The Stage and Its Equipment


J. Michael Gillette. Theatrical Design and Production, 4th edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 2000. Chapter 4: The Stage and its Equipment.
Glerum, Jay O. Stage Rigging Handbook, 2nd edition. Carbondale, IL. Southern Illinois University Press. 1997
Burris-Meyer, Harold and Edward C. Cole. Theatres and Auditoriums. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation. 1964.
Elder, Eldon. Will It Make a Theatre. New York: Drama Book Specialists, Publisher. 1979

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 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?

Teatro Farnese
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. The theatre was primarily used for offical state functions (such as a Royal wedding) for over 100 years before being abandoned. The palazzo was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II (1944). It was rebuilt, following original drawings in the 1950s and reopened in 1962.

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. Who were the first to use a thrust stage?

The ancient Greeks. To the left is a view of the ruins of the Theatre of Dionysus, the fifth century BC home of the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. This permanent Greek theatre was built between 342 and 326 BC (approximately 100 years after Oedipus was first performed); remodeled to fit the Roman ideal during the reign of Nero (61 BC), and last used for a theatrical performance during the 4th century AD. This historical site was discovered during the 18th century and excavated during the 19th.

6. 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.

7. What was the first modern arena theatre?

The Penthouse Theatre. Professor Glenn Hughes, the founder and Dean (1930-1931) 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 campus so his first theatre (1935-1940) was the penthouse of a Seattle hotel. In 1940 a 160 seat arena theatre was built by the WPA on the university campus at a cost of a little over $ 64,000. This became the Hughes Penthouse Theatre.

During the the 1950s and 60s many alternative spaces -- car dealerships, hotel ballrooms, grocery stores, warehouses -- became arena theatres. On a university campus the easiest space to adapt to an intimate arena theatre was the stage of the University's large 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.

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

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. At Northern State we have created both an arena and thrust stage theatre on the 4000 square foot JFAC MainStage.

9. Give a local example of a proscenium theatre?

The MainStage of the Johnson Fine Arts Center, the Capitol Theatre (the home of the Aberdeen Comunity Theatre), the Civic Theatre in downtown Aberdeen and the Thomas Kelly Theatre in the new Aberdeen Central High School

    A thrust stage theatre?

The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.

    An arena theatre?

Although it's not local, the Arena Stage in Washington, DC is probably the most obvious example of an arena theatre. Northern has used both the arena and thrust configuration for its Theatre-On-the-Stage presentations.

10. What is the Fire Curtain

The fire curtain is a flame resistance drop hung immediately behind the proscenium arch. In the case of a fire the curtain is dropped to protect the audience.

      Act Curtain

The act curtain (also known as the grand drape) is generally hung directly behind the fire curtain. It is traditionally made of 24oz Velour and is used to begin and end each act.


A traveler is a full-stage drape which is split in the center. When opened it travels to the side and is stored off-stage left and right. The MainStage act curtain is a traveler.

      Tormentor, Teaser, Leg, Border and Cyc

The tormentor and teaser establish the size (width and height) of the set on a proscenium stage.

The tormentors are narrow (8' wide) curtains hung behind (up stage of) the act curtain. They are used to establish the width of the setting and mask (hide) the off-stage space. On the MainStage we use the act curtain to establish the width of the opening.

The teaser (or valance) is a short, full stage (48' wide x 8' tall) curtain hung behind (up stage of) the act curtain. It is used to establish the height of the setting and to mask the lights and scenery hung above the acting area. Together the tormentor and teaser form an inner portal or false proscenium which frames the action of the play.

Legs are the long narrow curtains (8' wide x 24' long) hung at the sides of the stage which mask the off-stage space. They are generally hung parallel to the front of the stage on 6' to 10' centers. The MainStage requires three sets of legs to mask.

Borders or short full stage width curtains (48' wide x 4.5' high) hung above the acting area which mask the lights and scenery hung in the fly loft. Typically the borders are hung downstage (in front of) each set of legs. Typically both legs and borders are cut from black velour or commando cloth.

The Cyc, short for cyclorama, is the light sky-blue drop, or white plastered wall, at the rear of the stage. It is generally used to represent an endless, cloudless sky. Note: What I call a cyc is actually a sky drop. A true cyclorama is curved, it starts down left curves around the back of the stage and ends down right. As you can see from the drawing below, the use of a real cyc severely restricts access to the stage


Scrim is an open weave fabric which is often used for "magical" effects. When lit from the front it appears solid; when the lights behind the scrim are turned on, the fabric becomes transparent revealing whatever is up stage.

      Apron, Wings, Fly Loft, Grid, Cove,
      Center Line, Plaster Line,
      Up Stage, Down Stage, Stage Left
and Stage Right

The apron is the narrow stage space infront of the act curtain.

The wings are the backstage space on either side of the acting area.

The fly loft is the backstage space above the acting area.

The grid is the I beams which form the "ceiling" of the stage house. The blocks (or pulleys) which hold the lines of the rigging system are clamped to these beams.

The cove, or ceiling beam, is the front-of-house mounting position, usually cut into the ceiling of the auditorium, where lighting instruments are hung to light the front edge of the stage.

The center line marks the center of the stage. It is one of the two reference lines used when locating points on the stage.

