Theatres encompass a meaningful part in us. More than just entertainment, it communicates culture, enhances values, and engages the community that made performing art truly indispensable to the lives of the people. Throughout the ages, we can also see its architecture evolve in conjunction with the increasing audience, their styles, and preferences. From Roman and Greek theaters to modern-day futuristic theaters, one cannot undermine the role that theatre architecture significantly portrays. Not only does it cater to a venue for the arts, but it serves as stewards of quality performances by designing and building resonating spaces for the past, present, and future of theatre.

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Classical Theaters _©Sam Loz Photography via Pinterest

Visiting the Past

Theaters trace its roots back to the prominent Ancient Roman and Ancient Greece’s amphitheaters. Both are characterized for their half-circle structure with orchestra space in front of the stage. The Greek theatres sit on the hillside near sanctuaries while the Roman theatres situate themselves everywhere. Holding different functions in their time, these earliest known theaters exhibit distinct architecture that spearheaded countless iconic buildings of this type. Medieval theaters similarly resemble these. A reconstruction of Elizabethan theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe in London gathered their audience on the covered galleries on the one side with a covered platform against the other, encircling an open courtyard. These theaters underwent massive changes in the seventeenth century. The first proscenium arch defined as a decorative architectural frame over a thrust stage was introduced by architect Inigo Jones. Its prominent open courtyards design was also outshone by roofed theater architecture for indoor art performances. Originated in Europe, this pervaded many theatre buildings around that time. In the eighteenth century, the architecture of theatres was built in a restrained neoclassical style. These cater settings for two classifications: patent theaters for dramas and non-patent theaters such as melodrama, pantomime, ballet, opera, and music hall. 

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Shakespeare’s Globe in London _©Rowan Jones via Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is showing plays for free online – For Reading Addicts

Outside London, a series of royal patents were granted, one of which was known as Theatres Royale. This century was also the great age in English theatre. Large purpose-built auditoriums housed the flocking massive crowds at night to see plays and musical performances. Near the end of this century, imposing classical styles permeated the architecture of theatres. As the legislation by the Lord Chamberlain allowed a theatre license to any suitable person, theatrical entertainment boomed in the nineteenth century. Due to this, a music hall with bench seating that accommodates more people came into existence. With the rise of larger audiences, the horseshoe-shaped balconies enveloping the stage replaced the conventional galleries. Etching of Wilton’s music hall was one of its examples. In the twentieth century, theater architecture with a mixture of variety and cinema became known as ciné-varieties. This included a separate projection room, surviving the future fire safety legislation that required such. One of many theaters’ styles, art deco styles, and modern appeal also emerged in theaters during World War I. The New Victoria Theatre serves as one of its examples that showcases glamour and glitz. 

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The New Victoria Theatre (Apollo Victoria at Present) _©apollo victoria theatre – Bing images

Appreciating the Present

The architecture of today’s theater displays a contemporary synthesis of preceding theater. [3] The elements derived from Greek, Roman, Oriental, and Medieval Legacies are still adapted but the advent of modern-day technologies imparted tremendous changes. With the sleek modern-day, architecture, concrete and steel construction led to enthralling and dreamy theaters and amphitheaters. The trends for the architecture of theaters today include renovation, temporary venues, and community spaces. Many renovate existing theaters today to build new ones. This cheaper and more environmentally sustainable resulted in adaptive use projects. Dorfman Theatre in London attained this by an intensive use out of the auditorium. As the spaces are commonly wasted in the daytime, they created a system of theater architecture where seats can be folded into the floor and elevate the rows on elevators. This achieves flexible space that the flat floor can host educational classes and workshops in the daytime with the raked seat at night. 

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For temporary theaters, a 200-seat auditorium, with a grill around the bottom for fresh air, four chimneys, and a simple lighting rig, often becomes the best solution for limited budget productions, defying the luxurious ones. Many theaters also turn inclusive and accessible to the entire community. One of these emerging trends is the Storyhouse in Chester where its lobby has an integrated library to amplify the delight of the audience who will wait for the show. When we also talk about the contemporary architecture of theaters, its best examples need to be enumerated. With its red, green, and gold hues and starburst ceiling,  Alaska is an example of dramatic architecture. Walt Disney Concert Hall in California is also one of the most acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world with a vineyard style that allows four-side seating.

