What’s With The Red?

There's more than meets the eye to the story behind the traditional color of theatre seats.

<a href="https://www.thestagecrafts.com/author/loreleibarcelos/" target="_self">Lorelei</a>


Posted on February 6, 2024

Published in Theatre Stuff
The Red Seats at the Madnani Theater for the Community, located in Hollywood
The gorgeous new red seats at The Madnani Theater in Hollywood, CA.

What’s With The Red?

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2 min read

Imagine this. You’ve just purchased a ticket to your favorite show, you get to the theatre a half hour early, you enter to find your seat and it’s…red? 

Why? Why are the seats in the theatre red? Has it always been like this? 

We found out the origins of the red seating in theatres and it’s time we all know the truth:

The Purkinje Color Effect

The Purkinje Effect

The Purkinje Color Effect, something you might not recognize by its name but you have definitely experienced it. Discovered by Jan Evangelista Purkinje, the Purkinje Color Effect is the “tendency for the peak luminance sensitivity of the eye to shift toward the blue end of the color spectrum at low illumination levels as part of dark adaptation”. In simple terms, this means that our eyes perceive certain colors to fade faster than others in certain lighting. 

As lights dim, it becomes darker, it’s nighttime: red is the first color to fade. When this was discovered all seating, theatrical venues and movie theatres alike, began using red fabric to cover their seats. This created an immersive and black-out experience for the audience, wherein previous seating was green or blue which reflected light back into the space and was distracting. 

Now, while the lighting was a big reason for the change in seat coloring, it wasn’t the only reason. 

The Italian Opera House Aesthetic

La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy

La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy

The red and gold aesthetic in theaters originated in Italian opera houses, and from there became the norm because of the popularity of said operas. The red trend spread through the rest of Europe, and finally, to America, where it also eventually started appearing at the theaters.

Fun fact – before the global proliferation of the bombastic Italian red and gold style, French opera houses rocked a blue and gold motif. 

So take a seat, relax, and enjoy your show as you sit on a red little piece of history.

Want to check out some of our red theater seats? Book a tour of The Madnani Theater today!


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