Knowing the Proscenium Theater Stage

The Proscenium Arch

The Proscenium Arch was the most common form of theater building in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries where the audience faces in one direction. The “Arch” acts like a picture frame through which the action can be seen. This is called the proscenium opening. Scene changes and performers’ entrances and exits are made behind the proscenium opening, out of sight of the audience. The proscenium arch resembles a large picture frame through which the audience looks at the stage. If the action was to freeze, it should resemble a picture. The proscenium is also called “Fourth Wall” as the audience looks through the proscenium opening at the other three walls of a room.

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Basic configuration of a stage

This diagram shows the basic configuration for a Proscenium Arch Theater. The Audience faces the stage. “Wings” sit by the left and right sides of the stages, used to store scenery, effects and act as waiting areas for actors.

An Apron is a segment of the stage which protrudes through and beyond the Proscenium Arch. Traditionally the apron was used by actors to “break through” the proscenium and directly address the audience (in an aside for example).

 Acting Areas on the stage

The acting area on stage is divided into nine (9) locations and directions from playwrights and directors are usually given for those locations. Abbreviations are used regularly. Generally, the downstage area is stronger than the upstage area, because it is nearer the audience. Stage right is stronger than stage left because the audience is conditioned to look from left to right in reading and carries this habit into all observations. [Audience left being stage right.] Because of the strength of downstage and stage right, important scenes will often be played there.

Other terms commonly used regarding stage areas:

Onstage - the acting area within the set, visible to the audience.

Offstage - the parts of the stage not enclosed by the set, not visible to the audience.

Backstage - the area behind the set.

Wings - the offstage areas to the right and left of the acting area.

Outfront - the auditorium where the audience sits; often referred to as the ‘house.’

Areas of the stage are named from the actor’s point of view. If you are standing on stage looking out at the audience, stage right will be to your right and stage left to your left. Upstage is towards the back wall and downstage is closest to the audience. This terminology comes from the days when stages were raked, or angled down, towards the audience so that everyone standing on the ground could see (now our theater seating is usually raked instead). The proscenium arch is the vertical frame around the stage.

The Proscenium Theatre Stage is the most common when it comes to drama and theater. It is necessary to know about the stage to write a script and plan the movements of the actors. Properly planned stage creates a good picture through the frame and make the final production successful.

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