Stage (theatre)

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The stage of the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. SFOperaHouse2 (8189967420).jpg
The stage of the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.
Stage of the Polish Theatre in Bielsko-Biala. Bielsko-Biala, Teatr Polski, scena.jpg
Stage of the Polish Theatre in Bielsko-Biała.
Stage of the Polish Theatre in Warsaw. Scena Teatr Polski im. Arnolda Szyfmana w Warszawie.JPG
Stage of the Polish Theatre in Warsaw.

In theatre and performing arts, the stage (sometimes referred to as the deck in stagecraft) is a designated space for the performance of productions. The stage serves as a space for actors or performers and a focal point (the screen in cinema theaters) for 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 several types of stages that vary as to the usage and the relation of the audience to them. [1] 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 staging

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 opening known as 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 invisible fourth wall of the scene. The proscenium arch evolved from the proskenium in Ancient Greek theaters. This was the space in front of the skênê or backdrop where the actors actually played.

The first indoor theatres were created in French tennis courts and Italian Renaissance palaces where the newly embraced principles of perspective allowed designers to create stunning vistas with buildings and trees decreasing in size toward a "vanishing point" on the horizon. Stage floors were raked upward slightly from front to back in order to contribute to the perspective illusion and also to make actors more visible to audiences, who were seated on level floors. Subsequently, audience seating was raked, and balconies were added to give audiences a fuller view. By the end of the 19th century, most stages had level floors, and much of the audience looked down on, rather than up to, the stage.

The competition among royals to produce elegant and elaborate entertainments fueled and financed the expansion of European court theatres. The proscenium—which often was extremely decorative in the manner of a triumphal arch—"framed" the prospective picture. The desire of court painters to show more than one of their perspective backgrounds led court architects to adapt the pin-rails and pulleys of sailing ships to the unrolling, and later to the lowering and raising, of canvas backdrops. A wood (and later steel) grid above the stage supported pulleys from which wooden battens, and later steel pipes, rolled down, or descended, with attached scenery pieces. The weight of heavy pieces was counterbalanced by sandbags. This system required the creation of a storage stage house or loft that was usually as high or higher than the proscenium itself. A "full-fly" stage could store the entire height of scenery above the visible stage using the pin-rails before or during performance, whereas a "half-fly" stage (common in smaller locations) could only store props of limited size and thus required more careful backdrop and scenery design. Theatres using these rope systems, which are manually operated by stagehands, are known as hemp houses. They have been largely supplanted by counterweight fly systems.

The proscenium, in conjunction with stage curtains called legs, conceals the sides of the stage, which are known as the wings. The wings may be used by theatre personnel during performances and as storage spaces for scenery and theatrical properties. Several rows of short curtains across the top of the stage, called teasers, hide the backdrops, which in turn are hidden above the stage in the fly system loft until ready for use.

A mentalist on a stage apron in a mind-reading performance, 1900 Mind-reading-Russell-Morgan.jpeg
A mentalist on a stage apron in a mind-reading performance, 1900

Often, a stage may extend in front of the proscenium arch which offers additional playing area to the actors. This area is 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.

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.[ citation needed ] They enable the creation of rat runs [ clarification needed ] around the back of the stage, which are when cast members have to walk between entrances and exits without being seen by the audience.

Theatre in the round

The Circle in the Square Theatre in New York City Circle In The Square.jpeg
The Circle in the Square Theatre in New York City

This type of stage is located in the centre of the audience, with the audience facing it from all sides. The audience is placed close to the action, which provides a feeling of intimacy and involvement.

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

Thrust stage

A thrust stage at the Pasant Theatre Pasant Theatre from seats.JPG
A thrust stage at the Pasant Theatre

A thrust stage is one that extends into the audience on three sides and is connected to the backstage area by its upstage end. A thrust has the benefit of greater intimacy between the audience and performers 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. Similar to theatre in the round, the audience can view the performance from a variety of perspectives, and as such 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.

Black box

A black box theater consists of a simple yet somewhat unadorned performance space, ideally a large square room with black walls and a flat floor, which can be used flexibly to create a stage and audience area.

Created and found spaces

A stage can also be improvised wherever 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, demarcating the boundaries of a stage in an open space by laying a carpet and arranging seating before it. The theater company Shakespeare In The Park, in fact, is based around performing Shakespeare plays in a space that one wouldn't likely find it, namely, Central Park in New York City.

Stage terminology

House right/left are from the audience's perspective Stage directions 2.svg
House right/left are from the audience's perspective
View from stage right across stage to stage left. Typical small stage (Albert Hall, Canberra) (2016) Theatre Stage Albert Hall looking stage left showing theatre curtains (2016).jpg
View from stage right across stage to stage left. Typical small stage (Albert Hall, Canberra) (2016)

The stage itself has been given named areas to facilitate the precise movement and positioning of actors on a stage (see Blocking (stage)).

