Alas, it seems that the magic of the theater missed this particular place...
Advertised as glamorous night spots in which to experience the latest masterpieces of the stage and screen, some theaters just can't live up to the hype, instead exposing audiences to openly unpleasant conditions - or even serious threats to their safety. Venues such as this may include playhouses, cinemas, amphitheatres, opera houses, or even arenas.
This trope manifests as two distinct variants: there may be some crossover between the two from time to time, but overall, the two categories remain generally distinct.
- Non-Functional. The venue is a largely mundane setting known for poor overall quality: the lights are busted, the performances are terrible, the seats are broken, the snacks are absolutely vile, the staff are either apathetic or hopelessly out of their depth, and it's best not to speculate as to why the carpet's so sticky. In extreme cases, the place might be actively falling apart or even abandoned.
- Villainous. These venues may be more functional than their counterparts in the previous category; some might actually be quite successful. In this case, what makes it terrible is the fact the place is clearly villain central: it may be an integral part of a villain's plans, it may be a secret lair for the villain, or there may be something intrinsically evil about the building itself. For good measure, it may result in a final confrontation taking place on stage, with generous lashings of "All Part of the Show."
Not to be confused with The Wicked Stage, which is about performing on stage being seen as disreputable.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The labyrinth of the witch Oktavia von Seckendorff is a concert hall with seating that goes all the way to the top of the domed ceiling and has a mirror image of itself under the floor. Like other labyrinths, the danger of the location is in its occupants; the violin music that the Holger familiars play can steal listeners' souls, and Oktavia herself attacks anyone who enters with a giant sword or summoned wooden wheels.
- Patton Oswalt once recounted an incident in which he and his brother got drunk and decided to see Jerry Maguire at the (now closed) Galaxy Multiplex, which he refers to as "The Crappiest Theatre in LA," featuring such things as choppy prints, meth addicts and public urination. On Christmas Eve, there were only eight other customers in the building - and because of this, nothing went wrong... right up until Patton's brother lost his temper and screamed "FUCK YOU!" at Tom Cruise.
- Cinema Purgatorio takes place in what appears at first to be a Non-Functional example: the eponymous cinema is a slightly dilapidated venue plagued with terrible food, awful toilets, and a film lineup that ranges from the bewildering to the nightmarish. Much to the main character's confusion, once she enters, she finds herself unable to leave - and gradually bears witness to the collapse of the audience's sanity and the unveiling of the Purgatorio's true eldritch nature. As it turns out, the place is the Evil variety; it's essentially a very special kind of afterlife, with the staff and customers alike consisting entirely of damned souls condemned to live out eternity within its premises - including the protagonist, who is guilty of murdering her daughter.
- The Last Temptation: The Theater Of The Real is a ghastly venue run by the sinister Showman. The shows consist of undead souls he's captured doing performances that essentially tell the young audience that adult life is horror, and the Showman offers them a place in the theater in exchange for their life and potential. At the snack counter you can get human tears, black wine, the waters of Lethe, or Coke.
- In Coraline, the Other World has its own theater run by the Other Miss Spink and the Other Miss Forcible. It seems a little on the grotesque side at first, given that the audience is composed entirely of dogs, while the only two performers are two old ladies performing a Bawdy Song and getting into a fight onstage - up until the Other Spink and Forcible unzip their skins and reveal their beautiful true selves in an impressive display of acrobatics. It's actually yet another element of the Other Mother's attempts to lure Coraline to her death; in the finale, as the glamour surrounding the other world breaks down, the theater becomes a haunting ruin where the audience has become a menacing flock of bat-dogs, while Other Spink and Forcible have been merged into a nightmarish taffy-like fusion.
- Moon Theater in Sing is of the Non-Functioning variety. It its glory days, it was a highly successful venue; now it's falling apart, its owner Buster Moon has to scrimp to make ends meet (stealing electricity from the building next door, for example) and the bank is threatening to repossess it. The singing competition that makes up the plot of the film is Buster's last ditch attempt to raise enough money for restorations, and he manages to make enough to upgrade the stage, but an accident during rehearsals causes a catastrophic flood that destroys the theater. After the contestants do their performances in the ruins regardless and it becomes a sensation, Buster finally gets enough money to restore the theater better than before.