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Walt Disney Concert Hall _©Tom Bricker via Free Tour of Walt Disney Concert Hall – Travel Caffeine

Envisioning the Future

Theater architecture, together with many other facilities, wrestles with the resurgence of the covid-19 pandemic. This makes the streaming of place and performances drive to gear up in many forms to adapt to the new normal. Remote performances via online platforms were utilized by the sector. However, with the persevering new normal, the sector moves toward post-covid settings that would likely shape the future of theater. With innovations and strategies that continually escalate, its buildings would seem to be outmoded and improved against the restraints caused by the pandemic. The future-proof vertical Theater Group is a glimpse of how the theaters of tomorrow would cater live performances. This free-standing venue is designed for social distancing who can hold between 1,200 to 2400 fans. The roofed structure has open sides for optimum airflow and natural ventilation. With the designated social bubbles, the audience would also be situated in balconies. This guarantees that the future’s theaters will unleash a wave of new creativity and imagination, adhering to its aim to foster art and performances. 

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Vertical Theatre Interior _©Tom Ravenscroft via Dezeen
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Vertical Theatre Interior _©Tom Ravenscroft via Dezeen

Theatre Architecture

Theater architecture underwent an evolutionary change through time. The magnificent theaters of the centuries timelessly narrate to us the stories behind their constructions and the styles from which they sprung. On the one hand, the contemporary theaters depict how the advent of technology did not make the preceding theaters antiquated but rather leveraged the elements learned from them to deliver more fascinating theaters that include the futuristic and contemporary styles. Lastly, the future of theater significantly assures us that however unprecedented the events might be, the architecture of theaters stands firmly on its aim to showcase more of their creativity and imagination. These care to tell us how the profession is the steward for designing and building theatrical spaces creating timeless values. 

References

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Theatres Trust. 2021. How has the design of theatre buildings changed over time?. [online] Available at: <http://www.theatrestrust.org.uk/discover-theatres/theatre-faqs/172-how-has-the-design-of-theatre-buildings-changed-over-time> [Accessed 9 October 2021].

Crossref-it.info. 2021. A guide to eighteenth century theatre from Crossref-it.info. [online] Available at: <https://crossref-it.info/articles/516/Eighteenth-century-theatre> [Accessed 9 October 2021].

Ferrovial’s blog. 2021. The evolution of theatre which accompanied (and drove) the evolution of architecture – Ferrovial’s blog. [online] Available at: <https://blog.ferrovial.com/en/2017/02/the-evolution-of-architecture-through-theatres/> [Accessed 9 October 2021].

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Theatre Historical Society of America. 2021. Theatre Architecture through the Ages | Theatre Historical Society of America. [online] Available at: <https://historictheatres.org/blog/2016/11/07/theatre-architecture-through-the-ages/> [Accessed 9 October 2021].

issue 4, K.M. | P. in Clad. 2017 (n.d.). Theatre design: What are the most exciting new trends? | CLAD. [online] www.cladglobal.com. Available at: https://www.cladglobal.com/architecture-design-features?codeid=32297&source=home&p=5 [Accessed 9 Oct. 2021].

Nast, C. (2018). The Most Beautifully Designed Theater in Each State. [online] Architectural Digest. Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/most-beautifully-design-theater-each-state [Accessed 9 Oct. 2021].

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Billboard. (n.d.). Is This Socially Distanced, Vertical Theater Design the Venue of the Future? [online] Available at: https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/touring/9517862/socially-distanced-vertical-pandemic-theater-design/ [Accessed 9 Oct. 2021].

Author

Russel is an essayist, neuroscience enthusiast and architecture student who stands amazed by how the distinct disciplines interweave into a harmonious whole if understood correctly. She strives to harness what is in store of these into functional built environments inspired by narratives and informed by neuroscience.

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