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History of theatre

African Theatre

Yoruba Theatre

In his pioneering study of Yoruba theatre, Joel Adedeji traced its origins to the masquerade of
the Egun or Egungunoud and red, rarely applauding the actors, but always shouting insults and
booing. Because the audience was so loud, much, the “cult of the ancestor.”[1] The traditional
Egun rite, which is controlled exclusively by men, culminates in a masquerade in which
ancestors return to the world of the living to visit their descendants.[2] In addition to a basis in
ritual, Yoruba theatre can be “traced to the ‘theatrogenic’ nature of a number of the deities in the
Yoruba pantheon, such as Obatala the god of creation, Ogun the god of creativeness and Sango
the god of lightning” whose worship is imbricated “with drama and theatre and their symbolic
and psychological uses.”[3]

The Aláàrìnjó theatrical tradition sprang from the egun masquerade. The Aláàrìnjó was
composed of a troupe of traveling performers, who, like the performers in the egun rite, were
masked. The Aláàrìnjó performers created satirical skits by drawing on a number of established
stereotypical characters and incorporating mime, music and acrobatics. The Aláàrìnjó tradition in
turn deeply influenced the Yoruba traveling theatre, which, from the 1950’s to the 1980’s was
the most prevalent and highly developed form of theatre in Nigeria. From the 1990s on the
Yoruba traveling theatre began working with television and film and now rarely gives live

‘Total theater’ also developed in Nigeria in the 1950’s and was characterized by surrealist
physical imagery, non-naturalistic idioms and linguistic flexibility. Later playwrights writing in
the mid 1970’s valued ‘total theater’ but included “a radical appreciation of the problems of

Major figures in contemporary Nigerian theatre continue to be deeply influenced by traditional
performance modes. Chief Hubert Ogunde, sometimes referred to as the “father of contemporary
Yoruban theatre,” was informed by the Aláàrìnjó tradition and egun masquerades.[6] Wole
Soyinka, who is “generally recognized as Africa’s greatest living playwright” gives egun a
complex metaphysical significance in his work.[7] Further in his essay, "The Fourth Stage:
Through the Mysteries of Ogun to the Origin of Yoruba Tragedy," originally published in 1973,
Soyinka suggests that “no matter how strongly African authors call for an indigenous tragic art
form, they smuggle into their dramas, through the back door of formalistic and ideological
predilections, typically conventional Western notions and practices of rendering historical events
into tragedy.” Soyinka then contrasts Yoruban drama with Greek drama, as discussed by
Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, establishing an aesthetic of Yoruban tragedy based, in part,
on the Yoruban pantheon, including Ogun and Obatala.

a theoretical treatise on Indian performing arts. which has been compared to Aristotle's Poetics. of drama in a systematic manner. . His Natya Shastra seems to be the first attempt to develop the technique or rather art. 5th–2nd century BC) was an ancient Indian writer best known for writing the Natya Shastra of Bharata. and the rasas (emotional responses) that they inspire in the audience. In such a very simple and crude manner did the theatre originate in India during Rig Vedic times. Many historians. each in individual chapters. Natya Shastra Bharata Muni (fl. monkeys.. the imitations of emotions that the actors perform. Bharata is often known as the father of Indian theatrical arts. is the imitation of men and their doings (loka-vritti). and music. He argues that there are eight principal rasas: love. acting. so drama in Sanskrit is also known by the term roopaka which means portrayal. costume. Those who acted as mammals like goats. buffaloes. but of this we lack material proof. Kosambi. plus a depiction of events from daily life. all the modes of expression employed by an individual viz. It was the last element which made it the origin of the classical theatre of later times. Bharata sets out a detailed theory of drama comparable to the Poetics of Aristotle. including theatre. gestures. heroism. anger. In addition. food. etc.. Drama. makeup. terror and comedy. reindeer. etc. He refers to bhavas. The Natya Shastra tells us not only what is to be portrayed in a drama. As men and their doings have to be respected on the stage. There also must have existed a theatrical tradition in the Harappan cities. The representation of these expressions can have different modes (vritti) according to the predominance and emphasis on one mode or another. pity.Asian theatre Indian theatre Folk theatre and dramatics can be traced to the religious ritualism of the Vedic peoples in the 2nd millenium BC. disgust. a theory of aesthetics (rasas and bhavas). dance. dance and music (kaishiki vritti). Adya Rangacharaya. were chased by those playing the role of hunters. action (arabhatti vritti) and emotions (sattvatti vritti). speech. Bharata Muni recognises four main modes: speech and poetry (bharati vritti). awe. dance (various movements and gestures). notably D. he lays down principles for stage design. ritualism. and that plays should mix different rasas but be dominated by one. but how the portrayal is to be done. have referred to the prevalence of ritualism amongst Indo-Aryan tribes in which some members of the tribe acted as if they were wild animals and some others were the hunters. The Natya Shastra is incredibly wide in its scope. as Bharata Muni says. It consists of minutely detailed precepts for both playwrights and actors. According to the Natya Shastra. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya. This folk theatre of the misty past was mixed with dance. Bharata describes ten types of drama ranging from one to ten acts. directing and music. D. movements and intonation must be used. acting.

