A giant picture frame, focussing the eye on the onstage action
Proscenium theatres are among the most common types of theatre (think of The Old Vic, for example). The proscenium is the big arch separating the auditorium (where the audience sits) and the stage (where the action happens). Proscenium theatres don’t have to be grand spaces – many church halls and school halls are simplified proscenium stages, where the audience sits facing a raised stage framed by fixed curtains.
One of the advantages of working in a traditional proscenium theatre is that scenic elements can often be flown into the stage space from above, wheeled in from the wings at the side of the stage or raised from trapdoors in the floor of the stage
As a designer, your model box needs to mirror the kind of theatre space that you’re designing for. The following video offers two simple methods of creating a model box for a proscenium theatre like The Old Vic.
One of the disadvantages of designing for a traditional proscenium theatre is that you, as the stage designer, need to be aware of sightline issues. Depending on where in the auditorium an audience member is sitting, there will often be significant sections of the stage area that remain blocked out of view by the proscenium arch itself. Use your model box to experiment with where to place your scenic elements for maximum effect and visibility.
The Thrust Stage
A convenient medium between the structured zones of a proscenium theatre and the intimacy of a black box studio
A Thrust stage ‘thrusts’ into the auditorium, allowing the audience to sit on three sides, with the upstage end of the stage connecting to the backstage area. This provides better sightlines for the audience, while retaining the utility of a backstage area. Backdrops and large scenery can be used as there is no audience at the upstage end.
Thrust stages are similar to arenas and ‘in the round’ theatres (although these are not usually connected to a backstage area). Having audiences on multiple sides poses interesting challenges for the stage designer…
How can you avoid Blind spots for audiences (especially those sitting at the extreme sides), making sure that scenery does not obscure any sightlines?01
How can you find innovative ways of bringing scenic elements into the performance space other than from backstage and without the assistance of stage crew? Can your performers bring scenic elements onstage with them as they enter?02
How can you make this seem like part of the story?03
You can make a basic thrust stage model box by using two pieces of cardboard (or even an old pizza box) held together at a 90° angle.
The Black Box Stage
Versatile and cost-effective theatre spaces that offer accessibility and simplicity
Typically a square room with black walls and a flat floor, black box theatres can accommodate audiences seated in various configurations. in this sense, Black box theatres are in some ways more limited than proscenium theatres, and in some ways more versatile.
While technical elements such as flies and trapdoors are unlikely to be possible in a black box theatre, they offer more intimate audience interaction and better sightlines, as you can effectively place the audience wherever you want within the space.
Black box theatres are often lined with thick black curtains, behind which your performers can wait for their entrances and scenic elements can be stored until ready to be brought onstage.
The simplified setup of a black box theatre can help focus the audience’s attention on the performers and the story they are telling, with less distraction from an elaborate stage set.
Images courtesy of Lewisville Grand Theater
The Open Air Stage
Provide audiences with magical theatrical experiences
For the stage designer, one of the great advantages of working open air is that the surrounding natural features are your stage set; you don’t have to build a tree, for example, when you have a real one there for you to utilise.
The greatest disadvantage, obviously, is the unpredictability of the weather.
This will inform the kinds of materials you should use when building your scenic elements, as well as the implications of changes in natural light on your set.
think of using waterproof materials
Performing in the open air can be quite versatile if you are able to allocate hidden areas behind which your cast and crew can wait until their entrance. Set pieces and props can be brought on and off by the performers
For audiences, the ability to choose where they sit is often an advantage when attending an open air performance.
Images by David Jensen/Mark Brenner courtesy of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.