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. While a theater is not required for performance (as in environmental theater or street theater), 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.
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 and acting area suitable for A production.
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.
There are usually two main entrances: one at the front, used by the audience, that leads into the back of the audience, sometimes first going through a ticket booth. The second is called the stage door, and it is accessible from backstage. This is the means by which the cast and crew enter and exit the theater, and fans frequently wait outside it after the show in order to get autographs, called "stage dooring". This term can also be used to refer to going to a lot of shows or living in a big theater city, such as New York or Chicago.
All theaters provide a space for an audience. The audience is usually separated from the performers by the proscenium arch. In proscenium theaters and amphitheaters, the proscenium arch, like the stage, is 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:
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 centerpiece of the theater was the orchestra, or "dancing place", a large circular or rectangular area. The orchestra was the site of 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 proskenion, the ancestor of the modern proscenium stage. It is possible that the actors (as opposed to the chorus) acted entirely on the proskenion, 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.
|The Theatre at Athens|
From Dorpfeld and Reisch, Das griechische Theater (Athens, 1896), as presented in the article on "Theatre" from the 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.
|ab,||double western wall.|
|aa, gg,||walls terminating wings of auditorium.|
|c,||the "katatome" (where the rock of the Acropolis was met by the walls).|
|fg,||eastern boundary wall.|
|hh,||front wall of Neronian stage.|
|i,||fragment 5th-century orchestra.|
|klm,||ancient masonry (? of supporting walls).|
|nn,||oldest stage buildings.|
|oo,||stone proscenium (1st or 2nd century B.C.).|
|p,||foundations of Neronian side wings.|
|qr,||fragments 5th-century orchestra.|
|t,||old Dionysus temple.|
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.
The auditorium (literally "place for hearing" in Latin) was the area in which people gathered, and was sometimes constructed on a small hill or slope in which stacked seating could be easily made in the tradition of the Greek Theatres. The central part of the auditorium was hollowed out of a hill or slope, while the outer radian seats required structural support and solid retaining walls. This was of course not always the case as Romans tended to build their theatres regardless of the availability of hillsides. All theatres built within the city of Rome were completely man-made without the use of earthworks. The auditorium was not roofed; rather, awnings (vela) could be pulled overhead to provide shelter from rain or sunlight.
Some Roman theatres, constructed of wood, were torn down after the festival for which they were erected concluded. This practice was due to a moratorium on permanent theatre structures that lasted until 55 BC when the Theatre of Pompey was built with the addition of a temple to avoid the law. Some Roman theatres show signs of never having been completed in the first place.
Inside Rome, few theatres have survived the centuries following their construction, providing little evidence about the specific theatres. Arausio, the theatre in modern-day Orange, France, is a good example of a classic Roman theatre, with an indented scaenae frons, reminiscent of Western Roman theatre designs, however missing the more ornamental structure. The Arausio is still standing today and, with its amazing structural acoustics and having had its seating reconstructed, can be seen to be a marvel of Roman architecture.
During the Elizabethan era in England, theaters were constructed of wooden framing, infilled with wattle and daub and roofed with thatch. Mostly the theaters were entirely open air. 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. Archaeological excavations of The Rose theater at London's Bankside, built 1587, have shown that it had en external diameter of 72 feet (22 metres). The nearby Globe Theatre (1599) was larger, at 100 feet (30 metres). Other evidence for the round shape is a line in Shakespeare's Henry V which calls the building "this wooden O", and several rough woodcut illustrations of the city of London.
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.
During the Renaissance, the first modern enclosed theaters were constructed in Italy. Their structure was similar to that of ancient theaters, with a cavea and an architectural scenery, representing a city street. The oldest surviving examples of this style are the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza (1580) and the Teatro all'antica in Sabbioneta (1590).
At the beginning of 17th century theaters had moved indoors and began 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, Nicola Sabbatini and the Galli da Bibiena family. 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.
The first enclosed theaters were court theaters, open only to the sovereigns and the nobility. The first opera house open to the public was the Teatro San Cassiano (1637) in Venice. The Italian opera houses were the model for the subsequent theaters throughout Europe.
Richard Wagner placed great importance on "mood setting" elements, such as a darkened theater, sound effects, and seating arrangements (lowering the orchestra pit) 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 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, notably 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 called a theatrette. The word originated in 1920s London, for a small-scale music venue.