who drew heavily from the epics. the last two cover between them. There were two distinct forms of shadow puppetry. It was the first to be translated into English and German. In comparison to Bhasa. Cantonese southern and Pekingese northern. Tang theatre The Tang Dynasty is sometimes known as 'The Age of 1000 Entertainments'. Both styles generally performed plays depicting great adventure and fantasy. Many other dramatists followed during the Middle Ages. a black face represented honesty. During the Han Dynasty. is arguably considered to be ancient India's greatest Sanskrit dramatist.Classical Indian theatre The Ramayana and Mahabharata can be considered the first recognized plays that originated in India. Kālidāsa can be considered an original playwright Medieval Indian theatre The next great Indian dramatist was Bhavabhuti (c. they often involved music. 7th century). Priyadarsika. Symbolic color was also very prevalent. The two styles were differentiated by the method of making the puppets and the positioning of the rods on the puppets. Mahaviracharita and Uttar Ramacharita. clowning and acrobatic displays. Thus. These epics provided the inspiration to the earliest Indian dramatists and they do it even today. The rods used to control Cantonese puppets were attached perpendicular to the puppets’ heads. Emperor Xuanzong formed an acting school known as the Children of the Pear Garden to produce a form of drama that was primarily musical. The last was inspired by a story in the Mahabharata and is the most famous. the entire epic of Ramayana. Cantonese shadow puppets were the larger of the two. Indian dramatists such as Bhasa in the second century BC wrote plays that were heavily inspired by the Ramayana and Mahabharata. During this era. Among these three. Kālidāsa in the first century BC. and the Buddhist drama Nagananda. Vikramuurvashiiya (Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi). as opposed to the type of play performed by the puppets. He is said to have written the following three plays: Malati-Madhava. They were built using thick leather which created more substantial shadows. rarely was this very stylized form of theatre used for political propaganda. Three famous romantic plays written by Kālidāsa are the Mālavikāgnimitram (Mālavikā and Agnimitra). and Abhijñānaśākuntala (The Recognition of Shakuntala). Chinese theatre Shang theatre There are references to theatrical entertainments in China as early as 1500 BC during the Shang Dynasty. a red one bravery. The powerful Indian emperor Harsha (606-648) is credited with having written three plays: the comedy Ratnavali. shadow puppetry first emerged as a recognized form of theatre in China. .

Shadow puppetry is said to have reached its highest point of artistic development in the eleventh century before becoming a tool of the government. Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443) who was considered one of the finest child actors in Japan. translucent leather usually taken from the belly of a donkey. Khmer and Malay theatre In Cambodia. they laid outside the shadow of the puppet. a version of the Indian Ramayana. there were many popular plays involving acrobatics and music. the theatrical version of Thailand's national epic Ramakien.they were not seen by the audience when the shadow was created. This was in keeping with the old superstition that if left intact. Kan'ami (1333-1384). there were small companies of actors in Japan who performed short. Sung and Yuan theatre In the Sung Dynasty. which is still popular today. The rods ran parallel to the bodies of the puppet then turned at a ninety degree angle to connect to the neck. Thai theatre In Thailand. In particular. the best known of which is Beijing Opera. The rods attached at the necks to facilitate the use of multiple heads with one body. The heads were always removed at night. They were painted with vibrant paints. Japanese theatre Noh During the 14th century. A director of one of these companies. They were created out of thin. While these rods were visible when the shadow was cast. thus they cast a very colorful shadow. stories from the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata have been carved on the walls of temples and palaces. they were stored in a muslin book or fabric lined box. to further reduce the possibility of reanimating puppets. it has been a tradition from the Middle Ages to stage plays based on plots drawn from Indian epics. These developed in the Yuan Dynasty into a more sophisticated form with a four or five act structure. Some puppeteers went so far as to store the heads in one book and the bodies in another. sometimes vulgar comedies. at the ancient capital Angkor Wat. Similar reliefs are found at Borobudur in Indonesia. Pekingese puppets were more delicate and smaller. The thin rods which controlled their movements were attached to a leather collar at the neck of the puppet. . Yuan drama spread across China and diversified into numerous regional forms. remains popular in Thailand even today. thus they did not interfere with the appearance of the figure. the puppets would come to life at night. had a son. Southeast Asian theatre Theatre in Southeast Asia was mostly influenced by Indian theatre. When the heads were not being used.

