Thursday, July 5, 2012

Theater 101 - Theatre Spaces

I have always loved theatre, though I am much prefer the backstage workings as opposed to being in the spotlight. I find it very exciting without making a fool of myself. I am going to show you four different types of theatre spaces among eight different theatre groups.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
This professional company is a regional group that performs at Harman Hall in Washington, D.C. The Harman Hall stage can be altered to a thrust, end stage or proscenium configuration but for this post I am going to be referring only to the proscenium style of stage. A Merchant of Venice, An Ideal Husband, The Servant of Two Masters, and The Merry Wives of Windsor are just a few of the plays this company has done.
An Ideal Husband
The mission of the Shakespeare Theatre Company is to present classic theatre of scope and size in an imaginative, skillful and accessible American style that honors the playwrights’ language and intentions while viewing their work through a 21st-century lens.

A Merchant of Venice
They follow their mission statement very well in their productions of Shakespeare, though you can see that they do plays by other authors as well. No matter the author, the staging is done very well and makes full use of the stage. They use large and, at times, elaborate set pieces.

Children's Theatre of Charotte
Alice In Wonderland
 For my next example of a proscenium stage I have chosen a professional regional theatre in Charlotte, N.C. Their plays have included Seussical: The Musical, Goodnight Moon, Treasure Island, Beauty and the Beast, The Secret Garden, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Aladdin, and Alice In Wonderland. From these photos one can see that they make use of the whole stage and the set design design varies quite a bit in style. Suessical  sets are compact and busy just as the illustrations in the books of Dr. Seuss. You can also see in the Treasure Island photo how they used the fly loft to display ship masts. The video shows excerpt of many shows and you can see use of the fly system in Peter Pan. To see the city of Agrabah being built using the fly system click on Aladdin.
Suessical: The Musical
Treasure Island
  CTC Mission Statement: We create exceptional theatre experiences, inspiring generations to explore the wonder of their world.

 I think it is pretty obvious from what you see here in my blog that they love up to their mission statement very well.
“You give our children a brighter future through your nurturing support, joy and creativity. Thank you!”
- Children’s Theatre patron

 The Guthrie Theatre
Set Model of  Cat On a Hot Tin Roof
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof
Moving on the the thrust stage type......
 The Guthrie is professional resident theatre located in Minneapolis, MN. and they use the Wurtele Thrust Stage for the performances I have listed below.  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Much Ado About Nothing, Hay Fever, Tales From Hollywood, A Winter's Tale, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and Born Yesterday are some of the plays that hold to the mission statement which says:
The Guthrie Theater, founded in 1963, is an American center for theater performance, production, education and professional training. By presenting both classical literature and new work from diverse cultures, the Guthrie illuminates the common humanity connecting Minnesota to the peoples of the world.

Contrast Much Ado About Nothing with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and you will see in culture they are completely different. By offering such diversity it's easy to see that they would connect all types of people and cultures.

In the left photo above you can clearly see the fly loft which is utilized in the set for Cat in the center photo. A note about the center photo; it is a model to show the vision for the set. The third picture shows the set in use and you can see how closely matched the two are. It must be an incredible feeling to see your vision come to fruition like that!

Redlands Theatre Festival

The next thrust stage we will look at is in my old stomping grounds in Redlands, CA and while is it a community theatre it is founded and directed by one of the local professors who recently retired from the college scene. Here's a shout out to my old professor, Cliff Cabanilla and my former classmates who still aid him in putting on these great productions in Prospect Park! RTF has done such plays as Radio Gals, Nunsense, Pump Boys and Dinettes, Evita, Something Afoot, Sweeney Todd, Forever Plaid, Division Street, and Imaginary Invalid. While I could not find a mission statement on their website, they definitely reach the community and beyond. A group goes to perform in Hawaii every year as part of their season. They are a repertory theatre and perform a broad range of styles using the same cast member in each play.

Radio Gals

Something Afoot

University of Redlands

The students of the university perform in several theatres but the Frederick Loewe Black Box is the one I'm going to show you. Plays such as The Fantasticks, Quilters, Our Town, Alice, Macbeth, and Mrs. California are performed by students and guest artists. This theatre is new to the University of Redlands, yes my old hometown again, so there aren't very many photos out there yet. While I didn't find a formal mission statement for the theatre, obviously, the goal of the Theatre Arts program is to educate it's students in all aspects of performance. They live up to this goal through varied offerings of classical and contemporary works.