- Variant: Bronson takes place inside the eponymous character's mind, here envisioned as a theatre where Britain's Most Violent Prisoner can detail his life's story in a one-man show before a captive audience. Most of the audience spend the production completely silent except when Bronson wants them to laugh, and he isn't above threatening audience members who try to heckle him.
- The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus initially appears to provide a Non-Functional example: the immortal Parnassus heads a traveling stage show that does avant-garde performances in London, but centuries of life have left him both alcoholic and apathetic, reducing the show to a shoddy laughingstock. It's subverted when we see the portable stage conceals a portal that leads audience members into Parnassus' mind and shows them their literal wildest dreams... but thanks to the influence of Mr Nick, the dreams can easily turn fatal if the participants can't resist their baser instincts, making it a complicated Villainous example.
- Meet the Feebles is set in a seriously seedy, run-down variety theatre, suiting its nature as a dark parody of The Muppet Show perfectly.
- A very common trope in film adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera, most commonly taking the form of the Functional But Evil kind.
- As with the original novel, the Opera House in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) is essentially the eponymous villain's personal playground, dotted with secret entrances and chambers allowing the resident opera ghost to spy on everyone.
- The Paris Opera of Phantom of the Opera (1943) is a perfectly reputable business with no seedy underbelly... up until Eric Claudin moves in following his disfigurement and begins the Phantom's reign of terror.
- In The Phantom of the Opera (1962), the London Opera House is the territory of two villains: crooked publisher Lord Ambrose D'Arcy is running the opera house into the ground in his efforts to get his magnum opus just to his liking, while also actively trying to seduce young singers; meanwhile, the Phantom and his henchman are undermining D'Arcy by sabotaging instruments, destroying props and murdering staff as revenge for D'Arcy plagiarizing his music.
- As with the musical, The Phantom of the Opera (2004) features examples of both the first and second type: in the intro, the Opera Populaire has been derelict for many years and is basically just waiting for the wrecking ball while the staff auction off old props for pennies. During the main body of the film, thirty years previously, the Opera is firmly under the thumb of the Phantom.
- In Phantom of the Paradise, legendary record producer Swan creates a spectacular concert hall known as the Paradise as the crowning glory of his career. As such, it's his personal villain lair, complete with hidden passages, surveillance everywhere, regular mistreatment of performers, and even a private audio suite in which he essentially imprisons the Phantom - and seals him inside once his work is done. For good measure, Swan has no problem allowing his performers to be murdered on-stage for the sake of publicity.
- In Mulholland Dr., the heroines are strangely drawn to an old-fashioned theatre called Club Silencio, somewhere down a Los Angeles alleyway, and attend an unsettling performance piece. Its full significance is never completely clear, but it has something to do with Rita's lost memories.
- Angels of Music: The Grand Guignol is a dark theatre in Paris which showcases bloody shows and satire for the audience; though initially suspected of foul play, it's really just a deeply controversial horror show that's otherwise perfectly above board... or at least it is during work hours. Unknown to all, the theatre has been taken over by the villainous Red Circle who use it to stage late-night snuff performances for their sick amusement while Guignol himself is Forced to Watch. Ironically, it ends up being brought down with direct assistance from the Phantom of the Opera himself.
- In The Golden Key, or the Adventures of Buratino by Alexey Tolstoy (a very loose retelling of The Adventures of Pinocchio), Carabas-Barabas is a cruel theatre director who treats his troupe of marionettes (who are animate and sapient in the setting, and he is aware of it) awfully, starving them and beating them up and caring only for the profits. He refuses to realise that the main reasons for him losing money are the boring plays he stages and the obviously starved and exhausted look of the actors.
- The Theatre des Vampires of Interview With The Vampire and the film adaptation is a theatre troop composed almost entirely of vampires. Under Armand's leadership, it allows the vampires of his coven to murder human victims live on stage without the audience suspecting it to be anything other than a particular lurid horror show. The Theatre proves no more hospitable to their fellow vampires: once they discover that Louis and Claudia murdered Lestat, they have the former Buried Alive while the latter is executed by sunrise.
