Our house is your house. At least during showtime.
The “house” is the area of a theatre or “playhouse” where the audience sits while watching the show. Other parts of the theatre include the stage, the backstage area, and the lobby. But the house is special because it is home for the audience for 90 minutes or three hours, or however long the performance lasts.
By association, “house” can also mean the audience itself. If a performer asks a cast-mate, “How’s the house tonight?” she wants to know whether the energy is high, or the patrons are dozing in their seats.
Most of the time, the performers do their thing on the stage while the audience lives in the house. So it’s usually quite dramatic when an actor crosses the footlights and enters the audience’s domain. In the first act of the musical Gypsy, Madame Rose makes her first entrance from the house, strolling up the aisle bellowing, “Sing out, Louise!” Likewise, in The Lion King, the opening number, “Circle of Life,” features performers and puppets and lots of theatrical magic taking place all throughout the house, leading to the number’s climax when the company assembles on stage.
Another time the lines between the house and the stage are blurred is during theatre in the round. The playing area is in the center of the house, surrounded on all sides by the audience. Depending on the lighting, you may be watching fellow patrons on the other side of the house during the performance.
Likewise, in an immersive theatre experience, there might not be any distinction at all between the performance space and the house, with the action taking place all around wherever you are sitting, standing or even moving from place to place.
“House” has made its way into lots of common theatrical phrases. Management typically reserves “house seats”—i.e., the best seats in the house—for VIPs. The “house lights” dim and switch off to create a blackout just before the curtain goes up. Producers pray for a “full house” with every ticket sold. And in case of an emergency, someone might call out, “Is there a doctor in the house?”
Remember, a house is a home for the audience—while the show is being performed.
— Ben Pesner
This video was made by Theatre Development Fund.
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Theatre Development Fund is the nation’s largest not-for-profit service organization for the performing arts. Through a variety of programs and services that promote education, access and conversation, it ensures an enduring appreciation of and engagement with live theatre. In addition to operating the TKTS booth in Duffy Square and the satellite booths at South Street Seaport and in downtown Brooklyn, TDF’s theatre education, accessibility, affordable ticketing and audience development programs help to make the unique experience of theatre available to diverse audiences while supporting New York’s theatre industry. Since it was founded in 1968, TDF has provided over 80 million people with access to performances at affordable prices while returning over $2 billion in revenue to thousands of productions.