Can a Theatre Be Both Beautiful and Functional?

Emma Evans

It’s a question that comes up in debate time and again; can something that is truly beautiful really be perfectly functional? And can something that works absolutely as it should also be stunning to look at? Can these two elements ever combine?

When it comes to the theatre, the answer is yes. When an auditorium is designed well, the beauty and the functionality of it come together exactly as they should to make a space that people want to be in. There are many different ways that this can be done, and here are just some of them.

Build A Tilted Stage

The stage is the most important element in a theatre in many ways; it’s where the action is to take place, it’s where everyone is going to be focused throughout the show. So it needs to be seen from every seat (if possible) and at every angle. It also needs to be big enough to allow the performers to do their thing uninterrupted. The last thing anyone wants is for reality to come crashing down into a play or musical or concert because someone misjudged how wide the stage really is… The tilted stage can work wonders when it comes to both looking good, and being user-friendly. This kind of stage is all about the optical illusion, tricking the audience into believing that it’s bigger than it is so they don’t feel cheated and the grandeur of attending the performance can still be there for them. Yet, because the stage is smaller than a standard flat one, more seats can be fitted in. Everyone’s happy (even the performers once they get used to the incline). The only problem comes if you build it on too steep a slope.

Steeply Ascending Seating

Ascending seating is what you’ll find most of in modern day theatres. It means that the seat behind is on a step up from the one in front, providing everyone with as clear a view as possible (tall people and top hats notwithstanding). The more steeply you arrange the seats, the better view people will have, which ticks the functionality box. However, surprisingly enough it also ticks the beauty box because dramatically tiered seating offers an impressive and striking look within any theatre space.

Shallowly Ascending Seating

As you might expect, the smaller the step between each row of seats, the shallower, in other words, the more chance there is of an audience member not being able to see too well. However, although that’s the case when it comes to shows that demand you be staring at the stage the entire time (plays, ballet, musicals and so on), it’s not such a problem in a workshop, lecture, or other kind of talk. In fact, if there is going to be audience participation involved in some way, the shallower the better. Plus, shallowly ascending seating doesn’t take away from the beauty aspect either. It’s not dramatic, but it does flow well and adds a sense of continuity and movement to the room.

Classical Or Modern: Match It Well

Old theatres are wonderful, evocative, gorgeously deep, dark places to be with their chandeliers and their scrolling wall mounts. Modern theatres are exciting, fresh, full of angles and twists and turns, full of lightness and brightness. One is not better than the other, even though many people will have their favourite. The key, though, in whatever kind of theatre you’re working in, is to match your interior design elements to the building itself. Don’t try to have modern, square seating in a room that demands something curlier and curvier. Don’t attempt to install classical looking furniture in an auditorium that needs to be modern and even futuristic. Match it up well, and the beauty and functionality of the place will shine through.

Don’t Forget The Sound

The acoustics in a theatre need to be right. Forget them, or design them wrong, and you’ll have people demanding their money back because they couldn’t hear what was going on. You’ll also have performers refusing to play at your venue because they can’t hear themselves enough, or it’s too much. A balance needs to be struck, which is why a sound engineer should really be consulted for a job such as this. You don’t have to sacrifice beautiful design just to make the acoustics work though.

Don’t Forget The Comfort

Everyone wants to be comfortable. And in the theatre, they need to be comfortable. If they’re not, they won’t enjoy the show so much – instead, they’ll be wanting the interval (or the end) to come as soon as possible, just to relieve the tension that only an uncomfortable seat can solicit. Plus, all that moving around… the performers aren’t going to appreciate it. To ensure that everyone has a great time, prioritise your theatre seating and make it as comfortable as possible. The right design can look truly amazing, and if you have your seating designed just for you, it can have quite an impact.

Image Credit: Race Furniture