Theatre Conventions: Spaces on Stage

Theatre Conventions: Spaces on Stage

Types of Stages in Theatre

  • In a theatre production, the stage is a critical tool used to portray the storyline. There are various types of stages that include: proscenium, thrust, in-the-round, and black box. Each presents unique advantages and provides an impactful theatre experience.
  • The proscenium stage resembles a picture frame; it has a clear front where the audience sits, leaving the performers to perform within the set frame.
  • Thrust stages extend into the audience, allowing for viewing from three sides enhancing the feeling of immersion for the audience.
  • In-the-round stages place the audience surrounding the entire stage encouraging an intense and intimate attachment between the audience and the performers.
  • Black box stages provide a flexible and adaptable performance space where the setting can be easily changed to fit the needs of the production.

Key Conventions in Stage Setup

  • In considering the stage, the concept of “staging” or the placement and movement of performers on stage, plays a critical role. Staging helps to tell the story just as much as dialogue. It includes everything from positioning of the actors to their physical movements and interactions with other characters and props.
  • One of the significant conventions in theatre is the use of ‘upstage’ and ‘downstage’. ‘Upstage’ originally referred to the area of the stage that was highest (since stages used to be sloped) and further away from the audience, while ‘downstage’ was the lowest part of the stage and nearest to the audience.
  • Other vital stage areas include the ‘wings’ that lie either side of a proscenium stage out of sight from the audience, allowing for actors’ entrances and exits and where props can be stored. The ‘backstage’ is the area behind the stage where costumes and props can be prepared and actors can wait before entering the performance space.
  • The way a director or designer chooses to use the space on stage (where to place furniture, props, and where to direct movement) is termed ‘blocking’.

Symbolic Use of Space and Practical Considerations

  • Many theatre conventions come from the way performances might symbolically use space - for example, moving a character ‘upstage’ to denote power and status or ‘downstage’ to show vulnerability.
  • In multi-set stages, each set represent different locations. They sometimes rotate, are pushed on and offstage, or are separated by curtains.
  • Creating different ‘levels’ on stage is another convention which can create visual interest and signify differences in status or power; a higher level might suggest power, whilst a lower level could represent subordination or vulnerability.
  • The apron is a part of the stage that extends past the main acting area and can be used to bring the actors closer to the audience, to break the ‘fourth wall’, negotiate entrances and exits, or accommodate additional performance in larger scenes.