Colleges and other theater training programs employ the black box theater because the space is versatile and easy to change. Many theater training programs will have both a large proscenium theater, as well as a black box theater. Not only does this allow two productions to be mounted simultaneously, but they can also have a large extravagant production in the main stage while having a small experimental show in the black box.
Most older black boxes were built more like television studios, with a low pipe grid overhead. Newer black boxes typically feature catwalks or tension grids, the latter combining the flexibility of the pipe grid with the accessibility of a catwalk.
Black box theaters became popular and widespread particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, during which low-cost experimental theater was being actively practiced as never before. Since almost any warehouse or open space in any building can be transformed into a black box, including abandoned cafés and stores, the appeal for nonprofit and low-income artists is high. The black box is also considered by many to be a place where more "pure" theater can be explored, with the most human and least technical elements being in focus.
The interiors of most black box theaters are, true to their name, painted black. The absence of color not only gives the audience a sense of "anyplace" (and thus allows flexibility from play to play or from scene to scene), it also allows individual lighting cues to be that much stronger.
Not only can actual productions be held in the black box, but It is also commonly used in highschools and colleges as a practice area, owing to the large demand on the use of the auditorium. where the stage is normally located. This allows for a more flexible practice schedule and a more compact area to learn the piece without the distraction of sets.
The concept of a building designed for flexible staging techniques can be attributed to Swiss designer Adolphe Appia, circa 1921, and instigated a half century of innovations in the relationship between audience and performers. The first flexible stage in America (not a proper Black Box due to the domestic decor) was located in the home living room of actor/manager Gilmor Brown in Pasadena, CA. This venue, and two subsequent permutations, were known as the Playbox Theatre
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