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Theatre in the round

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The stage of the Cockpit Theatre, London, has seating on four sides

Theatre-in-the-round or arena theatre (also referred to as central staging) is any theatre space in which the audience surrounds the stage area. In 1947, Margo Jones established America's first professional theatre-in-the-round company when she opened her Theatre ’47 in Dallas.

As developed by Margo Jones, her theatre-in-the-round concept requires no stage curtain, little scenery and allows the audience to sit on all sides of the stage. That stage design was used by directors in later years for such well-known shows as the original stage production of Man of La Mancha and all plays staged at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre (demolished in the late 1960s), including Arthur Miller's autobiographical After the Fall. Such theatres had previously existed in colleges but not in professional spaces. It is also a popular setup used in contemporary pop concerts in an arena or stadium setting.

Configuration of the stage

The stage itself in this arrangement is typically round, diamond, or triangular, with actors entering and exiting through the audience from different directions or from below the stage. Such a space is usually configured with the stage on an even level with or lowered below the audience in a "pit" or "arena" formation. This configuration lends itself to high-energy productions, and is especially favoured by producers of classical theatre. Theatre-in-the-round was common in ancient theatre, particularly that of Greece and Rome but was not widely explored again until the latter half of the 20th century; it has continued as a creative alternative to the more common Proscenium format.

Theatre-in-the-round presents problems since actors at all times have their back facing some members of the audience. However, it also allows for interesting and realistic staging. The configuration is also commonly employed when theatrical performances are presented in non-traditional spaces such as restaurants, public areas such as fairs or festivals, or street theatre. Special consideration needs to be taken in regard to the set design, so as not to obscure any audience member's view of the performance.

History of Theatre-in-the-Round

In Margo Jones's survey of theatre-in-the-round, the first two sources of central staging in the United States she identified were the productions by Azubah Latham and Milton Smith at Columbia University dating from 1914, and T. Earl Pardoe's productions at Brigham Young University in 1922. In 1924, Gilmor Brown founded the Fairoaks Playbox in Pasadena, California, an important early practitioner of central staging in addition to other stage configurations that it pioneered in its advent of flexible staging. As Indicated by Jones, the centrally staged productions of the Fairoaks Playbox were followed approximately eight years later by the work of Glenn Hughes in his Seattle Penthouse.

Uses in television and concert halls

The innovations of Margo Jones were an obvious influence on Albert McCleery when he created his Cameo Theatre for television in 1950. Continuing until 1955, McCleery offered dramas seen against pure black backgrounds instead of walls of a set. This enabled cameras in the darkness to pick up shots from any position.

When an arena staging was conceived for the progressive-rock group Yes by their tour manager Jim Halley in the mid-1970s, it prompted a redesign of rock concerts and venue seating arrangements.

Arena stage archive

George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia is home to the largest Arena Stage Archive and contains material from the theatre's 50 year history. Included in the collection are photographs, production notebooks, scrapbooks, playbills, oral histories and handwritten correspondence. According to their website, the total volume is 260 cubic feet (7.4 m3) or 440 feet (130 m) linear and is housed in the Fenwick Library.

Theatres in the round

  • United Kingdom
    • The Castle Theatre (can be in the round or normal theatre format)
    • Cockpit Theatre, London
    • New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire
    • Octagon Theatre, Bolton
    • Orange Tree Theatre, London
    • Pembroke Theatre (no longer exists) Croydon
    • The Round, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
    • Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
    • Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
  • United States
    • Arizona
      • Northern Arizona University
      • Celebrity Theatre, Phoenix, Arizona
    • California
      • The Wells Fargo Pavilion, Sacramento, California, home of California Musical Theatre's Music Circus
      • Heritage Forum, Anaheim, California
      • Glendale Centre Theatre, Glendale, California
      • Golden Bough Playhouse, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
      • Marian Theatre, Santa Maria, California
      • Solvang Festival Theatre, Solvang, California
      • Cassius Carter Centre Stage, Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, CA (demolished 2008)
      • Cheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, CA (expected completion 2010)
      • Circle Star Theatre, San Carlos, California (torn down for office buildings)
      • Riverside Community Players, Riverside (built in 1953)
    • Colorado
      • The Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, Denver, CO
    • District of Columbia
    • Illinois
      • Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, Illinois
      • Mill Run Playhouse, Niles, Illinois (demolished 1984)
      • Richmond Hill Theatre, Geneseo, Illinois
    • Indiana
      • Wagon Wheel Theatre, Warsaw, Indiana
    • Iowa
      • Flanagan Studio Theatre, Grinnell, Iowa
    • Maryland
      • Colonial Players, Annapolis, Maryland
      • Shady Grove Music Fair, Gaithersburg, MD (Demolished)
      • Painters Mill Music Fair, Owings Mills, MD (Demolished 1991)
    • Massachusetts
      • North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, Massachusetts
      • Cape Cod Melody Tent, Hyannis, Massachusetts
      • South Shore Music Circus, Cohasset, Massachusetts
      • The Little Theatre, Newton North High School, Newton
      • Balch Arena Theatre, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts
    • Minnesota
    • Missouri
      • Kauffman Centre for the Performing Arts, Kansas City
    • Nevada
      • Le Rêve Theatre in the Wynn Las Vegas casino resort in Las Vegas
      • LOVE in Las Vegas
    • New Jersey
      • TITR at Seton Hall University, South Orange
    • New York
      • Circle Repertory Company, New York City
      • The Irish Classical Theatre in Buffalo
      • Capital One Bank Theatre at Westbury, Westbury
      • Westbury Music Fair, Westbury Music Fair
    • Ohio
      • Front Row Theatre Columbus, Ohio
      • Kent State University, Kent, Ohio
    • Oregon
      • The New Theatre, Ashland, Oregon; one of the theaters used for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
    • Pennsylvania
      • F. Otto Haas, the mainstage theatre of the Arden Theatre Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
      • Valley Forge Music Fair, Valley Forge, PA (Demolished 1997)
    • South Carolina
      • Longstreet Theatre at the University of South Carolina
    • Tennessee
      • Ula Love Doughty Carousel Theatre, Knoxville, Tennessee
    • Texas
      • Artisan Center Theatre, Hurst
      • Casa Mañana, Fort Worth (converted to thrust stage in 2003)
      • Margo Jones' Theatre '47
    • Virginia
      • The Barksdale Theatre in Richmond, Virginia
    • Washington
  • Hale Centre Theatre, West Valley City, Utah and Gilbert, Arizona
  • Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, California (Was temporarily in the round for the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards.)

In popular culture

  • In the novel The Prestige by Christopher Priest, the magician Rupert Angier courts controversy by writing that stage magic should be performed "in the round" rather than in theatres with a proscenium arch.
  • British rock band Def Leppard played "in the round" for several tours in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their 1989 live VHS release was entitled Live: In the Round, in Your Face.
  • American thrash metal band Metallica have employed "in the round" staging for their arena shows since the early 1990s
  • In order to give a show similar to a three ring circus, American singer Britney Spears used an in-the-round setting for her 2009 The Circus Starring Britney Spears tour.
  • Dane Cook's - Vicious Circle stand up was performed "in the round"
  • The Spice Girls used a circular stage in the round setting for their Christmas in Spiceworld tour in 1997
  • U2's 360° Tour uses a very large circular stage structure.
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