Really, all an actor needs to perform is a bit of space and an idea. Certainly, technical elements like lights, sound, set, costumes, and props can help to embellish a performance, but no technical element is absolutely necessary. That being said, the performing space is a huge influence to all technical elements. It will also influence actors’ and the director’s choices for blocking (where and how an actor move onstage). Performing spaces—the stage—have guided entire movements within the history of theater.
Every theater space can be categorized into four basic forms: Arena stages (also called “theater-in-the-round”), Thrust stages (sometimes called “open stages”), End stages (you may know them as “Proscenium” stages), and Flexible or “Black Box” stages.
Arena stages have the audience seated on all four sides of the stage. This type of stage makes for very engaging and often interactive shows for the audience, but also means that any set pieces must be small. Arena stages cannot have the large backgrounds that many other stages use. Arena stages are a big adjustment for many actors and directors, because the actors have to “play” (face as they perform) to all sides of the stage, without turning their back on one particular side for too long.
Thrust stages have the audience (usually) on three sides of the stage. The stage itself is thrust out, extending into the audience. Almost all fashion show runways are thrust stages. Some fashion show runways are “Galley” stages, a subset of the Thrust stage category. A “Galley” stage (also called a “Traverse” Stage) has the audience seated on two side of the stage, opposite from each other. Thrust stages allow for more traditional backgrounds and set pieces, while actors have the freedom to get “up close” with audience. Thrust stages, like Arena stages, create a sense of community between the actors and the audience.
End Stages have the audience on one side. This allows the audience to focus entirely on the action on stage, by removing most other audience members from their field of vision when looking at the stage. The most well-known type of End Stage is a Proscenium Stage. Proscenium stages are set back, with a wall between the audience and the backstage. The “Proscenium Arch” is the opening to this style of stages, that is almost like a picture frame framing the stage. Proscenium stages have space off to each side of the stage that the audience cannot see that allow the actors to use as backstage space. Many Proscenium theaters have a portion of stage space that extends in front of the Proscenium arch. This is called “an apron”. Even with a deep apron space, Proscenium theaters are not considered Thrust Stages.
Flexible stages are a theater space that can be reconfigured into any other type of space by moving and adapting the audience seating. These space are often called Black Boxes, because they are just that: an open room with black walls, floors, and ceiling to provide a neutral space to build upon. Arena, Thrust, and End stages can all be created in a Flexible Stage space.
In fact, AFYP’s most common performance venue, TheaterSpace, is actually a very large Black Box space. The room right next door is a smaller Black Box space and it is actually called “The BlackBox”. This is where we have check-ins for summer camp and serves as a holding space for our showcase weekends. The Sherwood Center, where AFYP also performs, can be considered a Flexible Stage, though it is not a Black Box space.
In the past few years, our actors have performed on several different stage styles. Can you guess the stage styles we used for: Seussical? Willy Wonka, Jr.? 100 Dalmatians/It’s a Wonderful Life: the Radio Play? The Little Mermaid, Jr? The Seussification of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?