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Theatre Style: Site-specific theatre

Grid Iron's Fermentation; Photo: Keith Brame

What is site-specific theatre?

There is no one definition of site-specific theatre.  However, one approach describes it as concerned with 'exploring the boundaries of theatrical experience'.  Generally, a site-specific performance fully exploits the properties, qualities and meanings of a given site.  The chosen site can be one of endless possibilities, from abandoned docks, to graveyards, to small hotel rooms.  The only real consistent factor in these productions is that they do not take place in the traditional theatre arena.

Even if it is feasible to stage a play in the traditional theatre setting, site-specific performance may be preferred as it reveals the complex two-way relationship between the person and the physical environment.

Elements of site-specific production

The Hidden Gardens; Photo: The NVA Organisation

This form of performance is more than just a gimmick.  The purpose of site-specific performance is not to transpose classical theatre performance into a new setting, but to fully utilise the space so that it is a participant in the overall theatrical experience.  The content of the show and the space in which it is held feed directly into each other.

Due to the open opportunities within the form, site-specific theatre allows for much collaboration in its creation.  While the productions can be based on complete scripts, they often arise as the outcome of workshops and projects.

Opening up the choice of space means that the production is not limited to the physical boundaries of the stage.  Non-physical boundaries are also removed as a result.  The actors no longer have to be separated from the audience, allowing them to be more immersed and interactive in their theatre experience.

Of course, the removal of the traditional boundaries is replaced by those that must be considered for site-specific work.  For example, the chosen site will have its own space constraints, and the presentation and direction of the piece must work with this.  Audience numbers may be affected by what the space allows for.


Grid Iron's workshop in a Beirut Cinema; Photo: Paul Claydon

Site-specific performances do not necessarily subvert the text, but do place importance on the other elements of the production. 

Music, lighting and multimedia pieces often play a part in the show.


The resulting performance is a rich one.  Actors, audience and the space in which they inhabit are all intertwined in a unique relationship.  The singularity of the space, its history and context, and the individuality of the participants, mean that the show is non-transferable and unrepeatable in any other space, and in any other social setting.

Did you know?

Theatre company Grid Iron visited the Middle East to work on an international site-specific theatre collaboration.  Read about it in the archived Grid Iron feature.

Site-specific theatre
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