Theater Design : 7 Basic Rules for Designing a Good Theater (2023)

Since humanity started gathering to tell stories and represent scenes from everyday life in front of an audience, the need for a space to perform such activities began to increase. Theater design developed from the open-air amphitheaters of the Greeks and Romans to the incredible array of forms we see today; this is especially observed in the Extraordinary Concert Halls Designs around the world. Though some forms work better for particular types of performance, there is no ideal shape or size of a theater.

The choice of the best form and scale depends on the functional purpose (movies, lectures, stage performances, musical presentations), the size of the staging required and the number of the audience to be accommodated. Let’s see which are the basic parts that comprise a theater and the most common types of today’s theater design.

1. Design a functioning Auditorium according to the type of performance and the number of the audience

It is the part of the theater accommodating the audience during the performance, sometimes known as the “house”. The house can also refer to an area that is not considered a playing space or backstage area.

This includes the lobby, coat check, ticket counters, and restroom. The amount of space required for each auditorium depends on a number of factors but the following guides, based on modern seating design can give you an idea of the area needed:

  • 200 seats: 270m² | 2,900 ft2
  • 150 seats: 190m² | 2,000 ft2
  • 75 seats: 125 m² | 1,350 ft2

2. Keep the standard distance for a comfortable audience seating

The aisle is the space for walking with rows of seats on both sides or with rows of seats on one side and a wall on the other. In order to improve safety when the theaters are darkened during the performance, the edges of the aisles are marked with a row of small lights. There are usually two types of aisle arrangements:

  • The multiple-aisle arrangement

    It consists of 14-16 chairs per row with access to an aisle way at both ends. If the aisle can only be reached from one end of a row, the seat count may then be limited to 7 or 8.

The multiple-aisle arrangement

The continental seating plan

3. The stage is important: choose wisely

The stage is the designated space where actors and other artists perform and the focal point for the audience. As an architectural feature, the stage may consist of a platform (often raised) or series of platforms. In some cases, these may be temporary or adjustable but in theaters and other buildings devoted to such productions, the stage is often a permanent feature. There are several types of stages that vary as to the usage and the relation of the audience to them:

  • Thrust theater:

    A Stage surrounded by an audience on three sides. The Fourth side serves as the background.
    In a typical modern arrangement: the stage is often a square or rectangular playing area, usually raised, surrounded by raked seating. Other shapes are possible; Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was a five-sided thrust stage.

  • End-Stage:

    A Thrust stage extended wall to wall, like a thrust stage with audience on just one side, i.e. the front.

  • “Backstage” is behind the background wall. There is no real wing space to the sides, although there may be entrances located there. An example of a modern end-stage is a music hall, where the background walls surround the playing space on three sides. Like a thrust stage, scenery serves primarily as background, rather than surrounding the acting space.
  • Arena Theatre:

    A central stage surrounded by the audience on all sides. The stage area is often raised to improve sightlines.

  • The Proscenium Stage or End Stage

    It is the most common type of stage and it is also called a picture frame stage. Its primary feature is a large opening, the proscenium arch through which the audience views the performance. The audience directly faces the stage and views only one side of the scene. Often, a stage may extend in front of the proscenium arch which offers an additional playing area to the actors. This area is referred to as the apron. Underneath and in front of the apron is sometimes anorchestra pitwhich is used by musicians during musicals and operas.

The proscenium stage

  • Flexible theater:

    Sometimes called a “Black Box” theater, these stages are often big empty boxes painted black inside. Stage and seating not fixed. Instead, each can be altered to suit the needs of the play or the whim of the director.

  • Profile Theatres:

    Often used in “found space” theaters, i.e. theaters made by converted from other spaces.
    The Audience is often placed on risers to either side of the playing space, with little or no audience on either end of the “stage”. Actors are staged in profile to the audience. It is often the most workable option for long, narrow spaces like “storefronts”.
    Scenically, a profile theater is most like an arena stage; some staging as the background is possible at ends, which are essentially sides. A non-theatrical form of the profile stage is a basketball arena if no one is seated behind the hoops.

  • Sports Arenas:

    Sports arenas often serve as venues for Music Concerts. In form they resemble a very large arena stage (more accurately the arena stage resembles a sports arena), but with a rectangular floorplan. When used for concert, a temporary stage area often is set up as an end-stage at one end of the floor, and the rest of the floor and the stands become the audience. Arenas have their own terminology.

4. Keep the scenery low for better visibility

In the Theater in the round or the Arena Stage Theater, the stage is located in the center of the audience, with the audience members facing it from all sides. The audience is placed close to the action, which provides a feeling of intimacy and involvement. However, this type puts major restrictions on the amount and kind of visual spectacle that can be provided for a performance, because scenery more than a few feet tall will block the audience’s view of the action taking place onstage.

Theater in the round. The Victoria Theater. Stoke-on-Trent. Courtesy of Studio Theatre Ltd.