The traditional stage used in Noh theater is based on a Chinese pattern. It is completely open, providing a shared experience between the performers and the audience throughout the play. Without any prosceniums or curtains to obstruct the view, the audience sees each actor at moments even before entering the primary platform of the stage. The theater itself is considered symbolic and treated with reverence both by the performers and the audience.
The stage includes a large square platform, devoid of walls or curtains on three sides, and traditionally with a painting of a pine tree at the back. The platform is elevated above the place where the audience sits, which is covered in white gravel soil. The four stage corners are marked by cedar pillars, and the whole is topped by a roof, even when the Noh stage is erected indoors. A ceramic jar system under the stage amplifies the sounds of dancing during the performance. There is a small door to permit entry of the musicians and vocalists.
The independent roof is one of the most recognizable characteristic of the Noh stage. Supported by four columns, the roof symbolizes the sanctity of the stage, with its architectural design derived from the worship pavilion (haiden) or sacred dance pavilion (kaguraden) of Shinto shrines. The roof also unifies the theater space and defines the stage as an architectural entity.
The pillars supporting the roof are named shitebashira (principal character's pillar), metsukebashira (gazing pillar), wakibashira (secondary character's pillar), and fuebashira (flute pillar), clockwise from upstage right respectively. Each pillar is associated with the performers and their actions.
The stage is made entirely of unfinished hinoki, a Japanese cypress, with almost no decorative elements. The poet and novelist Toson Shimazaki writes that "on the stage of the Noh theater there are no sets that change with each piece. Neither is there a curtain. There is only a simple panel (kagami-ita) with a painting of a green pine tree. This creates the impression that anything that could provide any shading has been banished. To break such monotony and make something happen is no easy thing."
Another unique feature of the stage is the hashigakari, a narrow bridge at upstage right used by actors to enter the stage. Hashigakari means "suspension bridge", signifying something aerial that connects two separate worlds on a same level. The bridge symbolizes the mythic nature of Noh plays in which otherworldly ghosts and spirits frequently appear. In contrast, hanamichi in Kabuki theaters is literally a path (michi) that connects two spaces in a single world, thus has a completely different significance.
The Japanese kabuki stage features a projection called a hanamichi (花道; literally, flower path), a walkway which extends into the audience and via which dramatic entrances and exits are made. Okuni also performed on a hanamichi stage with her entourage. The stage is used not only as a walkway or path to get to and from the main stage, but important scenes are also played on the stage. Kabuki stages and theaters have steadily become more technologically sophisticated, and innovations including revolving stages and trap doors were introduced during the 18th century. A driving force has been the desire to manifest one frequent theme of kabuki theater, that of the sudden, dramatic revelation or transformation. A number of stage tricks, including actors' rapid appearance and disappearance, employ these innovations. The term keren (外連), often translated playing to the gallery, is sometimes used as a catch-all for these tricks. Hanamichi and several innovations including revolving stage, seri and chunori have all contributed to kabuki play. Hanamichi creates depth and both seri and chunori provide a vertical dimension.
The Indian Koothambalam temple is a space used to perform Sanskrit drama. Called the koothambalam or kuttampalam, it is a large high-caste rectangular, temple in Kerala which represented a “visual sacrifice” to any deities or gods of the temple. They were built for kutiyattam or “combined acting” performances, which only two dramas are performed today.
The temple has a pyramidal roof, with high walls, and a high-ceilinged interior. Within the large temple has a stage inside which is a large platform with its own pyramid roof. The stage area is separate from the audience area with the musician (a drummer on a high seat) behind the stage, and dressing rooms also at the rear with exit doors behind. The audience would be seated on a smooth, polished floor. Several Koothambalams exist within several Indian temples, and follow the same rectangular plan and structure.
59E59 Theaters is theater complex located in New York City, USA that shows both Off-Broadway (in theater A) and Off-Off-Broadway plays (in theaters B and C). It consists of three theater spaces or stages. The complex is owned and operated by the Elysabeth Kleinhans Theatrical Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation that is dedicated to bringing innovative and experimental work to the under-served East Side of Manhattan. Kleinhams is the daughter of the real estate investor Sarah Korein. The theater opened in 2004 with the Primary Stages production of The Stendahl Syndrome.
