Theatre in the round

The theatre pod at the Royal Exchange, Manchester designed by Richard Negri in 1976. The largest round theatre in the UK with a capacity of 760.[1]
The stage of the Cockpit Theatre, London, has seating on four sides with a capacity of 240.

A theatre in the round, arena theatre or central staging is a space for theatre in which the audience surrounds the stage.

The Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theatre in Seattle, Washington was the first theatre-in-the-round venue built in the United States. It first opened on May 19, 1940 with a production of Spring Dance, a comedy by playwright Philip Barry.[2] The 160-seat theatre is located on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1947, Margo Jones established America's first professional theatre-in-the-round company when she opened her Theater '47 in Dallas.

The stage design as developed by Margo Jones was used by directors in later years for such well-known shows as the Tony award winning musical Fun Home, the original stage production of Man of La Mancha, and all plays staged at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre (demolished in the late 1960s), including Arthur Miller's autobiographical After the Fall. Such theatres had previously existed in colleges, but not in professional spaces for almost two millennia. It is also a popular setup used in contemporary pop concerts in an arena or stadium setting.

Configuration of the stage

The stage is always in the centre with the audience arranged on all sides, and is most commonly rectangular, circular, diamond, or triangular. Actors may enter and exit through the audience from different directions or from below the stage. The stage is usually on an even level with or below the audience in a "pit" or "arena" formation.

This configuration lends itself to high-energy productions and anything that requires audience participation. It is favoured by producers of classical theatre and it has continued as a creative alternative to the more common proscenium format.

In effect, theatre-in-the-round removes the fourth wall and brings the actor into the same space as the audience. This is often problematic for proscenium or end stage trained actors who are taught that they must never turn their backs to the audience, something that is unavoidable in this format. However, it allows for strong and direct engagement with the audience.

It is also employed when theatrical performances are presented in non-traditional spaces such as restaurants, public areas such as fairs or festivals, or street theater. Set design is often minimal in order not to obscure the audience's view of the performance.

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