Pit (theater)

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The pit (English for pit or ditch ) was an inexpensive spectator area in front of a public English theater stage - mostly without seating or roofing - which was later literally pushed back into the back rows in favor of higher priced seats and has now disappeared in almost all theaters.

Theater floor with no seats in the Royal Circus, London , 1810
The Pit at the Chatham Theater, New York (1839–1862)


The construction of the first public theater only included a stage and an arrangement of covered boxes on a slightly raised floor level, which were arranged in a semicircle around the stage. The somewhat deeper area between the already high-priced boxes and the theater on the stage was reserved for the common people without seating. It was given the name pit after the battlegrounds of the cockfighting , which was called cock pit , which was very popular until it was banned in England in 1835 (Scotland only in 1895) . Since the area was not roofed over, the spectators were exposed to the weather and, depending on the number of visitors, they could walk back and forth as desired, it was also called the yard .

In contrast, privately run theaters were aimed at a more affluent audience and therefore offered complete roofing and seating.

Interaction with the stage

Although the “cheap seats” naturally attracted poor theatergoers, wealthier people also joined them because they appreciated the often livelier atmosphere. This also included the fact that this was by far the loudest part of the audience. That was not always appreciated by the theater makers, however. As described William Shakespeare viewers of yards as "Groundlings", as "mostly capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise to." The playwright's contemporaries held similar views. They spoke with the utmost disdain of that part of the audience at their feet. They have been described as "fools", "scarecrows" and "people who are downright on the ground" ("understanding, grounded men").

The spectators in the pit freely showed their approval or rejection of what was presented to them. As a result, the pit became very influential and the mood was hard to ignore for writers and playwrights. Since many visitors were not able to read and write, sometimes people came who did not know which piece was being played and it happened that the schedule was changed at the last minute because “the pit” required something else.


Over the years, the audience was offered more comfort and when new theaters were built or existing theaters were converted, the pit was roofed over and furnished with simple benches. The boxes moved a few meters upwards and the pit was extended to the rear. From 1830, the front part of the pit on the stage was replaced by rows of more comfortable individual seats, the "stalls" (see blocked seat ). This roughly corresponds to the local parquet (theater) . Now the evaluation of these places changed and the price structure changed. The seats directly in front of the game, comfortably seated, became the most expensive and popular spectator seats of the wealthy. The common people were banished to the back of the pit until these seats were also displaced in favor of higher-priced seats. Today you can only find cheap theater seats in the top tier with the greatest distance and the worst view of the stage.

Today in English the orchestra pit is still referred to as a pit ( orchestra pit ).

Individual evidence

  1. a b From the Pit to the Stalls (English)
  2. ^ "A Book of The Play - Studies and Illustrations of Histrionic Story, Life, and Character, " by Dutton Cook - Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, ISBN 978-1360672052