What is theatre-in-the-round?
by Leslie Simon
“Give me the best seat in the house!”
“Well, they are ALL the best seat when it’s theatre-in-the-round.”
This spring season, the Arvada Center’s Black Box Theatre has undergone a significant change, converting to a brand new configuration that brings the audience closer to the plays. “Theatre-in-the-round” takes background scenery out of the equation, placing all the emphasis on the actors and providing extraordinary theatre at every angle.
Also known as arena theatre or central staging, this layout puts the action in the center of the room and places the audiences around the stage on all sides. The stage can be a circle, square, octagon, icosagon – whatever polygon or shape the director desires. While the acting space may be at the same level as the audience, you sometimes see the stage sunken down into a pit, or alternately, on a raised platform. These adjustments make for a more informal viewing experience and create more rapport between audience and actors.
However, when the audience surrounds the stage on all sides, unique challenges arise. To ensure that patrons have equal theatrical experiences, lighting, sound and set designers spend a lot of time collaborating and planning. “If my lighting choices are out of step with the scenic, costume, or even sound design, then you get a product that is incoherent and disorienting to the audience,” says Lighting Director Jon Olson. “The best designs are the ones that complement one another.”
There are also interesting obstacles in regards to changing scenery and props. Everything must be done with the audience watching, so directors get to try out solutions like creating choreography that makes taking away furniture and props intentional and part of the action.
Fans of popular culture may recognize this configuration from Elvis Presley’s televised ’68 Comeback Special, which saw the King clad in black leather from head to toe and playing guitar surrounded by adoring fans on all sides. If you have never attended a performance that is “in-the-round,” come see what the fuss is about this spring in the Black Box Theatre.
For a list of performance dates, visit our website at https://arvadacenter.org/on-stage/black-box-plays-2019