Elizabethan Theatre Facts

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Elizabethan Theatre Facts

FACTS ABOUT TYPES OF ELIZABETHAN LONDON THEATERS AND PLAYHOUSES
There were three different types of venues for Elizabethan plays: Inn-yards, Open air Amphitheatres and Playhouses. The Inn-yards were the original venues of plays and many were converted into Playhouses. e The Amphitheatres were generally used during the Summer months and then the Acting Troupes moved to the indoor playhouses during the Winter Season.

FACTS ABOUT THE DEVELOPMENT OF ELIZABETHAN THEATRE

Inn-yards Facts - The early days of Elizabethan commercial theatre. Performances held in private London Inns. Inexpensive. Held indoors or the yard. Audience capacity up to 500

Open Air Amphitheaters

Facts - Think of a public outdoor structure like the Coliseum or a small football stadium with a capacity of between 1500 and 3000 people
Indoor PlayhousesFacts - A small, private indoor hall. Open to anyone who would pay but more expensive with more select audiences. Audience capacity up to 500

NAMES & LOCATIONS OF ELIZABETHAN LONDON THEATERS, PLAYHOUSES & INN-YARDS
There were many play venues in and around London. Click on the links for details of each venue. To fully appreciate the proximity of the locations please click
Locations & Descriptions of Elizabethan Theatres.. The names , dates and locations of Elizabethan Theaters, Playhouses and City Inns are as follows:

 

Facts about Amphitheaters

1576The Theatre, Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch, LondonAmphitheater
1576Newington Butts, Southwark, SurreyAmphitheater
1577The Curtain, Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch, LondonAmphitheater
1587The Rose, Bankside, SurreyAmphitheater
1595The Swan, Paris Garden, Surrey (See Top Picture)Amphitheater
1599The Globe, Bankside, SurreyAmphitheater
1600The Fortune, Golding Lane, ClerkenwellAmphitheater
1600The Boar's Head, Whitechapel, LondonAmphitheater
1604The Red Bull, ClerkenwellAmphitheater
1576The Bear Garden  Bankside, SurreyAmphitheater
1576The Bull Ring  Bankside, SurreyAmphitheater
1614The Hope  Bankside, SurreyAmphitheater

Facts about Playhouses

1576Paul's, St. Paul's Cathedral precinct, London Playhouse
1576The Blackfriars, Blackfriars, London (the first)Playhouse
1596The Blackfriars, London, (the second) Playhouse
1616The Cockpit, Drury Lane, Westminster, London Playhouse
1629Salisbury Court, LondonPlayhouse
1576Gray's Inn Theatre, LondonPlayhouse
1573Middle Temple Inn Theatre, LondonPlayhouse
1576Whitehall Theatre, LondonPlayhouse
1606Whitefriars, London Playhouse
Facts about London Inn-yards
1576 - 1594The Bull Inn, , London Inn-yard
1576 - 1594The Bell Savage, London Inn-yard
1576 - 1594The Cross Keys, London Inn-yard
1576 - 1594The Bell, London Inn-yard
1576 - 1594The White Hart, LondonInn-yard
1576 - 1594The George Inn TheatreInn-yard

Facts about the Structure and Design of the Elizabethan amphitheatres
The exact dimensions of the amphitheatres have been lost in time, however, the picture of the Swan allows for an approximation. 

