16th and 17th century performance conditions
h The form of Elizabethan theatre derived from the innyards and animal baiting rings in which actors had been accustomed to perform in in the past. They were circular wooden buildings with a paved courtyard in the middle. Such a theatre would hold around 3,000 spectators. The yards were about 80 feet in diameter and the rectangular stage 40ft by 30ft in height
h Groundling only paid a penny to get in, but for wealthier spectators there were seats in the three covered tiers or galleries between the inner and outer walls of the buildings extending round most of the auditorium and stage. It depended on your status as to where you viewed it from
h The stage was partially covered by a roof or canopy, which projected from the wall of the theatre and was supported by two posts at the front. This protected the stage and performers from the changeable weather. It also used to secure winches and other stage machinery used for stage effects. On either side at the back was the stage door that lead to dressing rooms or tiring house and the actors entered and exited through here.
h In 1608 the king¡¦s men acquired a second playhouse, indoors in Blackfriars. It held 700 people with seats for all, facilities for elaborate stage effects and artificial lighting. The price of admission was higher that at public playhouses thus leading to a more selective audience.
h There was little room for scenery and props and nowhere to store them. Performances had to be transferable from the playhouse to court to private noble houses. Due to lack of scenery and props actors had to explain where they were.
h Setting was used to suggest dramatic mood or situation. Staging was consistent with many short scenes in quick succession. Because of continuous staging and lack of scenery actors had to tell audience what locality the stage represented.
h It was impossible to pretend that the audience was not watching a contrived performance. Performance took place during the day due to being in the open and the stage used natural lighting to illuminate characters evenly. Actors wore contemporary dress appropriate for the character.
h The audience would be aware that they could not lose concentration as well as the actors because unlike conventional theatre they did not have set or elaborate costume to support the presentation of their character to an audience
h Public performances generally took place in the afternoon, beginning about three o'clock and lasting perhaps two hours. Candles were used when daylight began to fade. The beginning of the play was announced by the hoisting of a flag and the blowing of a trumpet. There were playbills, those for tragedy being printed in red. Often after a serious piece a short farce was also given; and at the close of the play the actors, on their knees, recited an address to the king or queen. The price of entrance varied with the theater, the play, and the actors; but it was roughly a penny to sixpence for the pit, up to half a crown for a box. A three-legged stool on the stage at first cost sixpence extra; but this price was later doubled.
h The house itself was not unlike a circus, with a good deal of noise and dirt. On the stage, which ran far out into the auditorium, would be seated a few of the early gallants, playing cards, smoking, waited upon by their pages. At first there was little music, but soon players of instruments were added to the company. The stage was covered with straw or rushes. There may have been a painted wall with trees and hedges, or a castle interior with practicable furniture. A placard announced the scene.. The audience was near and could view the stage from three sides, so that no "picture" was possible. Whatever effects were gained were the result of the gorgeous and costly costumes of the actors, together with the art and skill with which they were able to invest their roles. The inn-court type of stage...
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