When you ask a person to describe the layout of a theatre to you, most people show you that the stage goes on one end of the building, and the audience goes on the other, facing the stage. Most theatre-goers are probably not aware that the space they watch the majority of plays in is not the only way that an audience can be engaged with the actors on the stage. In Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost directed by Mark Harrison a “thrust” stage is used to being the audience closer to the action of the play. The thrust space has the audience arced around the stage, almost completely covering the front, and two sides of the stage. Only backstage is reserved for the actors, everywhere else the audience is able to peer down on the action unfolding below them. The theatrical space definitely has an impact on how a certain play must be presented to an audience. It is very apparent after watching Love’s Labour’s Lost that the director had to stage the action of the play to involve everyone in the audience, and not just the people directly in front of the stage.
Normal blocks guidelines tell directors, and thus actors, to always keep the back away from the audience. They need to face the audience at all time, but how is this going to happen on a stage where 3 sides of your body are always exposed to the audience? Mark Harrison’s answer comes in the form of movement. In the opening scene of Love’s Labour’s Lost the actors are constantly circling the stage, so everyone gets a good view of every aspect of each character. At first, this kind of blocking may seem unnatural, because the characters seem to move for no apparent reason, but after careful examination, the circle-blocking is actually a very effective method of staging. Harrison planned out the first scene’s movements well, always changing the direction a character would face during appropriate beats. The characters would not circle about the stage randomly, but instead, that would move to oppose each other, as in an argument. The movements actually helped drive the play along and give meaning to an otherwise cluttered script, that without proper blocking nearly impossible to interpret.
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The first act concludes with all three male characters spying on one another, each realizing that they are all falling in love with women, and cannot find a way to stay true to their oath. This scene involves a man on a ladder, suspended high above the stage, swinging about in a manner so everyone in the audience gets a very of every angle of his body. Below the other two actors approach from opposite corners of the stage, giving different audience members different views into the action taking place in front, or opposite of them. The thrust space has the added benefit of giving every audience members a slightly different show. This keeps someone interested in the scene, always wondering what it would look like if they could simply move to the other side of the audience, and view the action from the perspective of someone over there. Undoubtedly seeing a play set in a thrust space on two different occasions, and two different seats will cause a person to come out with a different understanding of what went on, and what kind of work was involved in making this play come to life.
The task for the performer is to make sure that the move about the stage in a way that engages everyone, but at the same time fits in with their characters scene objective and super-objective. The messenger in the play is a very chipper character, who seems very natural bouncing around the stage. On a different note, the brave knight has so much power and valour, that his dramatic walks around the stage, proclaiming his love for the fair maiden help make his monologues melodramatic to a point that they are comical and very enjoyable. This play would definitely be approached at a different angle by each actor if it were set in a proscenium layout.
So we have seen that the director and actors must work carefully together to make sure that everyone in the audience gets a good experience while attending a performance in a thrust space. We also can see that the audience has the opportunity to view the play from different angles, which can deepen their appreciation for the theatre and the use of different spaces to present a particular show. The thrust is an amazing aspect of some theatres that lets everyone involved come away with a unique experience that will change the way they partake in drama, whether it be performing or attending a show.
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