One of the most exciting parts of performing in flexible venues like town halls, village halls, community arts spaces (like a lot of amateur theatre groups) is that you can change the types of theatre stage that you are performing on. In this blog, I’m exploring some of the possible stage shapes you could create.
Proscenium Arch Stage
The proscenium arch (or pros’ arch) is a traditional type of stage setup that you’ll recognise in theatres up and down the country. It features a window into the world on stage, and when looked at from the performer’s perspective is often called the fourth wall.
Usually, this type of stage is perfect for shows that need a lot of scenery or with large casts, bands, costumes etc. This is because it usually has a good amount of wing space and space surrounding the stage.
Most historical auditoriums have a proscenium arch stage. Before speakers and microphones were invented, the shape of the auditorium and direction of the stage assisted with the natural acoustics to amplify the voices of those on stage. Production values nowadays allow for much more expensive and impressive stage effects. Most regional pantomimes and musicals feature this type of stage layout and almost all West End venues are setup in this way.
This setup is often achieved by building onto the front of a proscenium arch. It takes the form of an extended apron allowing the audience to be split either side of the stage as well as in front of it.
Traditionally this type of staging works really well for pieces like Shakespeare where there is a lot of direct address from the actors to the audience and you want the audience to feel very involved in the piece. Hence you’ll find thrust stages at the RSC in Stratford and at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Plus venues like The Bridge in London and Nuffield Southampton City have been built as deliberately flexible venues to accommodate this type of arrangement. Other venues which often utilise thrust staging include the Old Vic and the Young Vic in London.
My favourite aspect of this type of staging is that every member of the audience gets a totally unique experience of viewing the show.
In the Round
When you setup a stage in the round, you’re doing what it says on the tin. There are some world famous venues like The Cockpit Theatre in London and Manchester’s Royal Exchange that feature this type of staging. It is rarely a default in a venue but is becoming more prevalent.
Similarly to Thrust, the audience can really feel they are a part of the action with it happening so close to them. This is a tool the director and choreographer can use to great acclaim in the staging of the piece.
This unusual type of theatre stage is a relatively modern concept in commercial theatre. The audience sit facing each other on either side of the stage which allows for set to be included but a very intimate atmosphere and clever choreography.
When the audience is on two sides, you don’t need to worry as much about having your back turned to the audience and so you also have a much larger choice of lighting angles to create a stunning lighting design.
In recent years there has been pop-up venues which feature a traverse stage. Most successfully done by In The Heights and The Railway Children in the popup theatre at King’s Cross in London.
Cabaret Style Seating
Popular in comedy and live cabaret venues, cabaret seating usually features a mixture of rows and tables giving audiences the chance to enjoy drinks and sometimes food with the entertainment. Sometimes drinks are served by waiters during in the show.
It can be an excellent layout for a revue style show where lots of different types of genre or acts feature one after the other. It really gives a sense of intimacy and closeness to the performance. Though something to bear in mind is that it does significantly lower the capacity of a venue due to the amount of space that tables can take up.
Types of Theatre Stage Summary
I think some of the best performance venues around are ones where you can swap between all these arrangements to use different layouts for different productions, an approach which is becoming more popular in London and beyond! I’d love to hear about your experiences in different types of theatre. Send me an email!