Theater (structure)

Theater (structure)

:"This article is about venues for live theatre performances; for information about venues for film projection, see movie theater."

A theater or theatre is a structure where theatrical works or plays are performed or other performances such as musical concerts may be given. While a theater is not required for performance (as in environmental theater or street theater), a theater serves to define the acting and audience spaces and organize the theater space as well as provide facilities for the performers, the technical crew and the audience.

There are as many types of theaters as there are types of performance. Theaters may be built specifically for a certain types of productions, they may serve for more general performance needs or they may be adapted or converted for use as a theater. They may range from open-air amphitheaters to ornate, cathedral-like structures to simple, undecorated rooms or black box theaters. Some theaters may have a fixed acting area (in most theaters this is known as the stage), while some theaters such as black box theaters, may not, allowing the director and designers to construct an acting area suitable for the production.

Basic elements of a theater structure

All theater structures, regardless of type, contain certain basic elements.

The most important of these areas is the acting space generally known as the stage. In some theaters, specifically proscenium theaters, arena theaters and amphitheaters, this area is permanent part of the structure. In a blackbox theater, the acting area is undefined so that each theater may adapt specifically to a production.

In addition to these acting spaces, there may be offstage spaces as well. These include wings on either side of a proscenium stage (called "backstage" or "offstage") where props, sets and scenery may be stored as well as a place for actors awaiting an entrance. A Prompter's box may be found backstage. In an amphitheater, an area behind the stage may be designated for such uses while a blackbox theater may have spaces outside of the actual theater designated for such uses.

Often a theater will incorporate other spaces intended for the performers and other personnel. A booth facing the stage may be incorporated into the house where lighting and sound personnel may view the show and run their respective instruments. Other rooms in the building may be used for dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, spaces for constructing sets, props and costumes, as well as storage.

All theaters provide a space for their audience. The audience are usually separated from the performers by the proscenium arch; in such proscenium theaters and amphitheaters, these areas, like the stage, are a permanent feature of the structure. This area is known as the auditorium or the house. Like the stage in a blackbox theater, this area is also defined by the production.

The seating areas can include some or all of the following:

* Stalls or arena: the lower flat area, usually below or at the same level as the stage. The word "parterre" (rarely, "parquet circle") is sometimes used to refer to a particular subset of this area, usually the rear seating block in the orchestra stalls. The term can also refer to the side stalls in some usages. Derived from the gardening term parterre, the usage refers to the sectioned pattern of both the seats of an auditorium and of the planted beds seen in garden construction. One example of a parterre seating arrangement can be seen at the Prince Edward Theatre in London.
* Balconies or galleries: one or more raised seating platforms towards the rear of the auditorium. In larger theaters, multiple levels are stacked vertically above or behind the stalls. The first level is usually called the dress circle or grand circle. The highest platform, or upper circle is sometimes known as "the gods", especially in large opera houses, where the seats can be very high and a long distance from the stage.
* Boxes: typically placed immediately to the front, side and above the level of the stage. They are often separate rooms with an open viewing area which typically seat five people or less. These seats are typically considered the most prestigious of the house. A state box or royal box is sometimes provided for dignitaries. In addition, many theaters may provide areas specifically designated for the comfort of the audience. These areas include a lobby where tickets and concessions may be sold at the box office, restrooms, and other areas where the audience may relax before, in between or after performances. These areas may be known as the "Front of House" or FOH.

History of theater construction

Ancient Greece

Greek theater buildings were called a "theatron" ('seeing place'). The theaters were large, open-air structures constructed on the slopes of hills. They consisted of three principal elements: the "orchestra", the "skene", and the audience.

The centrepiece of the theater was the "orchestra", or "dancing place", a large circular or rectangular area. The orchestra was the site the choral performances, the religious rites, and, possibly, the acting. An altar was located in the middle of the orchestra; in Athens, the altar was dedicated to Dionysus.

Behind the "orchestra" was a large rectangular building called the "skene" (meaning "tent" or "hut"). It was used as a "backstage" area where actors could change their costumes and masks, but also served to represent the location of the plays, which were usually set in front of a palace or house. Typically, there were two or three doors in the skene that led out onto orchestra, and from which actors could enter and exit. At first, the "skene" was literally a tent or hut, put up for the religious festival and taken down when it was finished. Later, the skene became a permanent stone structure. These structures were sometimes painted to serve as backdrops, hence the English word "scenery".

In front of the "skene" there may have been a raised acting area called the "proskenian", the ancestor of the modern proscenium stage. It is possible that the actors (as opposed to the chorus) acted entirely on the "proskenian", but this is not certain.

Rising from the circle of the orchestra was the audience. The audience sat on tiers of benches built up on the side of a hill. Greek theaters, then, could only be built on hills that were correctly shaped. A typical theater was enormous, able to seat around 15,000 viewers.

Greek theaters were not enclosed; the audience could see each other and the surrounding countryside as well as the actors and chorus.

"See also:" Theater of Ancient Greece

Ancient Rome

The Romans copied the Greek style of building, but tended not to be so concerned about the location, being prepared to build walls and terraces instead of looking for a naturally-occurring site. (See Roman theater for more.)

Elizabethan England

Around this time, the green room, a place for actors to wait until required on stage, became common terminology in English theaters.

The Globe has now been rebuilt as a fully working and producing theater near its original site (largely thanks to the efforts of film director Sam Wanamaker) to give modern audiences an idea of the environment for which Shakespeare and other playwrights of the period were writing.

Theaters of the Restoration

Following the Elizabethan period, theaters began to move indoors and to resemble the arrangement we see most frequently today, with a stage separated from the audience by a proscenium arch. This coincided with a growing interest in scenic elements painted in perspective, such as those created by Inigo Jones. The perspective of these elements could only be viewed properly from the center back of the auditorium, in the so-called "duke's chair." The higher one's status, the closer they would be seated to this vantage point, and the more the accurately they would be able to see the perspective elements.

German Operatic influence

Richard Wagner placed great importance on "mood setting" elements, such as a darkened theater, sound effects, and seating arrangements which focused the attention of audience on the stage, completely immersing them in the imaginary world of the music drama. These concepts were revolutionary at the time, but they have since come to be taken for granted in the modern operatic environment as well as many other types of theatrical endeavors.

Contemporary theaters

Contemporary theaters are often non-traditional, such as very adaptable spaces, or theaters where audience and performers are not separated. A major example of this is the modular theater, (see for example the Walt Disney Modular Theater). This large theater has floors and walls divided into small movable sections, with the floor sections on adjustable hydraulic pylons, so that the space may be adjusted into any configuration for each individual play. As new styles of theater performance have evolved, so has the desire to improve or recreate performance venues. This applies equally to artistic and presentation techniques, such as stage lighting.

Specific designs of contemporary live theaters include proscenium, thrust, black box theater, theater in the round, amphitheater, and arena. In the classical Indian dance, Natya Shastra defines three stage types. In Australia and New Zealand a small and simple theater, particularly one contained within a larger venue, is a "theatrette". [Moore, Bruce 1999. "The Australian Oxford Dictionary" ISBN 0195517962] The word originated in 1920s London, for a small-scale music venue. ["Oxford English Dictionary" 1989]

Theatrical performances can also take place in venues adapted from other purposes, such as train carriages. In recent years the Edinburgh Fringe has seen performances in a lift (elevator) and a taxi.


List of fictional theatres

External links

* [ Carthalia - Theatres on Postcards] (pictures of theatres)
* [ Music Hall and Theatre History] Contains archive material on hundreds of British Theatre buildings.

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