This is where the audience sits and is sometimes known as ‘the house’. Side and central aisles lead to the seating. Heating, cooling and ventilation systems control the temperature for the benefit of the audience and the performers.
Seating is planned to ensure the audience gets the best possible view of the stage. Many large theatres have different levels of tiered seating. The lower level is called the stalls, the first level the dress circle or occasionally the grand circle. Above that is the upper circle, with the top level called the gallery, balcony or ‘the gods’. All seats have numbers though this was not originally the case.
These were originally built as private seating for the very rich at the side of the stage – not necessarily with the best views though. But it ensured they could sit in a prominent position where they could show off. Sometimes they entertained friends in the boxes, with either drinks or supper, closing the curtains for privacy.
This is the arch or frame around the stage, dividing the auditorium from the backstage areas. Many are highly decorated and gilded. This developed from the Victorian trend of wanting to view a production through an ornate ‘picture’ frame. In modern theatres the effect of a proscenium can be created using masking.
The orchestra are seated in a sunken area, known as a ‘pit’ which is directly in front of the stage, often running partially underneath it.
Theatres generally have two forms of lighting. House lights that illuminate the auditorium and which are dimmed prior to the start of the show and stage lighting, which is suspended from bars above the stage or around the auditorium. This may include a ‘follow spot’, operated from a high level, which follows the principal performers. There may also be other specific lighting needs for a show.
Theatres are designed to enable actors’ voices and musical instruments to be heard ‘acoustically’. Actors learn to project their voices in order to be heard throughout the auditorium. Some productions, such as musicals, need to amplify sound and use sound equipment or a ‘sound system’. Sound is picked up by microphones which transmit the sound through wires or by radio waves. Loudspeakers are positioned in the auditorium to project the sound. The ‘acoustic’ of a theatre is the description given to the quality of sound heard by the audience.
Lighting and sound and other technical production requirements are managed through ‘control desks’ located in special sound-proof boxes at the back or side of the auditorium