To an actor facing the audience, "left" and "right" are the reverse of what they are for the audience. To prevent confusion, actors and directors never use the unmarked terms left or right for the sides of the stage. Rather, they use a phrase specifying the viewpoint. The terms "stage left" and "stage right", respectively, denote the sides of the stage that are on the actor's left and right when the actor is facing the audience, while "house left" and "house right" are the reverse, denoting the sides of the stage as viewed by the audience. In Germany, stage right and left are reversed, being the director's view rather than the actor's.[ citation needed ]

Less ambiguous terms used in theatres that follow a British tradition are "Prompt Side" or "P Side" (Stage left) and "Off-Prompt" or "O.P. Side" (Stage Right), relating to the traditional location of the Stage Manager. [2] In French, the terms "côté cour" (square side) for stage left and "côté jardin" (garden side) for stage right are used, in reference to the Théâtre des Tuileries.

Likewise, the meaning of "front" and "back" would be unclear because they depend on perspective. Instead, the term "upstage" is used to denote the part of the stage furthest from the audience or to motion away from the audience, while "downstage" denotes the portion of the stage closest to the audience or to motion in that direction. These terms were common in older theatres, which gave the audience a better view of the action by inclining the floor (known as a raked stage), so upstage actually was at a higher elevation than downstage.

A raked stage can vary in its incline; ten degrees is considered ideal[ by whom? ] for the audience and actor comfort. A dancing surface incline is often different from an acting incline and can vary from three degrees to twenty degrees.[ citation needed ]

Scenographic theory

In relationship to approaches to scenography, Rachel Hann has proposed that there "are no stages without scenographics". [3] This is based on an argument that "all stages are also scenes", [4] which challenges the "deterministic assumption that stages precede scenography". [5] In this model, stages become manifest through the place orientating traits of scenographics (rather than the other way around). The implications of this are that all theatre is scenographic - even if it has no defined objects or 'setting' - as all theatre is performed on a stage. Hann summarises this position by using the hybrid 'stage-scene' when discussing the tensions between the histories of these practices, particularly with reference to original Greek skene as a physical tent or hut that ultimately shaped current conceptualizations of 'the stage'.

See also

Related Research Articles


A proscenium is the metaphorical vertical plane of space in a theatre, usually surrounded on the top and sides by a physical proscenium arch and on the bottom by the stage floor itself, which serves as the frame into which the audience observes from a more or less unified angle the events taking place upon the stage during a theatrical performance. The concept of the fourth wall of the theatre stage space that faces the audience is essentially the same.

Black box theater

A black box theater is a simple performance space, that varies in size, and is usually a square room with black walls and a flat floor. The simplicity of the space is used to create a flexible stage and audience interaction. The black box is a relatively recent innovation in theatre.

Stagecraft Technical aspect of theatrical, film, video production

Stagecraft is the technical aspect of theatrical, film, and video production. It includes constructing and rigging scenery; hanging and focusing of lighting; design and procurement of costumes; make-up; stage management; audio engineering; and procurement of props. Stagecraft is distinct from the wider umbrella term of scenography. Considered a technical rather than an artistic field, it is primarily the practical implementation of a scenic designer's artistic vision.

Theatrical scenery Space used as a setting for a theatrical production

Theatrical scenery is that which is used as a setting for a theatrical production. Scenery may be just about anything, from a single chair to an elaborately re-created street, no matter how large or how small, whether the item was custom-made or is the genuine item, appropriated for theatrical use.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, England

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) is a 1,040+ seat thrust stage theatre owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company dedicated to the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It is located in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon – Shakespeare's birthplace – in the English Midlands, beside the River Avon. The Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres re-opened in November 2010 after undergoing a major renovation known as the Transformation Project.

Thrust stage Stage that extends into the audience on three sides

In theatre, a thrust stage is one that extends into the audience on three sides and is connected to the backstage area by its upstage end. A thrust has the benefit of greater intimacy between performers and the audience 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. A theatre in the round, exposed on all sides to the audience, is without a backstage and relies entirely on entrances in the auditorium or from under the stage.

Safety curtain

A safety curtain is a fire safety precaution used in large proscenium theatres. It is usually a heavy fibreglass or iron curtain located immediately behind the proscenium arch. Asbestos-based materials were originally used to manufacture the curtain, before the dangers of asbestos were widely known. The safety curtain is sometimes referred to as an iron in British theatres, regardless of the actual construction material.

Teatro Olimpico

The Teatro Olimpico is a theatre in Vicenza, northern Italy, constructed in 1580–1585. The theatre was the final design by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and was not completed until after his death. The trompe-l'œil onstage scenery, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, to give the appearance of long streets receding to a distant horizon, was installed in 1585 for the first performance held in the theatre, and is the oldest surviving stage set still in existence. The full Roman-style scaenae frons back screen across the stage is made from wood and stucco imitating marble. It was the home of the Accademia Olimpica, which was founded there in 1555.

