In theater, a “black box” is a simple performance space. It’s not a traditional theater, and can be inside a warehouse space, a storefront, or any sort of large room. The stage is usually square. The walls and floor are painted black. The sets a minimal, with maybe a few pieces of furniture and no backdrops. Stackable or folding chairs are used, rather than theater seats, so the space can be reconfigured as needed. Audience members can sit on any number of sides of the stage.
The idea behind black box theater is to shift the focus away from spectacle and the technical aspects of theater, and back to the performances of the actors. It creates a more intimate connection between the audience and the performance. Some consider it a more pure theater experience. It’s also a lot more cost-effective to put up a production. It allows troupes with limited resources to stage plays. Money can go toward paying the playwright, the actors, the crew, or even just keeping the space open.
Black box theater was one of the key concepts behind the Black Box Manifesto. The focus of tabletop roleplaying ought to be on the people at the table. The game is the interaction of the players and the story being told. A book, not matter how high the production value, is just a book. They’re fun to read and interesting to collect, but the book is not the game.
The emphasis on minimalist staging is meant to shift that focus where it belongs. It’s also meant to eliminate one of the key barrier to entry for both creators and the audience: costs. Staging a black box theater production means lower overhead, which helps control the cost of ticket prices. It makes theater more accessible. The ethos of the Black Box Manifesto is meant to help struggling creators control costs, and allow players to have access to a wider range affordable games.