THE ENGLISH AUDIENCE AND PLAYHOUSE

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By the 18th century, the stage was deepened to about 50 feet while the auditorium was increased in size to accommodate more people, but “the basic arrangement remained constant”. However, interest in stage spectacle constrained David Garrick in 1771 to hire a professional French designer, Philoppe Jacques Deloutherbourg “to oversee all elements of spectacle”. It is on record that Deloutherbourg made enormous contributions in this direction. Breckett and Hildy explain that:

He popularised reproduction of real places on the stage. To increase illusion, he broke up the stage pictures with ground rows and set pieces to gain a greater sense of depth and reality and to avoid the symmetrical composition imposed by parallel wings. He used miniature figures at the rear of the stage to depict battles, marching armies, and sailing vessels; and sound effects such as waves, rain, hail, and distant guns, to increase the illusion of reality. He revamped the lighting system; installing overhead battens, using silk screens and gauze curtains to gain subtle varieties in color and to simulate various weather conditions and times of day.

By the late 19th century, ‘industrial revolution’ had made England the leading manufacturing nation. As we have noted elsewhere, the working class attended the theatre in large numbers and this necessitated the expansion of theatre resources and the building of new theatres. The evolution of electricity, sophisticated lighting equipment, and complex stage machinery, helped to make the English stage a wonder to behold. In fact, since the nineteenth-century, steady improvement in stage technology has continued to enable theatre designers to dazzle their audiences with spectacular effects.

CONCLUSION

In this study article, attempt was made to examine the role of the theatre audience, the nature of the English audience from the Elizabethan to the contemporary times, as well as the development of the English playhouse. The study shows that the audience is crucial to the theatre business because it is the interplay between it and the actor that brings a play to life. Also, it was noted that the English audience was a warm and enthusiastic one and that from time to time, it dictated the form the English drama assumed.

On playhouse, it was observed that the English playhouse evolved from the courtyards of inns and was later influenced by the bear – baiting garden. From its octagonal shape during the time of Shakespeare, the outlook of the English theatre began to change during the Restoration time when the octagonal playhouse was replaced with the proscenium- type, with marvelous scenic effects.

This article discusses two aspects of the English drama – the audience and the playhouse. Certain undeniable roles of the audience in theatre productions are highlighted before going on to explain the characteristics of the Elizabethan, Restoration, 18th century, Victorian, and Modern English audiences. The study also takes a cursory look at the English playhouse, observing that this playhouse developed gradually from the open Globe-type prevalent during the Elizabethan times, to the roofed proscenium type evolved during the Restoration period, acquiring sophistication in design and equipment as the English people grow technologically.

 

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