5. For greater intimacy with the audience, go with the Thrust Stage

A thrust stage is one that extends into the audience on three sides and is connected to the backstage area by its upstage end. A thrust has the benefit of greater intimacy between the audience and performers than a proscenium while retaining the utility of a backstage area. The audience in a thrust stage theater may view the stage from three or more sides.

6. Keep your theater flexible

Flexible stage theaters are those that do not establish a fixed relationship between the stage and the house. They can be put into any of the standard theater forms or any of the variations of those. Usually, there is no physical distinction between the stage and the auditorium and the audience is either standing, intermingling with the performance, or sitting on the main floor.

The Flexible Theater | Black Box Theater

7. Sound quality is as important as visibility

Although theater performances are a visual medium, poor sound quality will ruin even the better plays. The sound is an area often overlooked but, just as you need good sightlines, you also need good sound lines. Apart from the obvious comfort and size considerations, it is imperative that the auditoria are designed with the following in mind:

Sound Reflectors in Basic Theater Design

  • External sound insulation (how many times have you heard traffic noise, trains, or building works over the soundtrack of the film you are watching?)
  • Internal sound insulation – this is particularly important with multiple screens where a loud soundtrack can leak into the adjoining auditorium
  • Services and equipment noise control – noises such as air conditioning, lifts, toilets, and projection equipment need to be controlled
  • Acoustics – acoustic design in theaters should be considered from feasibility stage – location, auditorium planning, etc. through to final commissioning


Theater Design : 7 Basic Rules for Designing a Good Theater? ›

Michael Gillette defined a seven-step design process in his book Theatrical Design and Production. We will use his system as a groundwork for ours. Gillette's model comprises of seven phases: (1) commitment, (2) analysis, (3) research, (4) incubation, (5) selection, (6) implementation, and (7) evaluation.

What are the 7 steps of the design process in theatre? ›

Michael Gillette defined a seven-step design process in his book Theatrical Design and Production. We will use his system as a groundwork for ours. Gillette's model comprises of seven phases: (1) commitment, (2) analysis, (3) research, (4) incubation, (5) selection, (6) implementation, and (7) evaluation.

What are the 5 areas of theatre design? ›

The areas of technical theatre are scenery,lighting, properties,costuming,and sound. All of these areas work together in a production to establish the place, time period, and mood of the production.

What are the 4 different elements of theatre design? ›

The main function of stage design is to support the story of the play. Stage designers must create sets, costumes, sound, and lighting to serve the purpose of the play.

What are the seven elements of theater arts? ›

To sum up, the following are the major elements of theater:
  • Performers.
  • Audience.
  • Director.
  • Theater Space.
  • Design Aspects (scenery, costume, lighting, and sound)
  • Text (which includes focus, purpose, point of view,

What are the seven basic elements of theater? ›

  • Plot. The events that occurred in the story.
  • Characters. All the names mentioned in the story.
  • Theme. The basic lessons a story is based off of.
  • Music. Helps determine the mood of the story.
  • Language. Aside, soliloquy, monologue.
  • Staging. Situation what happens.
  • Spectacle. How the audience sees the story.

What are the six elements of design in theatre? ›

The 6 Aristotelean elements are plot, character, thought, diction, spectacle, and song.

What are the 6 elements of theatre production? ›

Aristotle wondered about many things, including drama. He came to the conclusion that there were 6 elements of drama. They are: plot, character, thought, diction, melody, and spectacle.

What are the 12 elements of theatre? ›

Role and character, relationships, situation, voice, movement, focus, tension, space, time, language, symbol, audience, mood and atmosphere.

What makes a good theatre set? ›

In its most basic form is the establishment of a fictional world within the limited space of the stage. A good set design will draw the audience into the world of the play, and will not allow any opening for the “real world” to interfere with the actions of the characters and flow of the plot.

How do you make a good theatre? ›

7 Basic Rules for Designing a Good Theater
  1. Design a functioning Auditorium according to the type of performance and the number of the audience. ...
  2. Keep the standard distance for a comfortable audience seating. ...
  3. The stage is important: choose wisely. ...
  4. Keep the scenery low for better visibility.

What makes a good stage design? ›

Your audience should be the main consideration in your stage design. While it's important to keep in mind the basic elements of good stage design, which includes great lighting, it's also important to consider the demographic of the audience.

What are the steps of the design process explained? ›

Design thinking is an iterative, non-linear process which focuses on a collaboration between designers and users. It brings innovative solutions to life based on how real users think, feel and behave. This human-centered design process consists of five core stages Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.

What are the 5 steps of the design process technology grade 7? ›

Steps of the technological design process include: identify a problem, research the problem, generate possible solutions, select the best solution, create a model, test the model, refine and retest the model as needed, and communicate the final solution.

What are 6 design processes? ›

A UX Design Process can be defined in different ways, but the most common one holds six stages: Understand, Define, Create, Prototype, Test and Implement.

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