Raking it in

A raked stage is a theatre stage which slopes upwards, away from the audience in order for them to have a better view of the stage – they have been around since the 16th century. They have become less popular during the last century, in favour of raking the audience area instead, which I think we can all agree is a nice solution. That said there are still plenty of raked stages around the UK for you all to perform on, and therefore is still something we need to consider.

This was highlighted recently in an article recently within the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, which concluded that "professional dancers performing on 'raked' (inclined) stages sustain more injuries than dancers who perform on flat stages." This has been a common finding within the evidence and something that aligns with our clinical experience.

Why is this?

When performing on a rake, the performer has to accommodate the change in their centre of gravity, causing the necessity to lean backwards. This can lead to the loss of balance and the shortening of the posterior muscles. Of course, there is the risk of lower friction between the foot/shoe and the surface on the incline caused by the rake, which can increase slip and fall risk and increases stability demands on the foot and ankle significantly. The weight tends to be distributed to the front of the foot – in turn this increases the vertical shock load and subsequent postural changes further up the chain. With this and the usual 8 shows per week compounding the added demands, performing on a rake increases the energy consumption in the gait.

For touring productions, a challenge can be performing on different stages, rakes and flooring at each venue. Unfortunately for performers, theatres and performance spaces favour the steel and concrete flooring, as opposed to sprung or wooden floors. This is often so the stages can support the increasing demands for larger, heavier scenery. This can reduce the force dissipated into the ground and puts great stress in to your musculoskeletal system.

So, what happens to your body?

- Knee and hip flexion increase as the rake angle increases

- Walking backwards upstage is the most challenging for trunk stability

- Facing downstage on the rake, increases hip extension and lumbar lordosis

- The maximal contraction of the pelvic floor cannot be established when in heels (plantarflexion)

- Walking across a raked stage = Pelvic imbalance and hitching

What can be done?

Warm up and training prep work needs to be included in theatre runs and tours, ideally prior to rehearsals. As well as this, having an awareness of the affects performing on a rake has on the body can be beneficial – from here individuals’ warm-ups, cool downs, cross training can be personalised to prepare them for the rake demands they will encounter, whilst also giving the performer peace of mind as to why they may feel a certain way after performing on these kinds of stages.

We will be looking into training plans and optimising movement to counteract a raked stage soon.

Thanks for taking time to read this intro into what is a raked stage and some of its challenges.