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Warren Hammack Horse Cave Theatre stagehand at work Pamela White
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Theater Styles  |  Theater Tech  |  Crossover Terms  |  Puzzle

Types of Theater (and Theaters)

The vocabulary of theater reflects the many sides of performance and production; theater terminology is literary, artistic, and technical. Consider, for instance, the fact that the word “theater” itself refers both to an art form and to the physical space where it is presented.

For Thought and Discussion:

Describe the stage that is used at Horse Cave Theatre. What are some factors to consider in determining the size and configuration of a performance area?

To start with the concrete, here are some different types of stages:

AMPHITHEATER  |  an oval or round structure with no roof that has tiers of seating rising from the center.

ARENA STAGE  |  a stage without a proscenium arch and with seats on three or four sides, allowing close association between actors and spectators.

BOX STAGE  |  a rectangular stage that opens to an auditorium. A box stage is often enclosed by a proscenium.

PROSCENIUM  |  a frame or arch separating the stage from the auditorium. The arch contains a stage curtain and provides atmosphere and a sense of spectacle. The proscenium opening was of particular importance to the Realistic playwrights of the 19th century, such as Ibsen and Shaw, for whom it was a picture frame or an imaginary fourth wall through which the audience experienced the illusion of spying on characters.

THEATER IN THE ROUND  |  an acting area or stage that may be viewed from all sides simultaneously.

Various experimental stages may also be used in contemporary drama—such as the placement of actors within the audience.

And now, “theater” in its other sense ... some forms of drama:

BROADWAY MUSICAL  |  a production that incorporates contemporary music to convey element, plot, character, mood, and setting.

BURLESQUE  |  a form of low comedy that mocks a broad topic.

CABARET  |  a show produced in a small space with limited seating, such as a restaurant or a nightclub.

COMEDY  |  a play that treats characters and situations in a humorous way.

MELODRAMA  |  originally considered serious plays; now usually plays based on romantic plots that have little regard for convincing motivation or detailed characterization.

PANTOMIME or MIME  |  acting without words.

SATIRE  |  a style of comedy that holds up human vices to ridicule.

VAUDEVILLE  |  Horse Cave Theatre was originally a Vaudeville theater. If you think that sounds like a place, you’re not far off: The term Vaudeville came from the “Valley of Vire” in France, home of some heavy-duty songwriting and entertaining in the 15th century. Now the term refers to a form of stage entertainment that includes all sorts of variety acts. Vaudeville theater reached its peak in the early 20th century.

To experience the sights and sounds of Vaudeville, visit the Vintage Vaudeville and Ragtime Show on the web. And the PBS series American Masters has some historical background and information about several artists on its Vaudeville page.

Finally, you can browse a collection of posters, playbills, sheet music, and other materials from the Vaudeville era at the Library of Congress American Variety Stage site. The collection illustrates the vibrant and diverse forms of popular entertainment, especially Vaudeville, that were booming from 1870 to 1920.

Web Picks: More Theater Facts

For a more extensive theater vocabulary, visit Tupelo Community Theatre’s web site, which has a great glossary of theater terms.

And for a look behind the scenes, take our Tour of the Theater, from the KET Drama Arts Toolkit.

Theater Styles  |  Theater Tech  |  Crossover Terms  |  Puzzle

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