THE PLAY BUILDERS: THE DESIGNERS
16 September 2013
Proscenium Stage (1 Side)
Most traditional and frequently seen kind of performance space used today. It is an arch that frames the
acting area, putting the actors inside a sort of picture frame. The audience looks into the frame from one
direction and views the performance as if looking at a framed painting or a movie screen. It divides the
line is the path that the eye travels from each seat in the house to the stage.
The advantages are: because the actors are being viewed by the audience from only one direction, it is
fairly easy to stage a play so that each performer’s face is seen by all the spectators. It allows for plenty
of scenery because of this picture-frame construction. Lighting designers can control light better and
create effects not possible in other theatre configurations. One can lower the cape across the frame to
allow scene changes or surprise the audience with a scenic effect.
The disadvantages are: it divides the actors and audience, an invisible barrier. As some spectators are
going to be closer to the actors than other, the rapport between actors and spectators can be diluted by
distance. It also require scenery and the expenses it entails.
It was invented by the Italians in the Renaissance as a way to show off elaborate scenery and to use the
newly discovered phenomenon of perspective. They discovered that when something was drawn smaller
in relation to another figure it will look like it is distant. It is related much to a painting, and the actors are
placed in front of scenery like the figures in a landscape.
Thrust Stage (3 Side)
Second most common form, known as the three quarter stage. The stage thrusts out into the audience,
and the spectators siton three sidesof the acting space. Most of Shakespeare festivals and Off-Broadway
play-houses use this arrangement. The audience views the action from one of three sides. It is more
difficult to direct actors on a thrust stage because sight lines are complicated by some actors blocking
other actors from being seen by one-third of the audience. The action on a thrust stage needs to move in
a way that no one part of the audience is ignored and ends up seeing the backs of a lot of performers.
The advantages are: the actor-audience relationship is better as with the spectators wrapped around the
playing space, the rapport is stronger, and every seat in the house is closer to the action. While some
scenery can be used, it is limited to the side of the stage where there is no audience.
The disadvantages are: perspective does not work, rather than being figures in a distant landscape, the
actors are instead closer and directly linked with the audience.
It was traced back to the ancient Greeks, whose semicircular acting area was lined with spectators. In the
Middle Ages, actors performed on platforms or wagon stages, and the theatregoers surrounded them on
three sides. This was most effective in the Elizabethan playhouses in London, spectators watched the
action from the ground and from three levels of galleries. Shakespeare’s plays were all first presented on
such a stage, it is clear that he wrote specifically with the thrust stage in mind. Globe Theatreisthemost famous and efficientplayhouse in thehistoryofWestern theatre. Itstood right
outside the city limits of London from 1599 to 1642. It was in octangular shape, open to the sky in the
middle, consisted three galleries that surrounded a thrust stage, allows for over two thousand
main stage (5 ft. above ground), balcony stage, and musician’s gallery used for music and sound effects.
Behind the thrust stage was an inner stage called the “discovery space” so actors can be discovered in
position. Actors were able to enter the acting area through doors on either side of the thrust stage or
above on the balcony. It required little scenery.
The simplest form, known as the theatre-in-the-round. The audience completely surrounds the acting
space, little or no scenery is used, and more members of the audience are closerto the actors than in any
other model. The stages are usually square or rectangular rather than round.
The advantages are: no other kind of stage is better for developing the actor-audience relationship. The
performers sometimes go through the audience to enter or exit, breaking barriers between performers
and spectators. Many feel this creates the most engaging of all theatre events.
The disadvantages are: sight lines in the round arevery tricky as no matterwhich direction an actor faces,
half of the audience cannot see his or her face. It is difficult to put many actors on an arena stage, one
must keep them moving to maintain clear focus.
They can be found in a number of regional, college, and summer theatres. It was introduced in America
in the 1940s considered highly experimental. It is the oldest of all theatre spaces (IE: Campfire encircling
storytellers). It is believed that early forms of theatre took place in temples, with the actors surrounded
by other participants.
It is a combination of all theatre models, known as the black box theatre. It is a room with four walls and
no permanent seating, stage platforms, or scenery. The stage can be transformed into any stage by the
arrangement of portable seating platforms. The acting area can be raised or on the floor and can be
Environmental staging is where the whole room becomes the setting of the play and the audience is
clustered in different parts of the space.
Macbeth was first presented to the public at the Globe Theatre, which was a thrust stage. When it was
produced for King James 1, it was done closer to a proscenium theatre. Today, it can be done in an Arena
Stage or black box. Our Town specifically needs a proscenium theatre without all the scenery usually
found. Although it has been successfully produced on thrust and arena stages. Raisin in the Sun was first
seen onBroadway in a proscenium theatre, but a production in the round oron athrust stagemighteven
intensify the power of the play. Rent has a loose, free flowing structure and makes few specific demands
about its staging.
