The stage

Two actors stood on a stage in front of an audience.

When you go to the theatre, you will see how the stage is transformed into a different place or time that the audience can believe in.

This atmosphere is created through:

  • backdrop
  • lighting
  • props
  • costume
  • sound/music



At the beginning of William Shakespeare's tragedy, Hamlet, guards patrolling the castle wall at night are waiting for a ghost to reappear - they're afraid. Very, very afraid. They think it's the ghost of Hamlet's father who has recently died. They call Hamlet's close friend Horatio to come along to view the ghost for himself.

Empty theatre stage with a castle and trees in the background.

Imagine that you are setting this stage production in Elizabethan England. What techniques could you use to create the right atmosphere for this scene? Think about:

  • backdrop
  • lighting
  • props
  • guards' costumes
  • ghost's costume

You need to create an atmosphere that is spooky and frightening.

  • Backdrop - grey castle walls. The scene is set in a castle.
  • Lighting - dim lighting. The scene is set at night, but the audience need to be able to see the guards.
  • Props - swords for the guards.
  • Guards' costumes - grey uniforms. The audience needs to recognise that these characters are guards.
  • Ghost's costume - no costume - you don't want the ghost to be seen... you just want to hear a booming voice. Sometimes things are more frightening when you can't see them. The booming voice will give the ghost power.

If you were filming this, rather than creating a live stage production, you could use modern technology to change the scene. You would still want to create an atmosphere that is spooky and frightening but you can use different techniques to do this.

Here are some techniques that you could now use to create the atmosphere:

  • Backdrop - grey castle walls. The scene is set in a castle. Lots of dry ice could be floating around to make it seem as if it is misty, creating a spooky atmosphere as the characters cannot see very well.
  • Lighting - dim lighting will be used but you can light up the actors, eg with torches that they may be holding, so offering more ability to see facial expressions that can be used to convey fear.
  • Props - swords for the guards, more props to show the surrounding area, eg trees to suggest the forest outside of the castle, maybe a moat and a bridge to get into the castle. You could even update the swords to guns to make it more in keeping with the current time period. A strong light shining on the stage could be used to represent the moon.
  • Guards' costumes - these could be police uniforms. The audience needs to recognise that these characters are guards and this would be a really good representation of that.
  • Ghost's costume - this time there could be a ghost as filming techniques will allow the editor to add this. The ghost could be a spooky, floating see-through figure.
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