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One of the advantages many amateur theatre groups have over professional production companies is the expansive range of options they have in the staging of their productions. This ranges from the set they can create to the layout of the stage. This article rounds up 5 popular staging styles and how to best make use of each of them.
Proscenium Arch Stage
This is the most traditional style of staging and historically, the most popular. It allows a window into the world created on stage; the fourth wall.
This is the perfect staging for a show which needs a lot of scenery or where enough room for large casts/bands is required. This is because it probably has the most space allocated for these types of situations.
In the past auditoriums were designed like this partly to assist the acoustics to amplify the voices of those on stage. This is less relevant now due to the evolution of technology like microphones.
Pros arch stagings are historically associated with grandeur and expensive, impressive production values. Most regional pantomimes and musicals are staged on a proscenium arch stage and almost all West End theatres feature proscenium arches.
A thrust stage is often achieved by adjoining onto a proscenium arch stage. A thrust stage is an extended apron which allows audiences to be on either side of the stage as well as front on.
This, famously is the layout of both the RSC Swan Theatre in Stratford and Shakespeare’s Globe in London. It works particularly well for Shakespeare and productions which have a real depth in depiction of the show and set design.
It allows you to still have a strong set and designed feel but also brings in the audience so that it is a more intimate experience. I think there’s something about this staging that gives the audience more from a production. For example, audiences on the left get a totally different experience from those on the right and to those facing the stage directly from the front.
There are few thrust stages around by build but often pros arch stages are expanded to create this feeling.
Traverse stagings are a much more modern concept with the audience set on either side of the stage. This allows for little set but makes the atmosphere much more intimate and can create some fantastic opportunities for choreography (see In The Heights at the Kings Cross Theatre in London)
Having the audience on two sides eliminates the feeling at a front-on venue that you must never turn your back on the audience and also allow for a much more flexible lighting design. Perhaps you’ll consider it for your next production.
You can see a fantastic example of traverse staging here at The Knockdown Centre in America where Carnegie Hall recently staged West Side Story featuring a cast of over 200.
In the Round
Another style of staging which is becoming more popular is in the round. This style of staging allows you the ultimate freedom with blocking by not basing itself around a structure or large set constraints.
One of the nice things about a stage that’s in the round is that the audience can really feel that they’re part of the action and that it’s happening all around them.
Cabaret Style Stage
The cabaret style staging comes from an era where cabaret clubs were common and though not suited to all types of theatre, it can be an excellent layout for amateur theatre groups in particular.
The difference is that the seating is laid out around tables in the venue (normally circular). Drinks are often served during the show and sometimes food can be served as part of the performance.
The advantages are that is gives a strong air of intimacy in a venue but it has a much lower capacity so it feels fuller for a show which might not be as popular as regular producitons.
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Of course, you can swap and change between these staging styles if you’re lucky enough to be in a venue that can support that sort of flexibility.