- Moving Pictures: In the caverns under Holy Wood Hill, the protagonists discover the remains of an ancient moving-picture pit — which the narration dubs "the Cthinema" — from the first Holy Wood civilisation, which was destroyed when the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions used it to break through onto the Discworld. Unseen creatures scuttle over the rotten remnants of ancient carpets and curtains, and an audience of skeletons, who apparently died watching the last showing, stare at a strange, rippling screen that hangs in the air, apparently attached to nothing. When they return later, knowing the Things are trying to emerge once again and can only be stopped there, they find the entire population of Holy Wood sitting in the audience, transfixed by the screen...
- The Opera House in The Phantom of the Opera was designed by the Phantom himself, and comes equipped with dozens of secret passages and hidden chambers that he can use to his advantage, including a hidden lair deep beneath the building. For most of the story, the Phantom is terrorizing the staff, extorting money from the managers, grooming a young ingenue for stardom, and is fully prepared to murder both audience members and employees if he doesn't get what he wants.
- In The Big Bang Theory, Penny was once part of a performance of The Diary of Anne Frank in a theater over a bowling alley. She says they used the sound of bowling balls to represent artillery.
- Charmed (1998): in the episode "Show Ghouls" Cabaret Fantome is a club and cabaret parlour known for being the most corrupt in the city of San Francisco. Its owner, the evil Count Roget, ended up making a deal with the demon Sargon to kill the occupants and trap their souls in an endless loop where they're forced to have to endure the same night - which ends with their deaths - again and again. This is repeated every day for over a 100 years.
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: In the three-part story "The Wedding", Alpha 5 (who has been reprogrammed by the villains to be evil) tricks the Rangers into teleporting to an abandoned theater on the edge of Angel Grove, where an army of monsters is waiting to attack them. The theater is stated by Zordon to be a "vortex" where the Rangers' powers will not work, placing them in even greater danger.
- The Muppet Theater of The Muppet Show is often portrayed as as a Non-Functional venue, especially given the wacky hijinks of Gonzo, Lew Zealand, Crazy Harry and others. At one point, J.P. Grosse refuses to have the place demolished as he believes that it'll probably fall apart on its own sooner or later - only for the floor to collapse under him! In The Muppets, the theater is in even worse condition given its disuse over the decades.
- In Ravenloft, Lemot Sediam Juste is the playwright darklord of Scaena. Originally known for his comedies, his first tragedy provoked only laughter. In revenge for this slight, he locked the audience into the theatre and burned it to the ground, earning his darklordship. His realm of Scaena is a travelling pocket domain consisting of a single theatre. Juste has complete control over the intricate illusions he creates on his stage, can meld into any wooden surface in his theater and emerge elsewhere in the realm. He can also will the theatre to burn down (and then reform), and is immune to the flames.
- In Magic: The Gathering, every Rakdos nightclub on Ravnica probably qualifies as an example of the "villainous" version.
- Halloween Horror Nights 2009 is based around the Universal Palace Theatre, which seems to be some kind of malevolent Genius Loci that kills people who break any/all rules of theatre etiquette while in it.
- The Phantom of the Opera features examples of both the first and second type: in the prelude, the Opera Populaire is a ruin being used as a makeshift auction house where relics from the glory days can be sold off for a few francs - including Lot 666, a chandelier in pieces. The rest of the musical is set in the Opera House's heyday, when it's a lot more glamourous... but unfortunately, it's also the Phantom's territory, and anyone who fails to follow his instructions to the letter is due for "a disaster beyond your imagination."
- In Alice: Madness Returns, the Carpenter and the Walrus have been running one of these in the Deluded Depths, and though it seems to be quite majestic outwardly, the Dreary Lane Theater quickly turns out to be of the non-functional variety: the script writer is drunk, the orchestra is out of tune, the performers are left in precarious conditions, and the whole place looks to have been made from driftwood. However, in the final stage, Alice discovers a mass grave of audience members buried under the stage, revealing that Dreary Lane is actually a villainous example; it turns out that Carpenter has been using the theatre as a means of feeding Walrus, and the performance of Totentanz ultimately devolves into the actors and audience being devoured alive.