The black box theatre setting is the most flexible and has, the potential of being the most intimate setting of all the formats as I've shown in the top photo of Our Town. The stage is small so set design has to be limited and clever in order to give the audience the sense of place and mood. As you can see in the media I have provided they do a good job of this.

Washinton and Lee University
Johnson Black Box Theatre

 Some of the plays performed on this stage are How I Learned to Drive, The Long Christmas Drive Home, One Acts, Eurydice, and The Shape of Things.

One Acts
Their website states: In support of the University's educational mission the Department of Theater provides a dynamic introduction to theater and dance production, performance and history/criticism. As a result of the academic and artistic experiences cultivated through our learner-centered program of study, many of our theater and dance students have developed successful careers in theater, dance, film, television, teaching, law, journalism and management, or have pursued graduate study.

Eurydice Cast and Crew
I couldn't find a large assortment of plays that have been staged in the black box, which seemed to be typical as I found in my research for this project. With a limited knowledge of strictly black box performances, I could not say conclusively that they alone lived up the mission statement, however when you include the performances of the other stage formats at the university, it would seem to be true due to the highly varied works.

The sets are not very elaborate and in some cases were too minimalistic to be able to tell what they were supposed to represent just from photos, such as the set pictured above. The blue slide could be water since there is sand at the bottom. However, there are gears at the top of the slide which seems out of place. They have used the space wisely but is it really if we don't know what we are looking at? The question comes to mind, should we be able to tell what the set is without seeing the play. What is the mark of a good set designer? To me the set is a huge part of enjoying a performance and if the set is not inviting me to watch the play it is not a good set.

Redlands Footlighters Theatre
 Now on to the arena stage! Back to Redlands we go for plays performed here such as,  Funny Money, The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, Smoke and Mirrors, You Can’t Take it With You, and The Sunshine Boys. 

  It is the object of the Redlands Footlighters, Inc., to provide rewarding entertainment, creative productions of live theatre, a cradle for community theatre, growth for actors and directors, presentations of our dramatic heritage and mutually satisfying and varied theatre experiences for both the Footlighters and its audiences

 The plays here are varied, true to the mission statement. If I can take the statement quite literally I would agree that they live up to this. Referring to themselves as a "cradle" and providing "growth for actors and directors" implies to me that the experience of the cast and crew here is very little. I have been in the theatre but have not seen any performances there before. In my online research for this project, I found only the one video and the performance appears very amateurish, even in comparison to the other community theatres that I discovered. In this sense, if it's the intent of Footlighters to help develop people's talents then I would say they are on track. I can't say whether or not the specific plays really reflect the mission statement, however.

 This stage is extremely small and sets are set up at either end. Relative to the size of the stage and taking into account the size of the stage I think they do a pretty good job          of set design and using the space to it's best ability.

Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre

The Old Globe Theatre is located in San Diego, CA. One of the stages there is the one I am going to talk about next. The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre  is an arena stage and is literally a theater-in-the-round.

The mission of The Old Globe is to preserve, strengthen, and advance American theatre by: Creating theatrical experiences of the highest professional standards; Producing and presenting works of exceptional merit, designed to reach current and future audiences; Ensuring diversity and balance in programming; Providing an environment for the growth and education of theatre professionals, audiences and the community at large. The Life of Riley, Nobody Loves You, Divine Rivalry, Twelfth Night, Groundswell, and Arroyo are some of the diverse offerings at this venue.
 The sets though minimalistic, still give you a sense of where the action takes place. They utilize the space well and the acting is of a higher caliber as you can see in the video I have included. They do love up to their mission statement in the variety of shows they offer, which are a completely vast array of culture and types and in their reputation for quality performances.
 I couldn't wait to get out of my hometown but as I look back doing this assignment there is a huge amount of diversity in the theatre types, quality of performances, and availability to people who normally could not attend an expensive show. So maybe it had more to offer than I ever appreciated. The performances don't have to be excellent as long as the performers are having fun and showing the audience a good time. If you want a high quality show then there are still affordable options open to all. In studying these theatres I have seen such a diversity in a relatively small community of people. On with the show!