What is in this article?:
The two major design components in a performing-arts center are the size and shape of the stage, and the seating configuration.
In most large metropolitan areas, each of the performing arts is housed in a facility designed specifically for its needs because architectural requirements for a theater are vastly different from those for a concert hall. However, such a luxury is not usually feasible for an educational institution. One facility must serve both types of programs, so design flexibility is a high priority.
The two major design components in a performing-arts center are the size and shape of the stage, and the seating configuration. Music halls generally wrap the audience around the orchestra in the same space, creating the effect of being in the same room as the musicians. Dramatic and musical theater forms involve a variety of designs, but the proscenium theater has emerged as the most flexible in an educational setting. When combined with a stage that projects some distance in front of the proscenium, it can accommodate many dramatic and musical styles with few compromises.
The stage floor area just in front of the proscenium (pro-proscenium area) allows great flexibility in the use of the facility. Lectures, small musical programs or panel discussions can be held in this section with the main drape closed, and sets for a later show can be arranged without disruption. The pro-proscenium area also permits musical performers to move into the audience chamber, creating a more intimate effect. A motorized projection screen in front of the drape can allow for academic instruction.
Reducing the proscenium opening
Generally, dramatic programs require less space than musical productions. Consequently, it is important to be able to easily reduce the proscenium opening. This is best accomplished with tormentor towers — large panels on each side of the proscenium opening that roll out to reduce the width. The height of the space can be reduced with valance drapes. Wing space in the stage creates flexibility for drama. This space is used for actors' entrances and exits, and quick movement of sets and props during act changes.
For musical drama, orchestras are in a vertically movable pit in the pro-proscenium stage area. The floor is usually at stage level to create more stage space; at its lowest level it offers orchestral support, and at mid-level it can become an extension of the seating capacity of the house. The lift, or elevator, mechanism in the pit provides great flexibility, allowing a changeover at the touch of a button. Portable floors, or pit fillers, can be used instead of a lift, but they must be moved manually, which may take many hours.
Seating styles vary with the size of the audience. It is important not to make a small audience attending a musical recital feel lost in a large house. Zones of seating are formed by aisles, box-seat areas and balconies, and can be enhanced by house lighting designed around these zones. Aisles also allow performers to move into the audience, and they provide better supervision for children. Side boxes with removable seats at a balcony level provide dramatic opportunities outside the regular stage.
Varying the size and character of dressing rooms also adds to flexibility. A large dressing room in conjunction with a small one can accommodate casts of different sizes and genders, depending on the type of performance. Makeup can be applied in the dressing room if enough instructional faculty is available, but often a shared makeup room is designed with appropriate visual screening between the dressing rooms.
Most rigging is configured in a counterweight system, using weights to offset the weight of a stage set hung on a horizontal pipe (scenery batten or lineset). Although it can be motorized, the rigging system generally is operated manually. Initial construction should include a full “T-bar” guide system along one wall of the stage. This is the basic rail system, spacing linesets usually six inches on center. Certain linesets are dedicated to specific functions, such as orchestra shell ceiling pieces, lighting battens, or travelers and masking drapes. The other linesets available in the system are for general scenery.
Flexibility is maximized by an increased quantity of general stage scenery battens. Rope rigging supplements the counterweight system and provides flexibility for unusual rigging positions. Some battens are dedicated to theatrical lighting and are called fixed electrics. Maximum flexibility is gained, however, by designing the battens with movable drop boxes. These are electrical connection boxes that can be relocated to any batten, making it capable of theatrical lighting.
Although it is an acoustic component, the orchestra shell is critical to theater flexibility and is designed by the theater consultant. The architectural volume of the stage allows flown scenery for drama but is a great sound absorber if left unmodified for musical productions. The music must be redirected to the audience rather than lost in the scenery above. Individual rigging battens are used for movable ceiling pieces that deploy to form a “roof” above the orchestra. The sound is sent out to the audience and redirected side-to-side, allowing the musicians to hear each other. Portable floor-mounted towers roll into location, surrounding the orchestra, directing sound to the audience, and forming a visual backdrop to the orchestra. Floor space must be provided to store the orchestra shell towers when not in use.