A to Z Challenge – P is for Proscenium

Unless you have had any association with live theatre, you probably have no idea what a proscenium is. I know I did not before I started playing on stage, but simply put it is the area at the front of the stage facing the audience. The arch over that area creates a “window” around the scenery and performers. In Roman theatre there was no arch, and the term proscenium just meant “in front of the scenery”.

The interior of the Auditorium Building in Chicago built in 1887. The rectangular frame around the stage is the proscenium “arch”.

The front of the stage that faces the audience is referred to as the the fourth wall, which places an invisible barrier between the actors and the audience. Most plays respect that fourth wall, never involving the audience in what is going on, other than as spectators. However, there are some, like Thornton Wilder’s Our Town that breaks that fourth wall, a process that is sometimes referred to as “breaking the proscenium.”

When we staged Our Town recently, I was faced with a number of challenges as a director. First, we have no proscenium, and many of the suggested stage movements called for the character of the Stage Manager to use a proscenium pillar as a resting place when his monologue was finished and action was about to take place. So my assistant director and I had to figure out where the Stage Manager could go and be out of the way.

The talented John Milligan as the Stage Manager. He found a place to stand.

We also have a very small stage, so that presented another challenge in terms of having two homes set up for the Webb’s and the Gibb’s families, as well as areas for other action to take place without having to do set changes. We did manage to get it all worked out, and it is to the credit of my wonderful cast and crew that we were able to do tribute to Mr. Wilder’s fantastic play.

Are you familiar with other staging configurations?  What do you think an “alley” stage is? Have you been to a “Black Box” theatre?

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