The plaster line is the second reference line. It extends from the upstage corner of the stage left proscenium arch to the upstage corner of the stage right proscenium arch. Each point on stage is located by its distance up stage (or down stage) from the plaster line and its distance left or right of the center line.

Stage left and stage right are always from the actor's point-of-view with the actor standing on stage, facing the audience.

Down stage is towards the audience; up stage is towards the back wall.

      Pin Rail (or lock rail)

The lines which control the rigging are secured (tied off or locked) at the pin rail (or lock rail). The lock rail on the MainStage is against the stage right wall.

      Light Booth

The light booth is a small room in the rear of the auditorium where the lighting control console is located. From this room the board operator should have a clear view of the stage.

      Sound Booth

The sound booth is generally located in the back of the auditorium but is typically not in a separate room. The operator should be in the same space as the audience and should have a clear view of all the house speakers.

11. How wide is the proscenium of the JFAC-MainStage?

60 feet.

      How deep is our stage?

40 feet from the plaster line to the back wall.

      How wide is the stage house?

100 feet.

      What is the height of the gridiron?

31 feet. Because of the size of the counter weight-arbor, the maximum out trim of a lineset is either 24' (for our four Electric Pipes) or 27 feet.

      What is the auditorium's seating capacity?


      What is the depth of the auditorium?

88 feet from the curtain line to the back row.

Link to the Ground Plan and Cross Section of the Johnson Fine Arts Center formatted to print on 8.5x11 paper in landscape mode. You will need to download the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view (or print) these files.

12. What is the difference between a...
      Rope Set (or Hemp),

A rope set is the oldest, simplest, most flexable and most dangerous rigging system. A set of ropes (often 3/4" hemp) run from the pipe (or batten) up to the loft blocks clamped to the grid, across to the head block secured to the side wall of the fly loft and down to the pin rail. A 400 pound load on the pipe (20 spotlights, for example) will require a 400 pound force (two or three large flymen) at the pinrail. If a rope set is used during a show a sandbag will often be attached with a prussic knot to the rope set to help balance the weight of the load. For example, if a drop weighs 150 pounds, a 100 pounds of sand may be attached to the off-stage lines.

      Counterweight, and

A counterweight system is easier and safer to use. A set of 1/4" steel cables (lift lines) run from the 1 1/2" steel pipe (or batten) up to the loft blocks across to the head block and down to the top of the counterweight arbor. A 3/4" rope haul line runs from the top of the arbor up to the head block, down through the lock rail, around the tension pulley and back up to the bottom of the arbor. A 400 pound load on the pipe (20 spotlights, for example) is balanced with 10-- 40 pound cast iron counterweights (bricks) in the arbor.

To bring the pipe in (down), the flyman pulls the onstage or outside haul line down which raises the arbor and lowers the pipe. To take the pipe out (up), the flyman pulls the offstage or inside haul line down which lowers the arbor and raises the pipe. Because the load is balanced only one operator is required.

Before a pipe is brought in the flyman should (1) make sure the stage area is clear and (2) should call out in a loud clear voice: "Heads Up, pipe coming in."

Link to Elevation of Typical Underhung Rigging (a PDF file). (Source: Texas Scenic Company)

      Dead hung system of rigging?

In a dead hung system the pipe is permanently chained to the grid. If you need to hang a light you get out the ladder.

13. Which rigging system do we have in the Johnson Center?

A single purchase, T-tracked, counterweight system.

      How many line sets do we have?

Fifteen -- 4 Electric pipes, 4 Borders, 3 sets of Legs, 3 sections of "Concert Shell Ceiling Units," and the Sky Drop (or Cyc). Notice there are no spare pipes. If we must hang a drop for a show, we either double up (hang two units on one pipe -- for example: border and legs on the same pipe) or we take down the "Concert Shell Ceiling Units."

      How many lines should we have?

We should have between 40 and 60 pipes. The conventional practice is to evenly distribute the line sets on 8 or 12 inch centers.

      What on our stage is dead-hung?

The act curtain, the mid-stage black traveler, and the up-stage black traveler.

14. What type of flooring should be used on a stage?

The stage floor should be made of a soft wood (perhaps plywood) covered with particle board or tempered Masonite®. Typically the top layer of the stage floor will need to be replaced every two or three years.

15. What is a trap? How is it used?

A trap is section of the stage floor which can be removed giving the actors and crew access to the basement. It is generally used for those plays which require an entrance from below.

16. What should be the color and finish of the stage floor?

The floor should be painted black with a semi-gloss or satin finish. The traditional "flat" black appears dull grey, not black. The floor of the JFAC MainStage is painted with WalMart Color #96404: India Ink, a dark blueish black.

      The masking drapes?


17. Out of what type of material should they be cut?

Velour, or a similar light absorbing material such as 16oz. Commando Cloth, also known as Duvetyn or Velourette.

18. What basic set of curtains should a theatre own?

  1. Act Curtain
  2. Valence (or teaser)
  3. Legs (probably three or four sets)
  4. Borders (probably three or four sets)
  5. Concert drape (or olio)
  6. Full stage black (up stage)
  7. Black scrim
  8. Cyc (or sky drop)

19. What is a "concert drape" or "olio?"

A full stage traveler hung eight to twelve feet upstage of the act curtain.

      How is it used?

It is traditionally the backdrop behind a speaker.
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Last updated: September 12, 2007
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