- Batman: Arkham City concludes with a visit to the old Monarch Theater; presumably abandoned for several years, the fact that a good chunk of the surrounding area has been converted into the Arkham City prison has only left the aging cinema complex in even worse condition. It's been repurposed as a temporary base for the Joker and his gang by the time you find it because there's a Lazarus Pit directly under the building, giving Joker an easy route to immortality once he blasts the floor open.
- During the visit to Fort Frolic in Bioshock 1, it's found that Sander Cohen has taken over the Fleet Hall theater and is using it as a base of operations in his various artistic efforts playing out across the district. Cohen has decorated the abandoned playhouse with plastered-over corpses posed to resemble audience members while he tortures one of his former proteges live on stage - even blowing him up when the poor bastard can't get that piano composition just right.
- In Fallout: New Vegas - Dead Money, one of the many venues within the Sierra Madre Hotel and Casino is the Tampico Theater, an auditorium meant for only the best performers in America, including such stars as Dean Domino and Vera Keyes. However, by the time you visit it, it's every bit as deadly as the rest of the Sierra Madre: the murderous holograms are actively patrolling the area, speakers can set off your bomb collar, and Elijah is still watching you for any sign of rebellion. Also, Dean Domino is currently using this place as a hidey-hole; if you've gotten on his bad side, he will turn the theatre's security against you and try to kill you in person if that doesn't work.
- Fallout 4:
- The Combat Zone, Tommy Lonegan's fighting area, is set in a pre-war theater. According to Lonegan, the Zone used to be fairly legitimate by Wasteland standards... up until raiders took the place over. Since then, it's gone downhill - to the point that cheaters have to be trussed up and put on display so nobody gets any ideas about breaking the rules in a match.
- The Charles View Amphitheater has been taken over by the Pillars of the Community and is now their base of operations in their efforts to rip off passers-by.
- NieR: Automata features an "amusement" park invested by robots who clumsily try to imitate the long gone humans, which includes an old theater. Said theater became the den of a machine called Simone who went berserk and started to kill both machines and androids to incorporate their parts and become "beautiful". After you defeat her in a boss fight, the theater becomes used for an extremely weird (and hilarious) rendition of Romeo and Juliet by small machines.
- A major plot point in Parasite Eve sees Carnagie Hall turned into a horror scene as the evil Midochondria Eve fully takes over an opera singer named Melissa. This resulted in the entire audience catching on fire and turning into cellular goo, with Aya being the only survivor to immediately investigate. The aftermath is not pretty.
- Psychonauts: Gloria Von Gouton's Mental World is "Gloria's Theater", a stage trying to put on a play about Gloria's life. However, the play is constantly being sabotaged by The Phantom, and endlessly heckled by Jasper Rolls, Gloria's inner Caustic Critic. Plus, there's the Manual Mood Override, a light that can switch the play between being upbeat and happy, and dark and dangerous.
- Early in The Suffering: Ties That Bind, Torque is led into the Grand Theater, a derelict cinema in the slums of Baltimore. It was obviously in pretty bad shape even before the Malefactors took over the city: the place is littered with rubbish, the seats have been removed from the theater itself, and it's obviously been converted into a den for homeless drug addicts - most of whom have been butchered in the last few hours. Dr Killjoy uses this place as a briefing room for Torque, keeping it relatively safe... up until Blackmore appears and sends in the Malefactors to make Torque manifest his rage form again.
- Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines:
- The Nocturne Theater in Downtown Los Angeles appears functional enough, but it's actually an official meeting ground for the local vampires and the decidedly unsympathetic Prince Sebastian Lacroix; in the game's introduction, he has your sire executed on stage and is only prevented from doing the same to you because of public outcry. Later in the game, you can end up planting hidden cameras in the Nocturne on behalf of the Nosferatu hacker Mitnick.
- In Hollywood, Isaac Abrams' Asian Theater has been taken over by a Tremere Gargoyle. With the creature too tough for most vampires to dare challenge, the complex has been left derelict and most of the local mortals believe it to be haunted; Abrams wants the place up and running again, and tasks you with evicting the gargoyle — either by killing it in a tricky boss battle or by talking it into working for Abrams.