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Proscenium arch at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Wikimedia Commons

The proscenium is that part of a theatre stage in front of the curtain, which separates the stage from the auditorium.[1]

The term was originally used in classical Greek theatre for the area in front of the scenery, but in Renaissance Italian theatre design it evolved to mean the draperies surrounding the stage, which created a frame for the performance. The idea of framing the stage in that way was introduced into England by the architect and artist Inigo Jones (1573–1652), for the staging of masques at the royal court.[2]

In later post-Restoration theatres the term proscenium was also used for a design in which the acting space was recessed behind an arch – the proscenium arch – thus creating what is sometimes called a “picture-frame” stage.[3] In English theatres during the 16th and 17th centuries an actor would often deliver a prologue on the proscenium, commenting on the play about to be enacted, after which the curtain would be raised and the performance would begin.[4] Although still common in theatre designs of the 19th and early 20th centuries,[5] the proscenium arch is now considered to be a hinderance, restricting the audience’s view, and has led to alternative designs such as open stage and theatre-in-the-round in more modern theatres.[2]