Scenography is a practice of crafting stage environments or atmospheres. In the contemporary English usage, scenography is the combination of technological and material stagecrafts to represent, enact, and produce a sense of place in performance. While inclusive of the techniques of scenic design and set design, scenography is a holistic approach to the study and practice of all aspects of design in performance.

In theatre, blocking is the precise staging of actors to facilitate the performance of a play, ballet, film or opera. Historically, the expectations of staging/blocking have changed substantially over time in Western theater. Prior to the movements toward "realism" that occurred in the 19th century, most staging used a "tableau" approach, in which a stage picture was established whenever characters entered or left the stage, ensuring that leading performers were always shown to their best advantage. In more recent times while nothing has changed about showing leading performers to best advantage there have been changing cultural expectations that have made blocking/staging more complicated. There are also artistic reasons why blocking can be crucial. Through careful use of positioning on the stage, a director or performer can establish or change the significance of a scene. Different artistic principles can inform blocking, including minimalism and naturalism.

Vomitorium A passage in a theatre allowing crowds to exit

A vomitorium is a passage situated below or behind a tier of seats in an amphitheatre or a stadium, through which big crowds can exit rapidly at the end of a performance. They can also be pathways for actors to enter and leave stage. The Latin word vomitorium, plural vomitoria, derives from the verb vomō, vomere, "to spew forth". In ancient Roman architecture, vomitoria were designed to provide rapid egress for large crowds at amphitheatres and stadia, as they do in modern sports stadia and large theatres.

Theater (structure) Performing arts venue (building)

A theater, theatre or playhouse, is a structure where theatrical works or plays are performed, or other performances such as musical concerts may be produced. A theatre used for opera performances is called an opera house. While a theater is not required for performance, a theater serves to define the performance and audience spaces. The facility is traditionally organized to provide support areas for performers, the technical crew and the audience members.

A 'traverse stage' is a form of theatrical (theatre stage] in which the audience is predominantly on two sides of the stage, facing towards each other. The stage is also commonly known as an 'alley', 'corridor stage', or 'catwalk'.

Theater drapes and stage curtains Large piece of cloth designed to mask backstage areas of a theater from spectators

Theater drapes and stage curtains are large pieces of cloth that are designed to mask backstage areas of a theater from spectators. They are designed for a variety of specific purposes, moving in different ways and constructed from various fabrics. Many are made from black or other darkly colored, light-absorbing material. Theater drapes represent a portion of any production's soft goods, a category comprising any non-wardrobe, cloth-based element of the stage or scenery. Theater curtains are often pocketed at the bottom to hold weighty chain or to accept pipes to remove their fullness and stretch them tight.

Grimsby Auditorium Theatre in North East Lincolnshire, England

Grimsby Auditorium is a theatre situated on Cromwell Road, in Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire. With a seated audience capacity of 1,200 the Grimsby Auditorium is the largest professional theatre in Lincolnshire, and one of the larger theatres in the East of England. Built in 1995, it is managed by the venues division of Ambassador Theatre Group on behalf of North East Lincolnshire Council.

Front curtain

A front curtain, also known as a (front-of-)house curtain, act curtain, grand drape, main curtain or drape, proscenium curtain, or main rag is the stage curtain or curtains at the very front of a theatrical stage, separating the house

Rialto Theater (Tacoma, Washington) United States historic place

The Rialto Theatre in Tacoma, Washington was built in 1918 to showcase movies. Its design reflects the affluence following World War I. It reflects the character of a palace and is the result of efforts by entrepreneur Henry T. Moore and Tacoma architect Roland E. Borhek. Designed to hold 1500 patrons and retail space. The two-and-a-half-story structure is in the historic downtown of Tacoma. The area has long been associated with theaters and entertainment. The theater is freestanding, with a dramatic view on an incline with a classical façade sheathed of glazed white terra cotta. Both the interior and exterior retain most of the original design of Roland E. Borhek. The theater has an auditorium, proscenium with stage, a relocated projection booth, balcony, lobby, and commercial space. It has been altered with the removal of the storefronts and marquee. On the inside, the lobby's decorative ceiling has been hidden and the concession areas expanded.

Theatre in the nineteenth century was noted for its changing philosophy from the Romanticism and Neoclassicism that dominated Europe since the late 18th century to Realism and Naturalism in the latter half of the 19th century before it eventually gave way to the rise of Modernism in the 20th century. Scenery in theater at the time closely mirrored these changes, and with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and technological advancement throughout the century, dramatically changed the aesthetics of the theater.

Scenic design and sets in commedia dellarte

There is evidence of indoor and outdoor stages used for Commedia dell'Arte with a variation of scenic design. While we know for a fact that Commedia dell'Arte Troupes did perform in indoor spaces, there is no real evidence of use for outdoor spaces aside from depictions of various artists.


  1. "Theatre Types". Archived from the original on 2010-07-10.
  2. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-07-05. Retrieved 2016-02-20.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. Hann, Rachel (2019). Beyond Scenography. Oxon. and New York: Routledge. p. 78.
  4. ibid. p. 3.
  5. ibid. p. 63.

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