he continued to perform and adapt his style into what is today Noh. then by young boys. The founder of and main contributor to Ningyō jōruri. Kabuki was first performed by young girls. Kabuki companies consisted of all men. Kabuki is less formal and more distant than Nõ. . A mixture of pantomime and vocal acrobatics. pantomime. singing. The men who portrayed women on stage were specifically trained to elicit the essence of a woman in their subtle movements and gestures. today about 1/3d the size of a human. who uses varied tones of voice and speaking manners to simulate different characters. alarmed at increasing Christian growth. Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). and by the end of the sixteenth century. Actors are trained in many varied things including dancing. Bunraku Japan. Most of Kabuki's material came from Nõ and Bunraku. The other puppeteers. However. legend has it by an actress named Okuni. a flourish of cultural influence and growing merchant class demanded its own entertainment. and even acrobatics. The first form of theatre to flourish was Ningyō jōruri (commonly referred to as Bunraku). Kabuki Kabuki began shortly after Bunraku. turned his form of theatre into a true art form. yet very popular among the Japanese public. After Zeami succeeded his father. When peace did come. The dialogue is handled by a single person. most of which are still used today. after a long period of civil wars and political disarray. marking the known beginning of a long relationship between theatre and religion. this style has fascinated the Japanese for hundreds of years. cover themselves and their faces in a black suit. Ningyō jōruri is a highly stylized form of theatre using puppets. However. the Shogun of Japan. Butoh Middle-Eastern theatre Ancient Egyptian theatre The earliest recorded theatrical event dates back to 2000 BC with the passion plays of Ancient Egypt. was unified and at peace primarily due to shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1600-1668). when they can then operate the puppet's head and right arm and choose to show their faces during the performance. and its erratic dance-type movements are also an effect of Bunraku. he implored Zeami to have a court education for his arts. The men who control the puppets train their entire lives to become master puppeteers. he cut off contact from Japan to Europe and China and outlawed Christianity.When Kan'ami's company performed for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408). to imply their invisibility. who lived around the end of the sixteenth century. controlling the less important limbs of the puppet. This story of the god Osiris was performed annually at festivals throughout the civilization. Chikamatsu wrote thousands of plays during his lifetime.

where actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. and competed for an honorific prize (such as a tripod and a sum of money) awarded by a panel of judges . The actors wore large masks. so the audience could see them better when seated in the uppermost rows of the amphitheatre. Performances lasted several hours and were held during daytime. who was at the same time the author. A small number of works from four Greek playwrights writing during the sixth century B. In particular.usually these were the sacerdotal and civil officers presiding over the particular religious festival. The dramas rarely had more than three actors (all male). who played the different roles using masks. Live secular plays were known as akhraja. Shia Islamic plays revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. and the poet.Medieval Islamic theatre The most popular forms of theater in the medieval Islamic world were puppet theatre (which included hand puppets. which were very colourful. with enhanced celebratory and dance elements. at the traditional drama contest. most notably those in honor of the god Dionysos. composer. There was a chorus on the stage most of the time which sang songs and sometimes spoke in unison. The prize was awarded jointly to the producer.[8] Western theatre history Greek theatre The vast majority of Ancient Greek theatrical texts have not survived intact. second and third plays were a dramatic trilogy based on related or unrelated mythological events. a play on a lighter note. choreographer and director of the plays. who had financed the staging. • Aeschylus • Sophocles • Euripides • Aristophanes The above-mentioned playwrights are regarded as the most influential by critics of subsequent eras including Aristotle. remain fully intact. Actors also wore thick. As far as we know. recorded in medieval adab literature. These masks did not amplify the actors voice as has been previously thought. The tragic and satyr plays were always performed at the festival (City Dionysia) where they were part of a series of four performances (a "tetralogy"): the first. and shoes with thick soles. This made them seem larger. though they were less common than puppetry and ta'ziya theater. Such contests were always held in the context of major religious festivals.C. . shadow plays and marionette productions) and live passion plays known as ta'ziya. padded clothing. and the culminating fourth performance was a satyr play. most dramas were staged just a single time.

