All the World's a Stage... Theater in the Round vs. Proscenium Stage
Shakespeare's immortal words live on in all theater through the worlds of his plays. And yet the stages those words are spoken on have varied greatly over the years. Still, Shakespeare is Shakespeare, whether you see his works at a fair, as a street performance, or in a professional theater, right? Not really. As any good director or actor knows, the type of stage the play is acted on changes the style of the play quite a bit. The stage is just as much a part of the play as is the title of the play itself, the actors, or the director. Each plays a vital part in the making of an extraordinary play. Every theater goer should know at least a little bit about each different type of stage. Spectators can then more easily enjoy the play and enhance their ability to judge which play they would like to see, before they go to see it. This saves both time and money in choosing first which play would be best for you. Two of the most common, and the most different, types of stages are known as proscenium theater, and theater in the round. A brief comparison of the two shows how amazingly different the two stages are, and how the different types of stages affect the actors, as well as the audience.
Stages for the Actor and the Audience
An actor used to the modern proscenium stage, with the audience looking in on the action through an 'invisible forth wall', might find themselves totally unprepared for the constant scrutiny of theater in the round, with the audience surrounding the stage, watching the actor from all angles. The spectator as well might become bored watching a play on a proscenium stage if they are used to the constant action and interaction that comes with theater in the round. How you act and how you watch each play depends on it's stage, and the differences begin at the very basic level, the layout.
The arrangement of each theater is extremely different. The stage area for theater in the round is usually set at the bottom of arena-like seating. The audience looks down on the stage from above, and actors must always be aware of the spectators at their backs, as well as the ones in front of them. The proscenium stage, on the other hand, is shaped very like a box, and set at the front of many rows of seats. For this stage the audience is looking directly at the actors, but from only one direction. This makes it so the actors only need worry about that direction.
Pros and Cons
One of the disadvantages of theater in the round is that the 360' view prevents the use of any curtains, and very little scenery. The actors must rely on only their charm and pantomiming to get the audience to understand where the play is set and the scene's surroundings. But with a proscenium stage, elaborate sets are often used, massive pieces of furniture, and many different backdrops can also be utilized. Actors can hide in the wings, behind curtains, or even act on top of platforms, giving the play many different dimensions.
Another thing for actors to worry about is projection, making their voices heard over whatever else might be going on. With theater in the round this can be very difficult, because no matter which way an actor is facing he always has his back to at least part of the audience. So, even though he may seem to be yelling or unbearably loud to the people in front of him, those sitting behind him can hardly hear a thing. With a proscenium stage, this is not an issue since all of the audience is seated in one place.
But theater in the round also has it's advantages. For one thing, the actors can enter from anywhere, even behind the audience, and many good theater in the round productions often includes the audience in the play, keeping them both interested, and entertained. The proscenium stage, because it is set away from the audience and created to feel as if the audience were 'looking in', cannot usually incorporate the audience, nor can actors come down off the stage, for fear of not being able to be seen. The audience can sometimes feel detached from the play, and sometimes even bored, the very last thing any director or actor would want.
To Wrap Up
Overall, the advantage or disadvantage each stage presents can be overcome by a good director who understands the stage he's working on, and by actors who follow that director's instructions. Audience members who are knowledgeable about the different kinds of stages can more easily choose the kind of play they would like to see, but without a good director, the play is not going to be very good. Some directors work better with certain kinds of stages, and some don't.
But any director without good actors and an audience is nothing. And as an audience, or even a prospective actor, it is always best to know what you are getting yourself into, be it proscenium theater or theater in the round, or some completely different type of stage.