They’re astounding, they’re staggering and they’re truly splendid examples of tremendously talented stage design and manufacturing.
We’ve scouted the whole globe for the most magnificent and awe-inspiring stages, theatres and even floating theatres to bring together one solid list of divine excellence.
From electronic concerts with their incredible lighting, to the ancient amphitheatres of Athens, each of these stages offers its own unique and individual attractiveness. We’d consider ourselves lucky to ever have or had the chance to stand in the presence of these designs.
The Odeon Of Herodes Atticus
Beginning our list in the era that theatre itself began [Will link to upcoming article: The History Of The Stage Part 1], the Odeon in Athens has a wonderful amount of history to compliment its stunningly authentic visuals.
Originally built in 161AD with a wooden roof that was destroyed by a Heruli raid in 267AD, just over a century later. It was reduced to ruins for well over a millennium, until it was renovated in 1950.
Since then, the likes of Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti and Elton John have performed live within the Odeon, amongst others, making this fusion of ancient and modern architecture truly a venue to behold.
A wonderful story of a single woman’s wish to escape the horrors of life after World War I, Ms. Rowena Cade utilised the garden of her seaside home to feature Shakespearean plays for local performers in the remote village of Porthcurno, Cornwall.
First featuring the performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in 1932, the resounding success of the sea as a backdrop led to Ms. Cade renovating the space into the splendour it is today off her own back, brick-by-brick through the following winters.
Ms. Cade passed away in 1983 but the legacy she left behind was that of a theatre that still features as a venue to British and American theatre companies to this date.
The Fox Theatre – Detroit
The largest remaining example of one of the original William Fox Movie Palaces of the 1920s, ‘Foxtown’ was renovated in 1985 to restore it to its former considerable glory.
Featuring famous performances over the years by the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli, perhaps the most remarkable period in this elegant stage’s history came during World War II when the Fox remained open 24 hours a day to cater for round-the-clock defence plant workers.
During this period, it wasn’t uncommon for turnovers of $75,000 per week when admission was only 35 cents per head.
The Bregenzer Festspiele, 2011
Every two years, the coastline city of Bregenz, Austria hosts a music festival on the shores of the Lake Constance waters, frequently featuring famous operatic maestros in epic performances.
A key attraction of this one-month festival has come to be the highly artistic and visually striking stages, which change for every festival, under the guidance of artistic director David Pountney.
We’ve highlighted here the 2011 festival’s stage, which was headlined by a performance of “Andrea Chénier” by Umberto Giordano. A thoroughly unique and inspired piece of work.
The Bregenzer Festspiele, 2014 – The Magic Flute
Three years later and Pountney was back again with another incredible design, this time featuring three dragons inter-connected by bridges above the back of a giant turtle.
The performance of Mozart’s final opera in Bregenz was applauded by critics for the scale at which it was performed, for a piece normally stunted by constrained and confined spaces.
It’s not difficult to see why when you observe the scale of this particular stage. A fully grown worker (seen right) measures up to a fifth of one of the “Dragondogs’” legs.
U2 360 Tour Stage
This eye-wateringly expensive stage made headlines in 2009 with the record breaking expenses involved in installing it.
Involving transportation, $750,000 a day was the cost of production for this mammoth, meaning $23-31 million was spent in setting the stage for every one of the 110 shows, between 2009 and 2011.
Weighing 200 tons and reaching up to 151 meters in height, it required a team over over 300 workers, day and night to assemble the structure and garnered enough interest, that U2 actually released a time-lapse video documenting the assembly of the structure on their YouTube Channel.
Traditionally held every last Sunday in August, Mysteryland is an electronic music festival in the Netherlands and later Chile.
Attracting hundreds of thousands of fans every year, the festival is one of many produced by Dutch entrepreneurs ID&T.
This stage served as the pinnacle to their 2012 edition of the event. Multi-coloured and laden with lights, it’s as loud and proud as the music played at the show.
Whilst Mysteryland is impressive, it’s Tomorrowland which takes the cake as the world’s most attended dance festival, with over 400,000 people attending the 2014 edition of the show.
Also from ID&T, the adaptability of the stage here and its high-tech integration of lasers, fireworks and amazing light effects display in full-force just how far stage design has come since the early days of stone and plinthe in the Greek theatres and Roman auditoriums.
Arcadia – Glastonbury 2014
This towering and potentially terrifying creation doesn’t immediately strike you as much of a stage, and yet it has become a permanent fixture at the famed Glastonbury festival as of 2014.
The DJ’s performance chamber is located in the centre of the flaming spider, with a spherical floor space surrounding the structure and the speakers set up to project soundwaves inwards, meaning only those within the space can hear the music being played.
Electric Daisy Carnival 2015
Our final stage featured is from the Electric Daisy Carnival, another electronic music festival which has expanded worldwide in recent years. Pictured above during international trance music sensation Above & Beyond’s set, it features an enormous mechanical owl amidst a labyrinth of hidden lights and HD screens.
The electronic music scene has really taken the stage to an entirely new level of epicness in modern times. Having had the chance to trace the stage back to its origins, it’s apparent how much electricity changed the game in terms of stage design.
Even back to the 1970s, rock music gigs used to be fairly standard in their approach and have since evolved into huge spectacles as the technological revolution has kicked into high gear. Live theatre shows now find themselves with grander options in the scale in which they can perform.
Lifts, platforms, mechanical arms and pyrotechnics mean a stage show with even a decent budget is no longer a question of solely horizontal space, but also vertical.
We’ve featured several stages from electronic music in this list and in the light of DJs, a question has been asked that applies to their stages to: As their technology has increased, has the demand for their skill decreased, in kind?.
With tools of wider scope, the creativity required in making something spectacular is lessened, leading people to wonder if our generation aren’t bred to match the skillset of those who came before.
It’s an interesting question. How would Michelangelo or Da Vinci fare in today’s technological world or, even, could they? Huge stages with huge budgets are grand, yes.
However, sometimes, we would propose lesser may indeed be better.