Theatre Spaces


         Wilson and Goldfarb. Theatre: The Lively Art, 7th edition. Chapter 8.

1. What is the difference in the actor-audience relationship between an arena stage, a thrust stage and a proscenium theatre?

In an arena theatre the actor is totally surrounded by the audience. Entrances to the acting area are normally made through the audience at the four corners of the stage.
In a thrust stage theatre the actor is surrounded on three sides by the audience-- the fourth side contains the scenery. Entrances to the acting area are made through the scenery upstage and through the audience at the two front corners of the stage.
In a proscenium house the the actor is on a raised platform in front of the audience. Scenery typically fills the space behind, upstage of, the actor. Entrances to the playing space are made through the scenery.

2. What was the name of the first proscenium theatre? Where was it built? When?

The 3000 seat Teatro Farnese, the first permanent proscenium theatre, was built into the Great Hall of the Palazzo della Pilotta in Parma, Italy in 1618. For slightly more information, link to Question 24 on the Renaissance Theatre: Italy web page. (See the color picture of the auditorium on page 280 of Wilson and Goldfarb).
Grand Theatre, London, Ontario

Detail: Proscenium Theatre

3. What is the proscenium arch?

The arch (or "picture frame") which separates the acting area (stage) from the audience area (house or auditorium).

4. What is the theatrical name for the first, or main floor of the auditorium?

The orchestra. In a musical or opera house there is an orchestra for the audience, and an orchestra pit for the musicians.

5. What should be the height of the fly loft?

Fly Loft
Between two and three times the height of the proscenium arch. A theatre with a twenty foot tall arch should have a 40 to 60 foot high fly loft. The silhouette, or side elevation, of a typical proscenium theatre generally looks like a lazy, or tipped over "L."


To make it possible to hide scenic units (such as a back drop) high above the heads of the actors. See the photograph of Cleveland's Bolton Theatre, the 548 seat performance space in the Cleveland Play House on page 148 of of Wilson and Goldfarb.

6. Give an example of a proscenium theatre.

All New York Broadway theatres, and those road houses which host Broadway shows, are proscenium theatres. Aberdeen's Capitol and the Civic Theatre and Northern's Johnson Fine Arts Center MainStage are also proscenium houses.

Back stage at A Chorus Line :: Looking down from above

7. Which theatrical form has been the most widely used theatre space?

The thrust stage.

8. Who were the first to use a thrust stage?

Ancient Greek Theatre
The ancient Greeks. See the section on the Theatre of Dionysus in the Early Theatre: Greek, Roman and Medieval Web page or the photo of the ruins of the Greek theatres at Epidauros on page 144 of Wilson and Goldfarb.

9. Which playwrights have written for a thrust stage?

The four major Greek playwrights: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes and at least three Elizabethan writers: William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson.

10. Which 20th century English director was involved in the development of the modern thrust stage theatre?

Sir Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971) was instrumental in design of the of both the Canadian Shakespeare Festival Theatre in 1953 and the Guthrie Theatre in 1963.

11. Give an example of a modern thrust stage theatre.

Stratford Festival Theatre
The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, the Stratford Festival Theatre in Stratford, ON, and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles (See the picture on page 150 of Wilson and Goldfarb).

12. What was the first modern arena theatre?

Penthouse Theatre
The Penthouse Theatre. Professor Glenn Hughes (1894-1964), the founder and former Dean of the University of Washington's School of Drama wanted a small, intimate space, for his educational theatre productions. Such a space was not available on the campus so his first theatre, which seated 60 and opened in November 1932, was in the penthouse of the Edmond Meany Hotel (now the University Tower Hotel). In 1940, a 160 seat arena theatre was built by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) on the university campus. This became the Hughes Penthouse Theatre.

Music Circus
During the the 1950s and 60s a number of summer stock companies performed musicals in an arena configuration under the "big top:" a Music Circus. During the same period, many alternative spaces -- car dealerships, hotel ballrooms, grocery stores, warehouses -- became arena theatres. On a university campus the easiest space to adapt was the stage of the University's auditorium. In Columbus, Ohio, Roy Bowen of the Players Club created the Stadium Theatre, a 300 seat arena space under Gate 10 of the Ohio State University Football Stadium.

13. Give an example of an arena theatre.

Arena Stage
The Arena Stage in Washington, DC and A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. See the photograph on page 155 of Wilson and Goldfarb. Look above the lighting grid and you can see the original ornate ceiling and crystal chandlier of the Grand Ballroom in the Kreielsheimer Place.

14. What is the difference between a found space and a black box theatre?

The Guys
By Anne Nelson

An Arena Stage on the
JFAC MainStage
A found space is a nontheatrical space -- the rotunda of the state capitol, a church, warehouse, courtroom, carepnters shop -- which is used for production. Typically the space is chosen because of its context to the play: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at the capitol, The Passion Play in a church, Inherit the Wind in a courtroom...

A black box theatre is a large, flexable theatrical space which can be easily adapted into any (end, thrust, arena, or corner stage) theatrical form. See the drawings on page 161 of Wilson and Goldfarb. At Northern State we have created both an arena and thrust stage theatre on the 4000 square foot JFAC MainStage.

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Last updated: August 10, 2011
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Larry Wild, Northern State University, Aberdeen, SD 57401