Site-specific theatre is any type of theatrical production designed to be performed at a unique, specially adapted location other than a standard theatre. This specific site either may be originally built without any intention of serving theatrical purposes (for example, in a hotel, courtyard, or converted building), or may simply be considered an unconventional theatre space (for example, in a forest). A performance in a traditional theatre venue, which has been transformed to resemble a specific space (for example, a junkyard), can also be considered as site-specific, in as it doesn't have the functionality (i.e. seats, stages) that a traditional theatre would have.
When the location is meant to imitate, or is itself, the setting of the theatrical story (as is common with site-specific theatre), the performance may also then be called environmental theatre. Site-specific theatre is commonly more interactive than conventional theatre and, with the expectation of audience members predominantly to walk or move about (rather than sit), may be called promenade theatre. Site-specific theatre frequently takes place in structures originally built for non-theatrical reasons that have since been renovated or converted for new, performance-based functions.
Examples of site-specific theatre include Ferry Play, a podplay for the Staten Island Ferry in New York City, Psycho-So-Matic, and Downsize, staged by Chicago's Walkabout Theater in a laundromat and a series of public restrooms, respectively; Girls Just Wanna Have Fund$, staged by Women's Project in the lobbies, escalators, and bridges of New York's World Financial Center; Supernatural Chicago, staged in an allegedly haunted nightclub, and Small Metal Objects, staged by Australia's Back To Back Theater at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal.
Another example of this form is the Ramlila, dramatic enactment of Hindu epic, Ramayana, started in 1830 by Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh of Varanasi. It is held each year over the period of 31 days, during autumn festive season of Dussehra at Ramnagar, Varanasi in India, and is staged in permanent structures created as sets throughout the three square mile area, where the audience follow the actors. Ramlila has been declared by the UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.
Site-specific theatre can also include environmental theatre: a production that attempts to immerse the audience in the performance by bringing the action off the stage area. For example, some acting may happen in aisles. In the case of a black box theater, acting platforms may even be built between audience section. Sometimes a performer will talk to, or otherwise involve an audience member in a scene. This can be a real audience member, as in interactive theater, or an actor planted to appear as an audience member.
There are variations on site-specific theatre, including:
- Environmental theatre, in which a pre-existing production is placed in an environment similar to the one in which the play is set (for example, performing Hamlet in a Danish Castle).
- Promenade theatre, in which audience members generally stand and walk about rather than sit, watching the action happening among them and even following the performers around the performance space.
- Field, Andy (2008-02-06). "'Site-specific theatre'? Please be more specific". The Guardian. London.
- Pearson, Mike (2010). Site-Specific Performance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 7. ISBN 9780230576711.
- Ferry Play
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- Ramlila - the Traditional Performance of the Ramayana UNESCO.
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- Pearson, Mike (2010). Site-Specific Performance. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978023057611.
- Pearson, Mike; Shanks, Michael (2001). Theatre/archaeology: Disciplinary Dialogues. Routeledge. ISBN 0-415-19458-X. ISBN 978-0-415-19458-7
- Kaye, Nick (2000). Site Specific Art: Place and Documentation. Routeledge. ISBN 0-415-18558-0.
- Schechner, Richard; Shanks (1973). Environmental Theater. Hawthorne Books. ISBN 1557831785.