Objects are often never perceived in relation to themselves. Its appearance depends on the perceiver as well as its physical attributes. For example, a room might have a certain form and dimensions that define it, but it only materializes into a space of comfort once it tends to the requirements of the occupants. The same philosophy applies to spaces where theatre takes place.
Dominic Dromgoole, the theatre director once said – “An actor walks into a room, and the room changes.”
There is no doubt that an actor’s presence on stage (along with lightning, sets, and props) creates a great impact on the audience and transforms the rendition of the stage during a performance. However, Dromgoole talked about a room that refers to more than just a stage. It is a space that encompasses the stage, the adjacent areas such as the wings, and is shared in harmony by both the spectators as well as the performers. As an art form, theatre does not necessarily require a designed structure in which it is to be presented. But as an audience began to gather frequently to witness and experience a performance, several attempts were made to enhance it. This was the start of theatre design, a culmination of technicality and art.
Theatres have a long history. For many centuries they were an example of mass culture. Most theatrical designs can be traced back to the remarkable and large built structures by the Greeks and Romans. Their designs became significant monuments that represented the ambition of their culture as well as the people. Little is known about the nature and development of theatres in Asia from the 6th to 10th century CE. However, the early theatres have been said to be influenced deeply by the culture pertaining to the countries it was built in.
While the two oldest existing theatres in India seem to have been based on Greek models, the early Sanskrit theatres in India, described in Natyashastra, have developed along different lines. In the middle ages, theatres moved to the streets and made use of temporary and movable stages such as wagons, platforms, and a canvas backdrop. Over time, religion, political, and social subjects began taking an essential part of the theatre’s role. By the seventeenth century, the Globe Theatre in London presented Shakespeare’s works.
The essence and humanism of his play were amplified by the wise design of the theatre space. However, by the 21st century, theatres as a building typology have become densely layered and slightly complicated. While the fundamental human characteristics have not witnessed a lot of changes, the designs have begun focusing on forming a balance between emphasizing the art as well as attaining maximum functionality i.e., better design of the wings, backstage areas, and circulation.
Theatres serve as multi-purpose buildings (movies, lectures, concerts, etc.), but at its most basic level, it provides a space for performers to enact their performance and the audience to experience it.
To gain a little insight on how to design effective yet aesthetic theatre spaces, here are a few basic rules to keep in mind.
- The House
The part of the theatre that accommodates the audience during a performance is known as the house. It can also be referred to as areas that are not considered as playing space or the backstage i.e. the lobby, ticket counters, and the restroom. The house space required for each auditorium depends on several factors, primarily the type of performance
- The standard distance for optimum and comfortable seating
The walking space i.e., the aisle needs to have a safe distance between the rows as well as a row and a wall to allow ease in movement. There are usually two types of aisle arrangements which are multiple aisle arrangement and continental seating plan. It is also important to ensure a sufficient distance between the stage as well as the first row of the audience.
- The stage
The relationship between the house i.e., the audience space, as well as the stage, forms the basis for the design of the different forms of theatre. While theatres have distinctive stages that make them unique, they can be broadly classified into five basic forms:
– Arena stage theatres: A central stage surrounded by an audience on all sides. It is often raised to allow maximum visibility.
– Thrust stage: A stage thrusts out from the side of a space into the audience. It is surrounded by the audience on all three sides. The shape of the stage is either semicircular, trapezoidal, rectangular, or square.
– End-stage theatres: It is a type of thrust stage that extends from wall to wall. The audience is present on one side i.e., the front. This type of stage focuses on the full attention of the audience onto the production.
– Proscenium: In this style of theatre, a wall with a large opening serves as a clear distinction between the stage and the house. However, throughout its history, the proscenium stages have been fitted with “fore-stages” that transport the stage through the arch and into the house.
– Flexible Theatre: More commonly referred to as black boxes, the stage is often a large empty box that has black on the interior walls. Neither the stage nor the seating are fixed and can be altered to suit the needs of the performing team.
- Sound quality
While plays are a visual treat, poor sound quality ruins even the best of plays. Sound is often overlooked as people focus primarily on sightlines. External and internal sound insulation, services and equipment noise control, and overall acoustics of the space are few things to keep in mind while designing a theatre.
Apart from the basics, architecture is also linked to theatre through other technical aspects such as lighting design and set design. Architecture has an intimate relationship with theatre, one that requires careful consideration, design, and impact. It embodies the works of the performers as well as those behind the scene by creating connections through art and design.