Stage architecture, from Disney to dance

Clever stage architecture makes or breaks a cultural experience – from Yellow Studio’s set for Disney’s new live-action Beauty and the Beast, to more immersive structures in the genre

example of stage architecture, is this set with arches and walls lit up with video lights
(Image credit: Yellow Studio)

The finest stage architecture immerses and delights, enhancing any performance or cultural experience and elevating entertainment to new heights. These amazing designs can be found across the globe and in all weathers, from ABBA Voyage’s monumental, temporary ABBA Arena in east London, to teamLab’s art-fuelled staging in Tokyo, and Gala dance festival's Beacon summer pavilions in Peckham. Elsewhere, New York-based design group Yellow Studio has curated the set for the 30-year celebration of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, combining period-inspired gauze structures with video mapping and archival sketches. (For still more inspiration, see our behind-the-scenes of U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere in Las Vegas, and the Take That tour 2024.)


A Disney production design by Yellow Studio

Beauty and the Beast set with 2D effect set pieces

The stage for Beauty and the Beast, designed by Yellow Studio

(Image credit: Yellow Studio)

Yellow Studio’s work delves into the world of production design, creative direction and art direction for television and live events. For Disney’s stage architecture, the studio took inspiration from ornamental French rococo interiors – specifically the typology's grand, curving structures – but left the surfaces clean, ready for video-mapping and flexible stage setting. ‘We designed 13 different locations including interior scenes of the castle and outdoor scenes like Belle’s reprise, the forest, and the town,’ explains Julio Himede, director of Yellow Studio.

set with 2D effect set pieces

2D-effect set for Beauty and the Beast, based on archival sketches from the original animation, designed by Yellow Studio

(Image credit: Yellow Studio)

The team also had exclusive access to the hand-drawn sketches by the animators who created the 1991 classic, and they utilised the archival imagery to create 2D-effect set pieces, appearing like sketched furniture. Himede explains that ‘rather than building a naturalistic French provincial town from the 1740s, we created a marketplace of 2D set pieces in the specific style of the hand-drawn sketches from the original film'.

set with 2D effect set pieces

2D-effect set for Beauty and the Beast, based on archival sketches from the original animation, designed by Yellow Studio

(Image credit: Yellow Studio)

The structures in the production consist of a series of freestanding archways and walls, whose semi-transparent gauze surface ‘allowed for video and lighting integration and transformed the set from scene to scene’, says Himede. The outcome allows the viewer to see the live audience behind the set: ‘This effect is a nod to the moral of the story, true beauty comes from within.’

Beacons by studio JAM at Gala dance festival

Fun green and red festival pavilions

(Image credit: Photography: Garry Jones)

With Beacons, the stage at south London’s premiere dance festival Gala in 2022, architects Joe Halligan, Daniel Waterstone and Adam Willis of studio JAM sought to create a space that achieved ‘equality' amongst performing artists and audience. ‘Instead of everyone looking at one particular point, it's about trying to get back this feeling of the house party, a relaxed, more informal way of enjoying music,' says Halligan.

Puccini's Turandot by teamLab

Dress rehearsal

Dress rehearsal of opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtrede Genève

(Image credit: © Photography: Magali Dougados, Courtesy Daniel Kramer, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Pace Gallery)

The trick for teamLab – now an almost 700-strong super studio or ‘art stack’ – is maintaining some kind of creative distance from other digital art makers. Its collaboration on a production of Puccini's Turandot, at Geneva's Grand Theatre in June 2022, was evidence of that creative stretch. The team used reflections and lighting to give an effect of structures, presenting the array of architectural stages that they curated for the production in truly grand form.

ABBA Voyage and ABBA Arena by Stufish

Interior with pink lights of ABBA Arena

(Image credit: Dirk Lindner)

ABBA Arena, home of the legendary music group's revolutionary London show, ABBA Voyage, is not only a clever physical space to house an innovative virtual concert; it is also the world's largest demountable temporary venue. The structure, a subtly mysterious, timber-clad, hexagonal volume placed near Pudding Mill Lane DLR station in east London, is a monumental performance space for the capital, created through the expertise of architects Stufish. The studio, also behind impressive stage set designs such as Beyonce and Jay-Z’s On The Run II tour, conceived this piece of entertainment architecture as only the practice's fifth ground-up new-build structure – and its first outside China.

Martha Elliott is the Junior Digital News Editor at Wallpaper*. After graduating from university she worked in arts-based behavioural therapy, then embarked on a career in journalism, joining Wallpaper* at the start of 2022. She reports on art, design and architecture, as well as covering regular news stories across all channels.