Throughout history, however, most theaters have employed one of three types of stage: end, thrust, and arena. An end stage is a raised platform facing the assembled audience. Frequently, it is placed at one end of a rectangular space. The simplest version of the end stage is the booth or trestle stage, a raised stage with a curtained backdrop and perhaps an awning. This was the stage of the Greek and Roman mimes, the mountebanks and wandering entertainers of the Middle Ages, commedia dellarte, and popular entertainers into the 20th century. It probably formed the basis of Greek tragic theater and Elizabethan theater as well.
The Proscenium Theater
Since the Renaissance, Western theater has been dominated by an end stage variant called the proscenium theater. The proscenium is the wall separating the stage from the auditorium. The proscenium arch, which may take several shapes, is the opening in that wall through which the audience views the performance. A curtain that either rises or opens to the sides may hang in this space. The proscenium developed in response to the desire to mask scenery, hide scene-changing machinery, and create an offstage space for performers exits and entrances. The result is to enhance illusion by eliminating all that is not part of the scene and to encourage the audience to imagine that what they cannot see is a continuation of what they can see. Because the proscenium is (or appears to be) an architectural barrier, it creates a sense of distance or separation between the stage and the spectators. The proscenium arch also frames the stage and consequently is often called a peep-show or picture-frame stage.
The Thrust Stage
A thrust stage, sometimes known as three-quarter round, is a platform surrounded on three sides by the audience. This form was used for ancient Greek theater, Elizabethan theater, classical Spanish theater, English Restoration theater, Japanese and Chinese classical theater, and much of Western theater in the 20th century. A thrust may be backed by a wall or be appended to some sort of end stage. The upstage end (back of the stage, farthest from the audience) may have scenery and provisions for entrances and exits, but the thrust itself is usually bare except for a few scenic elements and props. Because no barrier exists between performers and spectators, the thrust stage generally creates a sense of greater intimacy, as if the performance were occurring in the midst of the auditorium, while still allowing for illusionistic effects through the use of the upstage end and adjacent offstage space.
The Arena Stage
The arena stage, or theater-in-the-round, is a performing space totally surrounded by the auditorium. This arrangement has been tried several times in the 20th century, but its historical precedents are largely in nondramatic forms such as the circus, and it has limited popularity. The necessity of providing equal sight lines for all spectators puts special constraints on the type of scenery used and on the movements of the actors, because at any given time part of the audience will inevitably be viewing a performers back. Illusion is more difficult to sustain in arena, since in most setups, entrances and exits must be made in full view of the audience, eliminating surprise, if nothing else. Nonetheless, arena, when properly used, can create a sense of intimacy not often possible with other stage arrangements, and, as noted, it is well suited to many nondramatic forms. Furthermore, because of the different scenic demands of arena theater, the large backstage areas associated with prosceniums can be eliminated, thus allowing a more economical use of space.
One variant form of staging is environmental theater, which has precedents in medieval and folk theater and has been widely used in 20th-century avant-garde theater. It eliminates the single or central stage in favor of surrounding the spectators or sharing the space with them. Stage space and spectator space become indistinguishable. Another popular alternative is the free, or flexible, space, sometimes called a black-box theater because of its most common shape and color. This is an empty space with movable seating units and stage platforms that can be arranged in any configuration for each performance.
The Fixed Architectural Stage
Most stages are raw spaces that the designer can mold to create any desired effect or location; in contrast, the architectural stage has permanent features that create a more formal scenic effect. Typically, ramps, stairs, platforms, archways, and pillars are permanently built into the stage space. Variety in individual settings may be achieved by adding scenic elements. The Stratford Festival Theater in Stratford, Ontario, for example, has a permanent “inner stage”a platform roughly 3.6 m (12 ft) highjutting onto the multilevel thrust stage from the upstage wall. Most permanent theaters through the Renaissance, such as the Teatro Olimpico (1580) in Vicenza, Italy, did not use painted or built scenery but relied on similar permanent architectural features that could provide the necessary scenic elements. The No and kabuki stages in Japan are other examples.
Auditoriums in the 20th century are mostly variants on the fan-shaped auditorium built (1876) by the composer Richard Wagner at his famous opera house in Bayreuth, Germany. These auditoriums are shaped like a hand-held fan and are usually raked (inclined upward from front to back), with staggered seats to provide unobstructed sight lines. Such auditoriums may be designed with balconies, and some theaters, such as opera houses, have boxesseats in open or partitioned sections along the sidewalls of the auditoriuma carry-over from baroque theater architecture.
The Theater Staff
Regardless of the type or complexity of a production, all theater performances have similar requirements. For a small, noncommercial production, most of these requirements may be met by two or three people; a Broadway show requires dozens; certain opera companies employ several hundred. The staff may be divided into administrative, creative (or artistic), and technical personnel.
The administrative group includes the producer, box-office and publicity personnel, and front-of-house staff (house manager, ushers, and others responsible for the audience). The artistic staff consists of the director, designers, performers, and, if applicable, playwright, composer, librettist, choreographer, and musical director. Technical personnel include the stage manager, technical director, and various construction and running crews, all working backstage.
The producer is responsible for the overall administrationraising and allocating funds, hiring personnel, and overseeing all aspects of production. Large productions may have several producers designated as executive, associate, or coproducers, each of whom may be responsible for a specific aspect of the show. Someone may be listed as a producer by virtue of the amount of money invested. An organization can be a producer, as was the Theatre Guild, a group responsible for some of the most important productions on Broadway from the 1920s to the 40s. In such arrangements, of course, individual members of the organization still supervise.
For a new commercial production, the producer contracts with a playwright for a script; raises funds from private investors called “angels” (who may invest after seeing a fragment of the play at a special staging known as a backers audition); hires the artistic and technical staffs; rents a theater and all the necessary equipment for the stage; and oversees publicity, ticket sales, and all the financial aspects of the production. Box-office operations are handled by a general manager. In theater companies that do repertoire, a season of several plays, the producer may be responsible for selecting the repertoire, although this is often the task of the artistic director. The producer also arranges tours, subsidiary productions, and the sale of subsidiary rights, including film, television, and amateur production rights. Most theaters also have a theater or house manager, responsible for theater maintenance and audience control.
The director makes all artistic or creative decisions and is responsible for the harmonious unity of a production. The director, usually in conjunction with the designers (and perhaps the producer), determines a concept, motif, or interpretation for the script or scenario; selects a cast, rehearses them; and usually has a deciding role in scenery, costumes, lights, and sound. Movement, timing, pacing, and visual and aural effects are all determined by the director; what the audience finally sees is the directors vision. From the time of the ancient Greeks until the 17th century this role was generally fulfilled by the playwright, and from the 17th to the end of the 19th century directing was the function of the leading actor of a company. Under such conditions, however, ensemble performance was rare.
The concept of the modern director can be traced to the 18th-century English actor-manager David Garrick, although George II, duke of the German principality of Saxe-Meiningen, is generally referred to as the first director; touring Europe with his theater company in the 1870s and 80s, he exercised absolute control over all