Revision:18th and 19th century performance conditions - The Student Room

Background on Victorian Theatre

18th Century

  • Stage and Stage Machinery
  • Proscenium arch theatres- fore-stage projecting just beyond
  • Downstage> door for entrances and exits
  • And/Or doors upstage for P.Arch
  • Back of Stage formed by shutters
  • Lighting>Gas from footlights and auditorium
  • Once curtain up at beginning and down at the end > scene changes visible


Changes in 19th century

  • Very few downstage doors left in theatres
  • Orchestra pit lower than stage, replaces the fore-stage= picture frame stage.
  • Creating illusion- a’picture’ This was important to Victorians
  • By 1880, Bancroft put a huge gilded frame around stage at Haymarket Theatre in London
  • Provides a big divide between actors and audience
  • Contrast to Elizabethan aim for productions.
  • Stage itself often larger than auditorium (including wings) Need space of stage in both wings
  • The height of stage is twice as high as the proscenium arch i.e around 60ft
  • Depth of stage varied enormously
  • Area under stage was excavated for machinery space.
  • Above stage machinery Things ‘flying’ down from the tower. A gridiron- a wooden structure with stage cloths.
  • ‘Act Drops’ hide away any scene changes.
  • Painted front curtain> up at beginning, down at the end.
  • Ropes on pulleys> pulled by hand and all manually managed.
  • Fly galleries connected by ladders and/or catwalks.
  • ‘Fly men’ controlling this on signal from director or prompter.
  • The underside of the lowest fly gallery would hold shutters in grooves.
  • Shutters painted in standardized way- pre-painted to depict certain scenes. i.e castle, palace, forest.



These notes are aimed at Edexcel A2 Drama Unit 6 - 16th-20th Century Performance Conditions, but will also be suitable for other A Level exam board specifications and for other courses.