The layout of theatre seating is arguably the most varied due to the numerous different stage configurations that have been developed over centuries of theatrical and musical performance. If you haven’t necessarily been to a wide variety of different locations to see a show, you may not have encountered some of the more weird and wonderful theatre seating layouts, so we’ve summarised a few of the most interesting ones and their characteristics. Read on to find out more!
Though you may not be familiar with the name, the proscenium arch is almost certainly the theatre seating orientation that the majority of people will have encountered, since it has been the most common form of theatre building through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In Ancient Greece and Rome, the stage area was referred to as the ‘proscenium’, which translates to ‘in front of the scenery’, while the arch was a later addition which essentially frames the performance onstage. Nowadays, the term is more loosely used to describe any theatre where the audience is only facing the stage straight-on to allow for ‘wings’ at the side of the stage. As such, the theatre seating is often flat since the stage is raised up, and goes upwards into circles and balconies to accommodate more people whilst ensuring that everyone has a good viewing angle.
One of the more uncommon theatre seating layouts is that of a traverse stage, where the audience flanks the central performance area on both sides, leaving a ‘corridor stage’ in the middle. Whilst it can be used effectively for certain aspects of a play (fast character entrances work well in this situation, for example), it doesn’t naturally lend itself to this very well on the whole due to the practical implications of an actor almost always having his or her back to part of the audience. Instead, it is more commonly used as an alternative form of catwalk and is a popular choice for fashion shows. Raked seating is most often used to allow everyone to have a reasonable viewing angle.
The thrust stage layout is the oldest theatre seating and stage layout in the world, spanning back thousands of years to Ancient Greek amphitheatres. The audience surround the performance area on three sides so that the stage is ‘thrust’ into the centre. It is favoured due to the more intimate setting that is created by having the audience closer to the action, while maintaining the ease of having a back wall where actors wait in between scenes. As with the traverse stage, raked seating is usually chosen for optimal capacity and viewing.
Theatre in the Round
Finally, one of the most rare theatre seating layouts is the ‘theatre in the round’, where the audience surrounds the stage on all four sides, with only corner entrances available for the actors. This usually means that large scenery and props are essentially out of the question, usually leading to more minimalist and intimate shows focused purely on the people. As such, it also lends itself to music and dance performances. As before, raked seating is usually the prime method of housing as many people as possible.