Site-specific theatre is considered to be any type of theatrical production that is performed at a unique, specially adapted location other than a standard theatre. This unique site may have been built without any intention of serving theatrical purposes (for example, a hotel, courtyard, or converted building). It may also simply be an unconventional space for theatre (for example, a forest). Site-specific theatre seeks to use the properties of a unique site's landscape, rather than a typical theatre stage, to add depth to a theatrical production. Sites are selected based on their ability to amplify storytelling and form a more vivid backdrop for the actors in a theatrical production. A performance in a traditional theatre venue that has been transformed to resemble a specific space (for example, a junkyard), can also be considered as site-specific, as long as it no longer has the functionality (i.e. seats, stages) that a traditional theatre would have.
Site-specific theatre is commonly more interactive than conventional theatre and may be called Promenade Theatre in cases where the audience is expected or encouraged to walk or move about the venue. 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 podcast play for the Staten Island Ferry in New York City.
- Psycho-So-Matic, and Downsize, staged by Chicago's Walkabout Theatre 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 Centre.
- Supernatural Chicago, staged in an allegedly haunted nightclub.
- Small Metal Objects, staged by Australia's Back To Back Theatre at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal.
- Little Shop of Horrors: a production of the musical was presented at Bool's Flower Shop in Ithaca, New York on April 24, 2019. The production was produced by Jacob Stuckelman and featured local Ithaca artists. During the summer of 2018, after sitting on the idea for several months, Producer Jacob Stuckelman committed to creating a fully staged production of Little Shop of Horrors inside a flower shop, a concept that had never been seen before.
- Ragtime On Ellis Island, a concert musical, was presented on Ellis Island on August 8, 2016 in an area that is not usually used for performances.
- Sweeney Todd: When the Tooting Arts Club production transferred off Broadway, the group transformed the Barrow Street Theatre into a working re-creation of Harrington's pie shop. This is an example of immersive theatre, as they built into a pre-existing space; it is not considered a found space.
- The Site-Specific Theatre Bot: @TheatreSite is an automated Twitter 'bot' that tweets out ideas for imagined site-specific performances.
The Ramlila, a dramatic enactment of the Hindu history Ramayana, could be considered a type of site-specific theatre. Started in 1830 by Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh of Varanasi, it is held each year over a period of 31 days during the autumn festive season of Dussehra at Ramnagar, Varanasi in India. The Ramlila is staged in permanent structures created as sets throughout the three square mile area where the audience follow the actors. The Ramlila was 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 black box theatre, acting platforms may even be built between audience sections. 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 theatre, or a confederate actor planted to appear as an audience member.
There are variations on site-specific theatre, including but not limited to:
- Found space 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 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
- Sondak, Justin (2007-07-27). "Overnight Lows, Low Down". Chicagoist. Archived from the original on 2008-04-01. Retrieved 2008-12-29.
- Hoffmann, Babara (2007-05-15). "Interest compounded at world financial center stages". New York Post. Archived from the original on 2013-01-30.
- Armour, Terry (2005-10-27). "Supernatural Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2011-09-22.
- Soloski, Alexis (2008-01-01). "Under the Radar Tries its Hand at Site-Specific Work". The Village Voice.
- "Little Shop of Bools | Ithaca, NY". Little Shop of Bools. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- "Ragtime on Ellis Island".
- "Tooting Arts Club - Sweeney Todd (Tooting)". Tooting Arts Club.
- Ramlila - the Traditional Performance of the Ramayana UNESCO.
- A Maharajah´s Festival for Body and Soul New York Times, Monday, March 30, 2009.
- 1934-, Schechner, Richard (1994). Environmental theater : an expanded new edition including 'Six axioms for environmental theater' (New, expanded ed.). New York. ISBN 1557831785. OCLC 29877118.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
- "Promenade" (Press release). Scottish Arts Council. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
- Pearson, Mike (2010). Site-Specific Performance. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780230576711.
- 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.