STAGE CURTAINS Part 1 ● Performance Spaces

Post 237 – by Gautam Shah 



Stage curtains have been of many types, but always shaped by the form of the stage and theatre. A theatre is a space for variety of performing arts before an audience. A performance includes postures, gestures, speech, recitation, music, dance, sound, and an illumination spectacle. It also employs visual and audio effects, settings and stage properties, to create lifelike conditions and illusions. Modern day performances occur for audiences set in different time and space. The audiences perceive an edited version of a performance, which may have been edited to curtail or enhance sections of it.


A stage curtain serves many purposes, and primary one is to create a controlled barrier between the performance space and the audience. Other purposes include forming barriers that form stage shape and endow utilities. The stage shape formation by curtains is in terms its physical dimensioning (width, depth, height, etc.), partitioning, and perspective formation. The stage curtains were first used for declaration of a break in the story or a section of the enactment. The curtain-break was used for changing the setting and property, dresses, story period, and for rest by audience as well as performers.


A performance space accommodates many types of performances such as singing, story telling, narration, declarations, discourses, discussions, voting, musicals, puppetry, mime, magic or illusion, opera, ballet, public trials, punishment and hanging. The enactments occur at all times of day and night hours, with packed or very thin presences, participating or scared audiences. The shows occur in normal consistent illumination or with varied lighting effects, stage only lit-up or stage and audiences both lighted.

London theatre stage 1596

Performance space forms in early history have been casual, focussed and open on all sides. These were central open spaces like cross road junctions that allowed maximum attendance. Spaces with a backdrop of strong architectural elements, such as walls, gates, facades, galleries, etc. have a subduing presence, focus attention and importantly enhance the sound delivery.


Amphi Theatre with low stage + backdrop and no curtains

Indian temples have a Rang Mandap, as large sequential space in front of the deity. Rang (Sanskrit) literally translates as colour, or variegation. The open columnar space with circular domed was highly centric, except for the piercing axis formed by the entrance and deity. The performance facing the deity would mean showing back to the overflowing spectators at the entrance. Main direction of enactment, as a result was perpendicular to the entry-deity axis. The orientation of performance has always been to the mass of audiences. Such a orientation was possible with 3 sides of exposures. If a performer turns back to the audience, the actor is dead or quitting the show, according to Bharat Muni (sage who composed Natya-Shastra -Cannons of performance, during 2-3rd C BC.).

Rang Mandap Delwada temple Mt Abu Rajasthan India

The word Mandap is often used as a synonym for stage. A stage could be an open or unbounded platform, whereas a Mandap has four of its corners demarcated by posts, plants long leaves of a palm tree. A Mandap could be roofless structure. A Garbh Griha, the inner most sanctum of a temple has a tall pyramidal structure, the Shikhar roof rising out of a square, the basic form of a Mandala, and its geometric variations. The Mandap rises, on an octagonal arrangement of columns. The basic octagon is enlarged with galleries and spaces, increasing the audience capacity of the hall. A Rang Mandap is nominally entered from three sides, the fourth being the place for the deity. It is the most open and airy section of the temple. The light and ventilation are provided by screened or open galleries (Gavaksh or Zarokha), in the corners of the octagon. Temples like Ranakpur, Rajasthan, has an extra storey under the dome, creating a lighter effect (called Vimaan -aeroplane, architecture).  Natya Shastra (

Wayang Wong Bharata Pandawa

Small towns with small temples had no space for built Rang Mandap, instead, any open space is used. A small low level platform and a structural backdrop were the essential requirements for it. Even today rural performances are enacted with such frugal facilities. The performance theme and the actor persona, are well known to the audience, yet the rapport is due to the proximity of the stage space. The actor looks at the audience, rather then the opposite character. There are no stage settings, properties or curtains. In South Indian dances, often have a small screen or Aantar-Pat held, as a character’s introduction ceremony. The value of Sutradhar (person who conducts the show, introduces the characters and provides the time-space references) is very important in delineating the stage-space. The presence of Sutradhar served many of the functions of curtain-break.


Yaksha Gana Performance on simple stage / backside two persons holding an Aantar-pat

Small Mandap stage for performance

Amphi theatres were preceded by street corners or junctions as places of performance. Ancient Greek theatres were audience participating structures. They were built in a semicircle, with tiered seating surrounding a performance area. The word Amphi now describes a semicircular bowl like stepped seating arrangement, with a platform or stage for performance and wall like structure forming a backdrop to it.

Amphi Theatre Odeon of Herodes Atticus

An arena is an enclosed area, often circular or oval-shaped, designed to showcase musical performances, or sporting events. The word derives from Latin harena, particularly fine/smooth sand used to absorb blood in ancient arenas like the Colosseum in Rome. It is composed of a large open space surrounded on most or all sides by tiered seating for spectators. The key feature of an arena is that the event space is the lowest point, allowing for maximum visibility. Arenas are usually designed to accommodate a large number of spectators. Arena spaces were not used for Theatrical performances.


Reconstructed image > Arena