Stage scenery is referred to as sets and talk about the setting of a play, but it is also the setting of the
theatre event. The Ancient Greeks expected to see simple stone structures that remained the same for
comedies and tragedies. Medieval audiences knew only colorful wagon stages or decorated platforms.
Spectators in the eighteenth century saw only painted scenery on a large scale. In the twentieth century, allthepaststylesofscenerywererediscoveredandadaptedandusedasneeded.Eclecticismisthepicking
and choosing from different styles.
Three basic functions to have effective scenery are:
Immediately tell an audience the location of the action. When the curtain rises or the lights come
up, the audience must learn something about where the play takes place. Some sets will give
The mood of the play (IE: Comedy, melodrama, farce, realistic, exaggerated, and romanticized).
Use of color, shape, texture, space, and other artistic tools to convey mood
Provide a practical playing space for actors. Actors must be able to move through the space and
use the doors, steps, windows, platforms, furniture, and whatever else is placed onstage.
Experienced designer develops what will be put onstage and how it should be built, designer’s
task to figure out how scenery will be moved on and offstage and where it will be stored and not
used. Must ensure there are no sight line problems for the audience
Kinds of Scenery
Interiorsettingsinvolve a room with furnitureand one ormoreentrances. Itmight be suggested bya wall
invented in the nineteenth century.
expensive than suggested scenery. Backdrops, or painted drops, is where landscape is recreated using
perspective. Fly Loft is the space above the stage because drops can be raised up, they are easier to store
Unit Sets are open stage sets in an unspecified space that can be used to create different locales through
lighting and a few set pieces. The most effective unit set have different levels with a variety of acting
spaces on the stage. They are highly practical and much less expensive than a series of detailed interiors
and exteriors. They allow multi-scene plays to move more smoothly because there is no cumbersome
changing of scenery at the end of every scene.
Flat is a rectangular pieces of scenery that is joined with other pieces to make interior walls, exterior
facades, and other structures. Flats sometimes have window, arch, or door openings in them. It may be
sixteen feet high, have little depth, and when piled together, many flats can be stored in a reasonably
narrow space. They are thin and light enough that they can be flown up into thefly loft when not needed.
It is constructedmuch likean artist’s canvas. Muslin, amaterial, is stretchedovera frame and fastened in
the back. It is made of cloth over a wooden frame, but today a variety of materials are used, from steel
frames to a thin form of plywood for the surface. An exterior setting can have cutout trees and shrubbery
that are flat but are painted to give the illusion of depth. In an interior set, there is actually molding and
framing around doors and windows, and one sees three dimensional pieces outside of windows.
Most set designs can be divided into symmetrical and asymmetrical scenery.
Symmetrical balance is a formal and classical method of unifying a set that goes back to ancient Greece
and to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. When a setting is balanced without the two sides of the stage
mirroring each other, it is said to be asymmetrical. Since much of what we see in the real world is not
symmetrical, it makes sense that most theatre scenery is asymmetrical. It is also dynamic about
positioning dissimilar pieces on a stage and still achieving balance. The Scenic Designer’s Process
Steps a scenic designer goes through in the creation of a set:
o Meet with director, concept and style for production
o Research location and period of play
o Pieces need to tell audience time and place, must evoke environment
o Read the script several times, look for images that evoke the period, practical need of
o Estimate cost of the materials and labor to see if the proposed designs can be built with
the money budgeted for scenery
o Rough drawings, scenic plans “blueprint”
o Some drawings may view stage from audience POV
o May illustrate particular walls or sections of set
o Ground plan, or floor plan, is a bird’s eye view of the playing space
o Furniture is indicated so it can tell the director what objects will affect the actors’
o After director reviews and makes comments on all sketches, designer will create a
rendering of the set
o Rendering is acolorsketchthat showswhatthescenery willlooklike from the audience’s
o Should show walls, furniture, color, and evoke mood of the set
o Models may be built, a small scale three dimensional model
o Models help direction and actors visualize performance space
in charge of constructing the scenery, as they cannot depend on renderings or even
models to get the information needed to build the set accurately
o Designer is still needed during construction, load in, rehearsals
o Visit the scene construction shop, where scenery is being built, answer questions and
make decisions on details too small to show up on drawings
o Load-in is when the scenery is moved from the scene shop and positioned on stage
o Designers must attend technical and dress rehearsals
a specific period of time
o Functions of Costume Designs
Audience should learn something of the character the moment they see a
Reveal the character, broad and satirical flourish or subtle suggestion
Clothes point out unique qualities of each charact