Theater (structure)

The interior of the Palais Garnier, showing the stage and auditorium.

A theater, theatre or playhouse, is a structure where theatrical works or plays are performed, or other performances such as musical concerts may be produced. While a theater is not required for performance (as in environmental theater or street theater), a theater serves to define the performance and audience spaces. The facility is traditionally organized to provide support areas for performers, the technical crew and the audience members.

There are as many types of theaters as there are types of performance. Theaters may be built specifically for a certain types of productions, they may serve for more general performance needs or they may be adapted or converted for use as a theater. They may range from open-air amphitheaters to ornate, cathedral-like structures to simple, undecorated rooms or black box theaters. Some theaters may have a fixed acting area (in most theaters this is known as the stage), while some theaters, such as black box theaters, may not, allowing the director and designers to construct an acting area suitable for the production.

Basic elements of a theater structure

On and off stage

Backstage area of the Vienna State Opera

The most important of these areas is the acting space generally known as the stage. In some theaters, specifically proscenium theaters, arena theaters and amphitheaters, this area is permanent part of the structure. In a blackbox theater the acting area is undefined so that each theater may adapt specifically to a production.

In addition to these acting spaces, there may be offstage spaces as well. These include wings on either side of a proscenium stage (called "backstage" or "offstage") where props, sets and scenery may be stored as well as a place for actors awaiting an entrance. A Prompter's box may be found backstage. In an amphitheater, an area behind the stage may be designated for such uses while a blackbox theater may have spaces outside of the actual theater designated for such uses.

Often a theater will incorporate other spaces intended for the performers and other personnel. A booth facing the stage may be incorporated into the house where lighting and sound personnel may view the show and run their respective instruments. Other rooms in the building may be used for dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, spaces for constructing sets, props and costumes, as well as storage.

There are usually two main entrances: one at the front, used by the audience, that leads into the back of the audience, sometimes first going through a ticket booth. The second is called the stage door, and it is accessible from backstage. This is the means by which the cast and crew enter and exit the theater, and fans frequently wait outside it after the show in order to get autographs, called "stage dooring". This term can also be used to refer to going to a lot of shows or living in a big theater city, such as New York or Chicago.

Seating and audience

All theaters provide a space for an audience. The audience is usually separated from the performers by the proscenium arch. In proscenium theaters and amphitheaters, the proscenium arch, like the stage, is a permanent feature of the structure. This area is known as the auditorium or the house. Like the stage in a blackbox theater, this area is also defined by the production

The seating areas can include some or all of the following:

Close-up of the seats in the Opera and Ballet Theatre in Minsk
  • Stalls or arena: the lower flat area, usually below or at the same level as the stage. The word parterre (occasionally, parquet) is sometimes used to refer to a particular subset of this area. In North American usage this is usually the rear seating block beneath the gallery (see below) whereas in Britain it can mean either the area in front near the orchestra pit, or the whole of the stalls. The term can also refer to the side stalls in some usages. Derived from the gardening term parterre, the usage refers to the sectioned pattern of both the seats of an auditorium and of the planted beds seen in garden construction. Throughout the 18th century the term was also used to refer to the theater audience who occupied the parterre.
  • Balconies or galleries: one or more raised seating platforms towards the rear of the auditorium. In larger theaters, multiple levels are stacked vertically above or behind the stalls. The first level is usually called the dress circle or grand circle. The next level may be the loge, from the French version of loggia. A second tier inserted beneath the main balcony may be the mezzanine. The highest platform, or upper circle, is sometimes known as the gods, especially in large opera houses, where the seats can be very high and a long distance from the stage.
  • Boxes (state box or stage box): typically placed immediately to the front, side and above the level of the stage. They are often separate rooms with an open viewing area which typically seat up to five people. These seats are typically considered the most prestigious of the house. A "state box" or "royal box" is sometimes provided for dignitaries.
  • House seats: these are "the best seats in the house", giving the best view of the stage. Though each theater's layout is different, these are usually in the center of the stalls. These seats are traditionally reserved for the cast and crew to invite family members, agents, and others. If they are not used, they usually go on sale on the day of the performance.
Other Languages
čeština: Divadlo (budova)
Esperanto: Teatrejo
euskara: Antzoki
Gaeilge: Amharclann
한국어: 극장
íslenska: Leikhús
Latina: Theatrum
Limburgs: Theatergeboew
Bahasa Melayu: Panggung
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ကပွဲရုံ
Nederlands: Theater (gebouw)
Nedersaksies: Theater (gebouw)
नेपाल भाषा: दबू
日本語: 劇場
norsk nynorsk: Teaterbygning
slovenčina: Divadlo (budova)
slovenščina: Gledališče (zgradba)
svenska: Teaterhus