Proscenium & Thrust Stages: Definition, Designs & Advantages

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  • 0:03 The Proscenium & Thrust Stages
  • 0:45 Definition and Design
  • 2:24 Advantages
  • 3:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

I have worked in higher education since 2008 when I began teaching in remedial ed and teach classes in Humanities, Philosophy, and Sociology. I have a Bachelors Degree from the University of Colorado at Denver in Philosophy with a minor in Theater and a Masters Degree in Humanities.

The proscenium and thrust stages both serve important functions in theatrical productions. In this lesson, you'll explore the differences between the two and their separate functions in the world of theater.

The Proscenium & Thrust Stages

'' All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts. ''

That was said by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare's quote focuses the reader on the ways in which our lives have many different facets in how we intersect with others. However, the stage of our world can alter the nature of our entrances, the timing of our exits, and how we are seen by the audience to whom we play our parts. As we will see, the nature of a stage can change the fundamental experience of a theatrical performance. In this lesson, we'll focus on proscenium stages and thrust stages, and examine the advantages of each style.

Definition and Design

The proscenium stage originally referred to an elevated acting platform dating back to ancient Greek theater, but the proscenium stage as it's understood today is defined by its creation of an acting space clearly separated by a frame or arch. The modern proscenium stage dates back to the 16th century with the construction of the Farnese Theatre in Parma.

Stage Layout Plan

The layout of the proscenium stage is fairly uniform, as shown in the diagram, and requires that a stage be built and physically separated from the audience that sits, as though at a movie, toward an opening into another space. The proscenium stage was designed to allow curtains to block off the stage. The stage opening creates the appearance that what occurs on this stage is distinct from the audience looking in from the removed fourth wall.

The thrust stage was far more common in theatrical use as an elevated stage that was typically surrounded on three sides by the audience. This stage, as shown in the sketch of a performance at The Swan in 1596, pushed the action of the play into the house.

The Swan Theatre

This stage is defined by its arena-like setting in which the action occurs for various groups. The thrust stage fell out of major theatrical use with the opportunity for visual flare provided by the proscenium stage. It's recently made a comeback in major theaters, most notably in the recent conversion by the Royal Shakespeare Company from a proscenium to a thrust stage in 2011. The thrust design pushes the action of the play into the same arena as the audience, similar to how a 3D film might bring the action to you from the screen.

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