The Dreaded Black Box

The Dreaded Black Box

Yesterday came the Theatre Trust’s Annual Conference, this year entitled: Experiencing Theatres, held at the Unicorn Theatre. An event which I wish I could have attended. Judging from the list of discussions and some of the participants it would have proved to be thoroughly interesting. I’m slightly gutted that I missed out.

Lalayn Baluch from The Stage was quick to report on one of the topics raised from the conference on the matter of Black Boxed Theatre’s. She reported that:

Jason Barnes one of the Theatre Trust trustees commenting during the conference on the nature of the black boxes of theatre, stated:

“Black box, let’s ban those words from our vocabulary. Black box has absolutely nothing to give. You need something to vary from, which is why found spaces are so exciting and you can react to them.”

Some powerful words from Barnes and words which have left an imprint upon my mind. I completely understand that the nature of the black box can seem daunting to theatre makers and audiences alike. They aren’t grand, they are bland, black and boxed in with little excitement to be given. But this is only taking it for face value. A much deeper and richer appreciation can come from looking at the black box of theatres as a blank canvas, waiting for creativity and inspiration to burst from its every wall.

If anything black boxed theatre’s offer hope.

If theatre is about the transformation of a space into a theatrical moment, then I would proclaim that the black box manages to do this relentlessly. They don’t “offer nothing”, they offer everything.

Working in a small fringe venue as I do, the most rewarding moment for me comes with the changing of shows. Each new production brings a new life to the small 50 seat theatre. Designers completely transform the theatre every show. From a completely bare auditorium apart from carpet and chairs, to a full integrated saloon bar where the audience sit amongst the performance. Yet, it might be noted that this theatre is a black box. Behind the design of the show lay the bare bones of walls covered in black paint and a floor/ceiling to match.

The Young Vic Theatre currently has Kurst, by Sound and Fury performing in one of their studio spaces, where the company have managed to transform completely the space into which the action takes part in a submarine. The audience sit and perch around the space, being actively involved within the space and the dynamics of the piece. They are transported into the depths of a submarine with the crew on board… yet behind this remains the Young Vic’s studio space. You wouldn’t realise it, immersing yourself in the situation and action, but it’s all there.

Whilst I will agree that theatre constantly evolves and we are currently in the golden age of ‘Found Spaces’, only a few weeks ago critics were praising Punchdrunks, ‘Tunnel-228’ under Waterloo Station, an amazing ‘found space’. [For those of you who missed this, it’s returning in August] This doesn’t mean we must give up completely on our homely black boxed theatres, just because theatre is exploring routes outside of the normal theatrical conventions.

I deplore to Jason Barnes that the black box theatres offer far more than nothing, they offer the magic of theatre, the canvas for designers to completely transform the space, after all… isn’t theatre about magic and transformation?

Kurst is running at the Young Vic until the 27th June, booking via the box office, or online.


The Stage Article
Kurst at the Young Vic
Theatre Trust Conference