59E59 presents the New York premieres of Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway productions by not-for-profit companies from across the United States and from around the world. The complex hosts two annual festivals: Brits Off Broadway, which brings new work from British playwrights to New York, and East to Edinburgh, a preview of new plays going to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from North America. 59E59's inaugural 5A Season began in June 2014 with The Pianist of Willesden Lane. Comprising five productions in Theater A, the season aims to showcase the best new American and international writing.Apollo Theater Chicago
The Apollo Theater Chicago was built in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood in 1978. Located at 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., the Apollo has 440 seats and a lobby featuring art exhibits and a full bar. It is currently the home of the hit musical Million Dollar Quartet and the home of the Emerald City Theatre Company.Barrow Street Theatre
Barrow Street Theatre was an Off Broadway theatre venue located in New York City's historic Greenwich House
From 2003 to 2018, the venue was leased to Barrow Street Theatre, operated by producers Scott Morfee and Tom Wirtshafter. The Barrow Street Theatre was home to a number of Off-Broadway hits, including Bug by Tracy Letts and Orson's Shadow by Austin Pendleton.Darien Lake Performing Arts Center
The Darien Lake Performing Arts Center is an outdoor music venue located at Six Flags Darien Lake in Darien, New York. It opened in 1993 as a replacement for the Lakeside Amphitheater concert venue. The PAC, as it is commonly referred to, is operated by Live Nation. The amphitheater has a capacity of 21,600 (with 6,410 seats under pavilion).ETA Creative Arts Foundation
ETA Creative Arts Foundation is an African-American theatre and art museum in Chicago.Gaiety Theatre (New York City)
The Gaiety Theatre was a Broadway theatre at 1547 Broadway in New York City from 1909 until 1982, when it was torn down.
The office building that housed the theatre, the Gaiety Building, has been called the Black Tin Pan Alley for the number of African-American songwriters, who rented office space there.
It was designed by Herts & Tallant and owned by George M. Cohan. The theatre introduced revolutionary concepts of a sunken orchestra (the previous configuration had the orchestra on the same level as the seats in front of the stage) and also not having pillars obstructing sight lines for the balcony.Garrick Theater (Chicago)
The Schiller Theater Building was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler of the firm Adler & Sullivan for the German Opera Company. At the time of its construction, it was one among the tallest buildings in Chicago. Its centerpiece was a 1300-seat theater, which is considered by architectural historians to be one of the greatest collaborations between Adler and Sullivan.Harris and Selwyn Theaters
The Harris and Selwyn Theaters are twin theatres located in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois. They were built by Sam H. Harris and Archie and Edgar Selwyn. They were designated a Chicago Landmark on March 31, 1983. They have been redesigned by the Goodman Theatre, which is located in them.
The Harris and the Selwyn originally operated as live playhouses. Among the plays presented at the Harris was the Chicago run of "A Streetcar Named Desire." Both theatres were purchased by producer Michael Todd and converted into movie theaters in the 1950s. The Harris was renamed The Michael Todd Theatre, and the Selwyn renamed Michael Todd's Cinestage. The Harris occasionally presented live performances during this period, such as a production of "Two for the Seesaw" starring Ruth Roman. Both theatres were closed by the beginning of the 1980s, but were briefly re-opened in 1986 as the short-lived Dearborn Cinemas.
In 2000, the two theaters were completely gutted and rebuilt as part of the Goodman Theatre. The landmarked exteriors were retained as part of the new building.John Golden Theatre
The John Golden Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 252 West 45th Street (George Abbott Way) in midtown Manhattan. Designed in a Moorish style and opened as part of a three-theater complex for Irwin Chanin by architect Herbert J. Krapp, the present-day Golden was constructed by the Chanin Brothers as part of an entertainment complex including the Royale- now Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, designed for small musicals and large plays, the Majestic, a large musical house, and the Lincoln Hotel (now the Row NYC Hotel, and previously the Milford Plaza). It opened as the Theatre Masque (also known as the Masque Theater) on February 24, 1927 with the play Puppets of Passion. Seventy-six years later it housed another production known for its puppets, the award-winning Avenue Q.
In 1937, impresario John Golden acquired the theatre and renamed it for himself. It also operated as a movie house in the late 1940s and 1950s before it was purchased by the Shubert Organization, who returned it to full-time theatrical use. The exterior of the theatre was used as the location of the movie version of the film A Chorus Line. It is also shown in the background during the opening scenes of All About Eve as the home of Margot Channing's Aged In Wood.
With a seating capacity of only 800, it is one of the smallest houses on Broadway.Liberty Theatre
The Liberty Theatre was a Broadway theater from 1904 to 1933, located at 236 West 42nd Street in New York City. It was built by the partnership of Klaw and Erlanger.From 1933 until the late 1980s the Liberty operated continuously as a movie theatre. In 1992 the then vacant theatre was purchased by the City of New York along with many other properties as part of the New 42nd Street renovation project.
