audience is placed quite close to the action which provokes a feeling of intimacy and involvement.

In-the-round stages require special considerations in production, including:

  • Scenery that does not obscure actors and the rest of the stage from parts of the audience.
  • Backdrops and curtains cannot be used, thus the director must find other ways to set the scene.
  • Lighting design is more difficult than for a Proscenium stage, since the actor must be lit from all sides without blinding nearby audience members.
  • Entrances and exits must be made either through the audience, making surprise entrances very difficult, or via closed-off walkways, which must be inconspicuous. As a result, stage entrances are normally in the corners of the theatre.
  • The actors need to ensure that they do not have their backs turned to any part of the audience for long periods of time, in order to be seen and heard nicely and very clearly.

Thrust stage

outdoor stage in Edmonton
outdoor stage in Edmonton

A thrust 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 house 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.

Created and found spaces

A stage can also be improvised where ever a suitable space can be found. Examples may include staging a performance in a non traditional space such as a basement of a building, a side of a hill or, in the case of a busking troupe, the street. In a similar manner, a makeshift stage can be created by modifying an environment. For example demarkating the boundaries of a stage in an open space by laying a carpet and arranging seating before it.

Additions & modifications

Proscenium and In-The-Round stage types are only the basic templates for stage layout. There are also extras which can be added in order to improve the stage.

  • Aprons are pieces of stage added to the front of a proscenium stage which protrude past the proscenium arch, pushing out into the audience in order to make them feel more involved. They provoke a feeling of being more part of the action, rather than just looking at it through a transparent fourth wall (see above.) See also thrust stage.
  • Boxes are a feature of more modern stage designs in which temporary walls are built inside any proscenium stage, at a slight angle to the original walls, in order to allow audience members located to the left or right of the proscenium (the further out, the larger the angle) to see the entirety of the stage. They enable the creation of rat runs around the back of the stage, which allow cast members to walk between entrances and exits without being seen by the audience.

Stage directions

House right/left are from the audience's perspective
House right/left are from the audience's perspective

The stage itself has been given named areas to facilitate blocking:

  • The rear of the stage is considered up-stage. This derives from the raked stage of the Greek Theatre (see below).
  • The front of the stage is down-stage.
  • Stage Left and right refer to the actor's left and right facing the audience. Because this is sometimes misunderstood the terms prompt (left) and opposite prompt (right) are also used.
  • House left and house right refer to how the audience perceives the stage. The audience’s left is referred to as house left, and the audience’s right is referred to as house right.
  • Therefore, "House left" is "Stage right" and "House right" is "Stage left."

History of the Stage

In the earliest history of theatre, stages often were simply designated performance areas within a village. As theatre is often derived from religious rites, these areas held special significance and meaning within the tribe. The first elaborate theatrical stages are found in Ancient Greece where stages were originally threshing floors which developed into large, open-air ampitheaters with permanent stages. These same theatre layouts were adopted by the Romans who spread them across Europe. Small portable stages called wagons were common in the Middle Ages and were used for mystery plays and miracle plays in cathedrals as well as outside in villages. Similar stages were used by Commedia dell'arte troupes in Italy which spread over the continent over the next few centuries.

Retrieved from ""