|The Beggar's Opera|
Rough theatres rejoice! There is no reason to be embarrassed about non permanent seating! Join me in celebrating the growing trend of incorporating the audience into set designs: a practice that gives even the dingiest performance spaces an advantage over the most ornate prosceniums on Broadway.
When a production team mounts a project in a nontraditional space and the members have to decide on a seating layout that will work best for their show, it forces them to think about what part they want the audience to play in the production. Contemporary theorists have asserted that the audience is just as responsible for the quality of a show as the creative team. When we have the freedom to manipulate how an audience member is situated, it allows us to make a subtle, perhaps even unconscious suggestion to the spectator about how they should be viewing the play. Both the original and the revival of Shaffer’s Equus elevated the audience around the playing space, simultaneously giving the audience members an air of omnipotence and entrapping the players in the world onstage. The Broadway production of Inherit the Wind put some audience members into an actual jury box to judge the epic Scopes monkey trial for themselves.
This is especially important to those of us who are interested in progressive theatre, for the activists using the medium to make claims about today's society to inspire thought and change. It’s exciting to know that we can give viewers a little push in the right direction simply by the way we seat them. Incorporating the audience into the design is an ever present friendly reminder that the audience is not a constant; it is living and breathing, just like the production.
Extra onstage seating was common in 18th century
These are some of the reasons I am incredibly proud that