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18th century drama!

all you need to know about theatres!

all you need to know about theatres!
Did you say actresses and actors? I thought so!

I bet that when you go into an auditorium, or theatre, you never really pay attention to the stage itself. I bet that you would not even notice that there are many different types of stages. Well there are! The stage is one of the most important elements of theatre. Back when Country Wife was performed, staging and arrangement of the actors and actresses was very important. The way they were portrayed was crucial to the intimacy of the performance. In one scene in Country Wife that made the difference to the audience was the famous "China" Scene. The way the actors and actresses were arranged gave the audience the feeling of the scene. Horner was hidden behind the screen, not in view of some of the actors and actresses.

One of the ways to achieve or resist intimacy or just have a great performance is based on the stage itself. There are many different types of stages. One of the most familiar types of stages is the proscenium or picture-frame stage. In a proscenium stage, the audience faces in one direction (towards the stage). The stage is enclosed by a picture frame opening, giving it its name of "picture-frame stage".

The second type of stage is the thrust stage. The thrust stage has a stage area that extends into the audience. The audience surrounds the stage on three sides in a semicircle fashion. The thrust is one of the oldest forms of stages, dating back to the Greeks in the time of Shakespeare.

The third and probably the one that we today are most familiar with is the arena stage (aka circle theatre or theatre-in-the-round). Think of a baseball complex, or a basketball court when you are thinking of the arena stage. This type of stage offers the audience a great sense of intimacy. The arena stage is one of the oldest types also. Any large room can be converted into an arena stage. That is one of the greatest advantages: economical, and the fact that the arena stage offers the most intimacy with the audience. In the arena type of space, the audience sits on four sides or in a circle around the stage.

An example of the Proscenium theatre that most of us know about is the theatre in Edwards hall, and also the Westoff Theatre in the Center for Performing Arts building.

That kind of theatre allows the audience to sit on a slant to the stage. The slanting of the seating area is called a rake.

The proscenium theatre offers many advantages to the performance. It gives off a realistic setting, the focus on the frame grabs the attention of the audience.

For every good aspect of something there comes a bad. The proscenium stage creates an opportunity to get carried away with lighting, and the stage intimacy is more of a remote and formal one. Audience members sometimes would prefer informality, and grasp the intimacy that the thrust and arena stage offer.

This is a picture of a Hawaiian proscenium stage (1922)

This is an example of an English thrust stage

The thrust stage was developed by the Greeks for their tragedies and comedies. A thrust stage, like all the others I have mentioned, also have it's advantages and disadvantages. Some of the basic and obvious advantages are the intimacy of the semi-circle seating, the close audience relationship to the performance, and the fact that many famous plays and scripts were made for the thrust stage. The disadvantages are rare. The only obvious one is that not as many people could watch the play since the seating arrangement did not go all the way around the stage. That however was not a very big disadvantage.

I could see Country Wife being performed on a thrust stage. The audience could get a sense of the drama, and appreciate the theatre better. In Country Wife, Act II scene I, Mrs. Pinchwife, and Alithea are in a room in Pinchwife's house. When we are reading the script, we see that it says that Pinchwife is peeping behind at the door. It is hard for us to grasp that action since we are not actually seeing it being performed. Sure we can imagine it, but actually seeing it does a lot more. Pinch has no lines and is just there to make a point to the audience. The watching audience sees him, but the actresses on stage do not. Directors place actors in strategic places to make the scenes more intimate.

An example of a theatre in the round stage!

An arena stage gives off the most intimacy. In some cases, like a basketball game, you are right there, sitting in the first row, and all the action is right there in your face.

The arena theatre offers the most intimacy of any of the theatres. The audience gets closer to the action because of the seating on all four sides. If the same amount of people attend a performance at an arena staged theatre as would attend at a proscenium staged theatre, at least half would be closer to the stage. There is no barrier from the stage to the audience in an arena theatre.

Some disadvantages would include the scenery. Because of the seating being around the whole stage, scenery cannot really be all the elaborate and amazing. Some of the audience members would be blocked out of the performance. This restricted actors and directors choices for some of the movements on stage. However, the intimacy gained made up for that drawback.

Conquest of Granada could be performed on this kind of stage.

As you can sense, the type of stage/theater you are in effects the feeling of the performance. The more intimate a performance makes the audience feel, the better reaction and better time they will have at the theatre.

Some of the more famous proscenium stages are:

Proscenium ~ Broadhurst Theater in New York

Thrust ~ Tom Patterson Theatre in Ontario, Canada

Arena ~ A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle, Washington

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