Theater (structure)

From Academic Kids

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 (see Environmental theatre or Street theatre), a theater serves to define the acting and audience spaces and organize the theater space as well as provide facilities for the actors and the tech crew as well as for the audience.

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1813 sketch of the interior of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London.

There are as many types of theaters as there are types of theatre. Theaters may be built specifically for a certain types of theatre or they may serve for more general performance needs. Theaters may range from open-air amphitheatres 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 to contruct an acting area suitable to the performance.

Parts of a theater

While there are many different types of theater, common terminology has been developed to identify the different areas of a theater building:

  • The actual playing area is called the stage
  • The area hidden from the audience where sets, furniture and properties are stored and where the performers await their entrances is referred to as offstage or backstage
  • The audience area is often referred to as the "house"
  • Consequently, the entrance to the theater, with its box office and lobby areas, is called the front of house.

Stage directions

The stage itself has been given named areas to facilitate blocking:

  • The rear of the stage is considered up-stage This derives from the raked stage of the Greek Theater (see below).
  • The front of the stage is down-stage.
  • Left and right stage, at least in British and North American Theater, are considered to refer to the actor's left and right facing the audience. Because this is sometimes misunderstood the terms prompt (stage) and opposite prompt are also used.
  • House left and house right refer to how the audience perceives the stage. The audience�s left is referred to as house left, and the audience�s right is referred to as house right.

History of theater construction

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The ancient amphitheatre at Delphi.

The original Greek theatre was semicircular in form and was normally built on a hillside, often overlooking the sea. These theaters also typically included a "raked" or sloped stage, with the back of the stage being higher than the front. Such theatres were often constructed with excellent acoustics, so that a player standing centre stage could be clearly heard throughout the auditorium. The Romans copied this 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 theatre for more.)

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Roman Theater, Orange, France.
During the Elizabethan era in England, theaters were constructed of wood. They consisted of several floors of covered galleries surrounding a courtyard which was open to the elements. A large portion of the audience would stand in the yard, directly in front of the stage. This layout is said to derive from the practice of holding plays in the yard of an inn. The only theater whose dimensions are known is the Fortune Theatre, which had a square floorplan. However, the Globe Theatre in London, where many of the plays of William Shakespeare were first staged was said to be round. The only evidence for the round shape is a line in Shakespeare's Henry V which calls the building "this wooden O", and a rough woodcut illustration of the city of London.
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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. Around this time, the green room, a place for actors to wait until required on stage, became common terminology in English theatres.

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 theatre 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.
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The Alley Theater, home to the Alley Theatre Company, Houston, Texas.

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 3 types of stage.

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.


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