Amphitheatre factsOpen arena - the actors would also get wet if it rained!
Size of amphitheatre Up to 100 feet in diameter
Varying Shapes Octagonal, circular in shape having between 8 and 24 sides
Building materialsTimber, nails, stone (flint), plaster and thatched roofs. Later amphitheatres had tiled roofs
Building Duration6 months
Overall designThe open air arena, called the 'pit' or the 'yard', had a raised stage at one end and was surrounded by three tiers of roofed galleries with balconies overlooking the back of the stage. The stage projected halfway into the 'pit'
Audience Capacity1500 plus. Up to 3000 people would flock to the theatre and its grounds
The Grounds of the theatreBustling with people. Stalls selling merchandise and refreshments. Attracted non playgoers to the market
Toilet FacilitiesNone . People relieved themselves outside. Sewage was buried in pits or disposed of in the River Thames. All theatres closed during outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague - disease would have spread via the rats & fleas
The Entrance to the theaterUsually one main entrance. Some later theatres had external staircases to access the galleries
The 'Box 'Playgoers put 1 penny in a box at the theatre entrance
Access to the Balconies & GalleriesTwo sets of stairs, either side if the theater. The first gallery would cost another penny in the box which was held by a collector at the front of the stairs. The second gallery would cost another penny
The 'Box Office'At the start of the play the admission collectors put the boxes in a room backstage - the box office. 
The 'Housekeepers'The owners of the theatre
The interior designDesign was similar but far smaller version (1500 -3000 crowd capacity) than the Coliseum of the Roman period (50,000 crowd capacity) allowing the maximum number if playgoers in the space available
LightingNatural lighting as plays were produced in the afternoon. However there was some artificial lighting mainly intended to provide atmosphere for night scenes
HeatingThere was no heating. Plays were performed in the summer months and transferred to the indoor playhouses during the winter
Stage dimensionsVarying from 20 foot wide 15 foot deep to 45 feet to 30 feet
The height of the stageA raised stage - 3 to 5 feet and supported by large pillars or trestles
The floor of the StageMade of wood, sometimes covered with rushes. Trap doors would enable some special effects e.g. smoke
The rear of the StageA roofed house-like structure was at the rear of the stage, supported by two large columns (pillars) 
The 'Herculean' columns or pillars The 'Herculean' pillars were made of huge, single tree trunks. These were drilled through the centre to eliminate warping of the wood
The 'Heavens' - a roof areaThe pillars supported a roof called the 'Heavens'
The 'Heavens'The 'Heavens' served to create an area hidden from the audience. This area provided a place for actors to hide. A selection of ropes & rigging would allow for special effects, such as flying or dramatic entries
The stage wall called the 'Frons Scenae' taken from LatinBehind the pillars was the stage wall. A doorway to the left and right and a curtained central doorway from which the actors made their entrances. Above the door area was a highly decorative screen called the 'Frons Scenae' (taken from the name given by Imperial Rome to the stage walls of their amphitheatres)
The Stage Gallery above the Stage Wall - The ' Lord's rooms'Immediately above stage wall was the stage gallery that was used by actors (Juliet's balcony) & the rich the nobility -  known as 'Lord's rooms.'
The stage wall called the 'Frons Scenae' taken from LatinBehind the pillars was the stage wall, covered by a curtain. Above the curtain was a highly decorative screen. The 'Frons Scenae' was the name given by Imperial Rome to the stage walls of their amphitheatres
The Balcony above the Stage Wall - The ' Lord's rooms' Immediately above stage wall was a balcony that was used either by actors (Juliet's balcony) or the rich the nobility -  known as 'Lord's rooms.'
The 'Lord's rooms'Considered the best seats in the 'house' despite the poor view of the back of the actors. The audience would have a good view of the Lords. And the Lords were able to hear the actors clearly. The cost was 5 pence & cushioned seats were provided
MusiciansMusic was an extra effect added in the 1600's. The musicians would also reside in the Lords rooms
The 'Gentlemen's rooms'There were additional balconies on the left and right of the 'lord's rooms' which were called the 'Gentlemen's rooms. For rich patrons of the theater - the cost was 4 pence & cushioned seats were provided
The 'Tiring House'The stage wall contained at least two doors which lead to a leading to  small structure, back stage, called the 'Tiring House'. The stage wall was covered by a curtain. The actors used this area to change their attire
The 'Hut'Above the 'Tiring House' was a small house-like structure called the 'hut' complete with roof. Used as covered storage space for the troupe
Elizabethan advertisingAbove the hut was a small tower with a flag pole. Flags were erected on the day of the performance displaying a picture advertising the next play to be performed. (See the top picture of the Globe)
The 'pit' (also referred to as the 'yard')The stage projected halfway into the 'pit', also called the 'yard' (if tiled or cobbled) where the commoners (groundlings) paid 1 penny to stand to watch the play. They would have crowded around the 3 sides of the stage. 
GroundlingsCommoners who paid 1 penny admission to stand to watch the play
'Stinkards'During the height of the summer the groundlings were also referred to as 'stinkards' for obvious reasons
Access to the GalleriesTwo sets of stairs, either side if the theater. The stairways could also be external to the main structure to give maximum seating space
Seats in the galleries - Three levels

 

The seats in each of the three levels of galleries were tiered with three rows of wooden benches, increasing in size towards the back, following the shape of the building. The galleries were covered affording some shelter from the elements. 

Facts about the Swan Theatre in Paris Garden, Surrey
The following picture of the Swan theatre by Johannes de Witt, a Dutch traveller, who visited the Swan is dated between 1596-1598. The picture was accompanied by what is probably the single most important source of our knowledge and facts about the internal layout of the London theatres. It consists of a diary note together with a sketch of the internal layout of the Swan Theatre.The amphitheatres were similar in design, so the picture of the Swan can be used a good guide to the structure and layout of the old Globe and other Elizabethan amphitheatres. For more info click the following link Swan Theatre

For more information, details and facts about the Elizabethan Theatre please click the following links

Elizabethan Theatre Locations - Descriptions of all London Theaters including Swan, Rose,
Bear Garden, Cockpit, Hope, Curtain Theaters

Elizabethan Theatres - Theaters, Amphitheatres, playhouses and Inn-yards
in London with names, pictures and descriptions

Elizabethan Playwrights and Authors - Plays and Books by Christopher Marlowe,
Beaumont, Fletcher, Middleton and Kyd

Elizabethan Acting Troupes who visited Stratford
Lord Strange's, Leicester's, Essex's, Berkeley's and Worcester's men

Visiting the New Globe Theater - a London vacation

Elizabethan Theatre Facts

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