Black box theater

Rustaveli Theatre
A black box theater used by drama students in Union City High School in New Jersey.

A black box theater (or experimental theater) consists of a simple, somewhat unadorned performance space, usually a large square room with black walls and a flat floor. It is a relatively recent innovation in theatre.[1] Not to be confused with black light theater, which is also known as black theater.


Black box theaters became popular and widespread particularly in the 1960s and 1970s.[1] Since almost any large room, including abandoned cafés, stores and warehouses can be transformed into a black box, cost can be low, which appeals to nonprofit and low-income artists. The black box is also considered by many to be a place where more "pure" theatre can be explored, with the most human and least technical elements being in focus.

The concept of a building designed for flexible staging techniques can be attributed to Swiss designer Adolphe Appia, circa 1921, and instigated a half century of innovations in the relationship between audience and performers. Antonin Artaud also had ideas of a stage of this kind. The first flexible stage in America (not a proper Black Box due to the domestic decor) was located in the home living room of actor/manager Gilmor Brown in Pasadena, CA. This venue, and two subsequent permutations, were known as the Playbox Theatre,[2] and functioned as an experimental space for Brown's larger venue, the Pasadena Playhouse.


Such spaces are easily built and maintained, and are usually home to plays or other performances with very basic technical arrangements, such as limited Set construction. Common floor plans include thrust stage, modified thrust stage, and theater in the round.

Colleges and other theater training programs employ the black box theater[3] because the space is versatile and easy to change. Many theater training programs will have both a large proscenium theater, as well as a black box theater. Not only does this allow two productions to be mounted simultaneously, but they can also have a large extravagant production in the main stage while having a small experimental show in the black box.

Black Box spaces are also popular at Fringe theater festivals; due to their simple design and equipment they can be used for many performances each day. This simplicity also means that a Black box theater can be adapted from other spaces, such as hotel conference rooms. This is prevalent at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe where the larger venues will hire entire buildings and divide each room to be rented out to several theater companies.

"The Black Box Theatre" in Oslo, Norway,[4] and the Alvina Krause Studio at Northwestern University[3] are theaters of this type.

Technical features

Most older black boxes were built more like television studios, with a low pipe grid overhead. Newer black boxes typically feature catwalks or tension grids, the latter combining the flexibility of the pipe grid with the accessibility of a catwalk.

The interiors of most black box theatres are, true to their name, painted black. The absence of colour not only gives the audience a sense of "anyplace"[1] (and thus allows flexibility from play to play or from scene to scene), it also allows individual lighting cues to be much stronger.


  1. 1 2 3
  3. 1 2 Lobdell, Emily Hiser. Day, Kingsley, ed. "Annual Report 2009" (PDF). Northwestern University School of Communication. p. 24. Retrieved 2012-12-06. It was from this space in Annie May Swift Hall that we dedicated a black box theater to the late Alvina Krause (above), the legendary Northwestern acting and interpretation teacher whose methods remain the basis of our acting curriculum. The Alvina Krause studio and an endow- ment in her name to support productions there were made possible by gifts in her honor, including a lead gift from Krause students Richard Benjamin (C60) and Paula Prentiss Benjamin (C59). Tony Award winner Frank Galati, another Krause student and professor emeritus of performance studies, spoke at the studio’s dedication. he called it a fitting space because of its flexibility for a range of performance forms. “she encouraged the study of art, history, philosophy, music, religion, languages, astronomy and the sciences, literature and literary criticism,” he said. “her own study was wide-ranging and eclectic.”
  4. "Black Box Teater Oslo". Retrieved 2013-12-06.
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