A Proscenium theatre is a theatre space whose primary feature is a large archway (the proscenium arch) at or near the front of the stage, through which the audience views the play. The audience directly faces the stage, which is typically raised several feet above front row audience level. The main stage is the space behind the proscenium arch, often marked by a curtain which can be lowered or drawn closed. The space in front of the curtain is called the "apron". The areas obscured by the proscenium arch and any curtains serving the same purpose (often called legs or tormentors) are called the wings. Any space not viewable to the audiences is collectively referred to as offstage. Proscenium stages range in size from small enclosures to several stories tall. In general practice, a theatre space is referred to as a "proscenium" any time the audience directly faces the stage, with no audience on any other side, even if there is not a formal proscenium arch over the stage. Because of the somewhat incongruous nature of a theatre called a proscenium theater without a proscenium arch, these theatres are often referred to as "end-on" theater spaces.


The term has a complex origin and originally meant something very different. It derives from the Greek proskenion, meaning "in front of the scene". The scene was a building with doors that served as the backdrop in Ancient Greek theater. The proskenion was a raised stage in front of the scene which appeared in the Hellenistic era and in Roman theater; it served simply to make the actors higher to aid visibility, and to separate them from the chorus. Ancient theaters thus lacked the modern proscenium arch. It was also absent from Renaissance theaters.

The proscenium arch developed in seventeenth century theaters, alongside the development of illusionist scenery. This design has been the most common for theater spaces in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in Western theater.


The proscenium arch creates a "window" around the scenery and actors. The advantages are that it gives everyone in the audience a good view because the actors need only focus on one direction rather than continually moving around the stage to give a good view from all sides. A proscenium theater layout also simplifies the hiding and obscuring of objects from the audience's view (sets, actors not currently performing, and theater technology). Anything that is not meant to be seen is simply placed outside the "window" created by the proscenium arch.

The side of the stage that faces the audience is referred to as the "fourth wall". The phrase "breaking the proscenium" refers to when the actor addresses the audience directly as part of the dramatic production (is also known as breaking the fourth wall). The phrase can also refer to when a member of the cast or crew walks onto the stage or into the house when there is an audience inside, also breaking the fourth wall.

Proscenium theatres have fallen out of favor in some theater circles because they perpetuate the fourth wall concept. The staging in proscenium theatres often implies that the characters performing on stage are doing so in a four-walled environment, with the "wall" facing the audience being invisible. Many modern theatres attempt to do away with the fourth wall concept and so are instead designed with a thrust stage that projects out of the proscenium arch and "reaches" into the audience (technically, this can still be referred to as a proscenium theater because it still contains a proscenium arch, however the term thrust stage is more specific and more widely used).

Other forms of theater staging

  • Alley Theater: The stage is surrounded on two sides by the audience.
  • Thrust: The stage is surrounded on three sides (or 270˚) by audience. Can be modification of proscenium staging. Sometimes known as "Three Quarter Round".
  • Theater in the round: The stage is surrounded by audience on all sides.
  • Environmental theater: The stage and audience either blend together, or are in numerous or oddly shaped sections. Includes any form of staging that is not easily classifiable under the above categories.
  • Black box theatre: The black box theater is a relatively recent innovation consisting of a large square room with black walls and a flat floor. The seating is typically composed of loose chairs on platforms, which can be easily moved or removed to allow the entire space to be adapted to the artistic elements of a production.
  • Studio Theatre Layout: Not technically a form of staging, rather a theater that can be reconfigured to accommodate many forms of staging.

See also

External links

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