Theatre design is an essential part of the overall theatre performance. In fact, the aesthetics of a theatre are often just as important as the production taking place there. The design of the space can change the entire mindset of an audience before a single line of dialogue is spoke, or a single note is played. A grand and luxurious theatre has the power to transport the audience to another period in time - when men wore tuxedos and women wore elegant gowns to the theatre. These surroundings enhance the overall theatre experience and set the expectation for a certain level of quality when it comes to the performance. There are a number of things to consider when looking at theatre design including - seating, lighting, and the type of stage used. Let’s start by looking at how seating can impact the audience's experience:
Comfort is seen as a prime focus when it comes to theatre design. The type of seating used in theatres varies hugely - from plush, cushioned options in grand theatres, all the way to basic stackable chairs, in trendy pop-up theatres. The type of seating used is extremely important, as comfortable seats will enhance the overall experience the audience have at a performance. Theatres now appreciate the importance of this and there have been many renovations in recent years. One example is the landmark Mayflower Theatre in Southampton - with our help, the theatre replaced all of their old seats with over 1,600 brand-new, wider seats to increase accessibility. Race also completely refurbished 500 existing traditional chairs by repainting the frames, providing new show wood and reupholstering the seats and backs. This helped breathe a sense of fresh air into the theatre and added a new level of comfort for the audience to enjoy.
Lighting design in theatre goes beyond simply making sure that the audience can see the stage (although this is very important!) Lighting can be used to accomplish many things within a production - it can establish the time or location of a performance, or create and enhance mood and atmosphere. The lighting technician can dim the lights at parts of the production which are supposed to be dark in mood and brighten them during lighter scenes. Spot lights can also be used to highlight a character or element on stage. Coloured lighting can even make the audience associate a certain emotion with a certain color of light. For instance, colours in the spectrum of red, orange and yellow are known as warm and give us a happy warm glowing feeling. Whereas colours in the spectrum of blue and green give us a colder feeling.
The type of stage plays a vital role in the overall theatre experience. Theatres have evolved with different internal layouts according to the types of productions presented there. The most common types of stage arrangements include:
● Proscenium Stage - Commonly referred to as a “picture frame” stage, the characteristic feature of the proscenium stage is the arch above the stage which the actors perform under. The audience is seated directly in front of the stage, usually on a gradually inclining slope. A proscenium theatre is what we usually think of as a "theatre" - they are often large and grand, with elegant interiors.
● Thrust Stage - These stages project, or thrust, into the audience and the seating surrounds the stage on all three sides. This allows the audience to feel more immersed in the production and offers increased intimacy between performers and the audience.
● End Stage - These usually consist of a raised rectangular platform at the one end of the room. The audience sit in rows facing the stage. These types of stage produce pretty much the same effect as a proscenium theatre.
● Arena Stage - This is usually placed in the centre of a large space, with the audience surrounding the stage on all sides. This allows the audience to feel truly immersed in the performance.
Theatre design is extremely important - first, to provide the optimum conditions for the audience to experience a performance and, second, to aid the performers in achieving the fullest expression of their art. Seating, lighting, and the type of stage used are all important factors to consider when looking for ways to enhance a space and provide the best possible theatre experience.