In 1996 it was used for a staged reading of T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, with actress Fiona Shaw, directed by Deborah Warner. The New York Times review described the theater as "derelict". The facade of the Liberty theater was later absorbed into Ripley's Odditorium, which is part of the Forest City Enterprises entertainment complex.In 2011, renovations were completed and the former Liberty Theatre auditorium was converted for use as a Famous Dave's restaurant. The main auditorium space is now a rental event space, with the restaurant portion along 42nd Street operating as the Liberty Diner.From March 2015 to November 2015, Cynthia von Buhler's Speakeasy Dollhouse: Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic was staged as an immersive play in the theater. The story investigates the death of silent film star and Ziegfeld Girl Olive Thomas.Minne Lusa Theater
The Minne Lusa Theater building is located at 6714 North 30th Street in North Omaha, Nebraska. It was a one-screen neighborhood movie house that opened in the mid-1930s that seated approximately 400 patrons. The theater closed sometime in the mid-1950s. Today the building houses Heartland Family Services.Paramount Theatre (Austin, Texas)
The Paramount Theatre is a live theatre venue/movie theatre located in downtown Austin, Texas. The classical revival style structure was built in 1915. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on June 23, 1976.In the Paramount's 100-year history, it has played host to a wide variety of acts ranging from vaudeville, musicals, legitimate theater, and movies, including premieres of such films as 1966's Batman.Revention Music Center
The Revention Music Center (originally known as the Aerial Theater) is an indoor theater owned by Live Nation and located in Houston, Texas, United States. The theater is located at the Bayou Place entertainment complex in Downtown Houston.
On August 11, 2015, it was announced that venue would be renamed as the Revention Music Center, after the naming rights were sold to Houston-based point-of-sale technology company Revention.Roman theatre (structure)
Roman theatres derive from and are part of the overall evolution of earlier Greek theatres. Indeed, much of the architectural influence on the Romans came from the Greeks, and theatre structural design was no different from other buildings. However, Roman theatres have specific differences, such as generally being built upon their own foundations instead of earthen works or a hillside and being completely enclosed on all sides.Roxy Theatre (Atlanta)
The Roxy Theatre was a movie palace in Atlanta, Georgia. It was notable for showcasing the original Atlanta runs of such films as Spartacus, the 1962 The Music Man, the Technicolor Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando, , and My Fair Lady. It was torn down in 1972 to make way for the Westin Peachtree Plaza, the hotel that was prominently featured in the 1981 film Sharky's Machine. It should not be confused with the Coca-Cola Roxy Theatre, originally the Buckhead Theatre, a different building in Buckhead. The Buckhead Theatre subsequently became the Capri Theatre and later closed, re-opening in 2010 under its original name Buckhead Theatre.
In July 2016, LiveNation and the Atlanta Braves announced that a theater with the name Roxy will reside at the new Suntrust Park as part of The Battery Atlanta, the development surrounding the new stadium.Stranahan Theater
The Stranahan Theater is a 2,424 seat concert hall located in Toledo, Ohio, USA. It was built in 1969 and was formerly called Masonic Auditorium. The theater's foyer is 3,000 square feet (300 m²) and the adjacent Great Hall features 10,000 square feet (1,000 m²) of meeting space. There is parking for 1,200 cars at the theater.
Fulfilling its primary usage as a concert venue, the Stranahan Theater is used for approximately 170 theater events a year. Broadway shows sponsored by Theater League have included The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, The Lion King and Wicked. It is also the site of the Pops series of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, The Nutcracker by the Toledo Ballet, and A Christmas Carol by the Toledo Rep. In addition, the Great Hall is used for about 140+ banquets, receptions, and trade shows each year.
The Stranahan Theater is the largest proscenium stage in Northwest Ohio. It operates primarily as a rental house and is owned and operated by a 501c3 non-profit trust. Former executive directors include Penny Marks and Ward Whiting. Steve Hyman was named Executive Director in May 2014.Theatre Comique
The Theatre Comique, formerly Wood's Minstrel Hall, was a venue on Broadway in Manhattan, New York City. It was built in 1862, replacing a synagogue on the site.Union Square Theatre
Union Square Theatre was the name of two different theatres in New York City near Union Square. The first was a Broadway theatre that opened in 1870, was converted into a cinema in 1921 and closed in 1936. The second was an Off-Broadway theatre that opened in 1985 and closed in 2016.