after the fall of Roman civilization. much of the plays were mimed and repetitive. Because the audience was so loud. Plays lasted for two hours. were direct re-elaborations of works by Menander. like the York Mystery . education and often politics. When comparing and contrasting ancient Roman theatre to that of Greece it can easily be said that Roman theatre was less influenced by religion. towns re- emerged. women slaves took the roles of women in plays. • A yellow robe meant the character was a woman. The actors developed a kind of code that would tell the audience about the characters just by looking at them. this was a more elaborate series of one-act dramas enacted in town squares or other parts of the city. Then came vernacular drama spoken in the vulgar tongues (i. and were usually comedies. Theatre was reborn as liturgical dramas performed by priests or church members. There were three types of vernacular dramas.) • A yellow tassel meant the character was a god.[9] In the Middle Ages. After several hundred years. Mystery or cycle plays. and many of the comedies of Plautus and Terence. Medieval European theatre In Europe in the courts of kings and noblemen scripted re-enactments of the Arthurian legends and other romances. Also. the most famous Roman comic playwrights. Seneca's Phaedra was based on the Hippolytus of Euripides. This was no doubt a reflection of Roman culture and habits. By the 16th century the practice had developed into staged theatrical events. as originally female characters were played by men. cities were abandoned. In Roman theatre war was a more common thing to appear on stage as opposed to the Greek theatre where wars were more commonly spoken about. however as the Roman theatre progressed.e the language of the people as opposed to Church Latin). southern and western Europe became increasingly more agricultural. rarely applauding the actors. but always shouting insults and booing. Roman theatre was more for aesthetic appeal. and as with many other literary genres Roman dramatists tended to adapt and translate from the Greek.Roman theatre The theatre of ancient Rome was heavily influenced by the Greek tradition. • A black wig meant the character was a young man. For example. Most comedies involved mistaken identity (such as gods disguised as humans). • A purple robe meant the character was a young man. The audience was often loud and rude. The Roman Catholic church dominated religion. • A white robe meant the character was an old man. usually associated with jousting or tournaments. were popular the early 13th century until the middle of the 14th. • A red wig meant the character was a slave. (Needed in early Roman theatre. • A gray wig meant the character was an old man.

licensing. which were loose frameworks of productions providing only the situations. Puritan opposition to the stage – informed by the arguments of the early Church Fathers who had written screeds against the decadent and violent entertainments of the Romans – argued not only that the stage in general was pagan. long after the religious landscape in England had changed. at the outbreak of the English Civil War the Protestant authorities banned the performance of all plays within the city limits of London. and censorship. and the great cycle plays (massive. A sweeping assault against the alleged immoralities of the theatre crushed whatever remained in England of the dramatic tradition. Plays were set up in individual scenic units called mansions or in wagon stages which were platforms mounted on wheels used to move scenery. and drawing pilgrims.[10] Whereas most churches carefully watched over the scripts of their dogmatic plays. Miracle plays dealt with the lives of saints. Plays did not originate from scripts but scenarios. The platform stage allowed for abrupt changes in location which was an unidentified space and not a specific locale. Often providing their own costumes. suggesting that Shakespeare expected his audience to be familiar with this particular medieval tradition. Commedia dell'Arte Commedia dell'Arte troupes performed lively improvisational playlets across Europe for centuries. but other countries had female performers. in an effort to stamp out allegiance to Rome. . Since many of the more theatrically successful medieval religious plays were designed to teach Catholic doctrine. Morality plays taught a lesson through allegorical characters representing virtues or faults. in order to ensure that the faithful were being taught the accepted doctrine. but medieval religious drama is most remembered today. which is still performed every ten years). amateur performers in England were only men. Hamlet's reference to a frenetic performance that "out-Herods Herod" refers to the tradition of presenting King Herod as a bombastic figure. and differed from conventional theatre in that it was neither professional nor open to the public. Secular plays in this period existed. Among the more notable religious plays were "The Summoning of Everyman" (an allegory designed to teach the faithful that acts of Christian charity are necessary for entry into heaven). passion plays (such as the later Oberammergau Passion Play. by the end of the 1500s Queen Elizabeth I was controlling the stage just as effectively through a system of patronage. It originated in Italy in the 1560s. Commedia dell'Arte required only actors at its heart. the Protestant Reformation targeted the English Renaissance theatre.Plays or Wakefield Cycle were series of short dramas based on the Old Testament and New Testament organized into historical cycles. no scene and very few props were considered absolutely essential. The morality play and mystery play (as they are known in English) were two distinct genres. In 1642. festive wagon-mounted processions involving hundreds of actors. and entrepreneurs) York Corpus Christi Play Simulator. but that any play that represented a religious figure was inherently idolatrous. tourists.

Other sources include the morality plays and the "University drama" that attempted to recreate Greek tragedy. however. but its hostility was overmatched by the Queen's taste for plays and the Privy Council's support. an eldery Venetian merchant who wore his pajamas most often. the genre of Commedia dell'Arte had lost public interest and died out. and a 1572 law eliminated the remaining companies lacking formal patronage by labelling them vagabonds. and Capitano. He also wrote several true plays starring Commedia characters. but beyond the authority's control. The Italian tradition of Commedia dell'arte as well as the elaborate masques frequently presented at court also contributed to the shaping of public theatre. who was once a lover's character. but since he considered the genre too vulgar. The servant character type (called zanni) had only one recurring role: Arlecchino (also called Harlequin). originally performed in churches[citation needed] but later becoming more linked to the secular celebrations that grew up around religious festivals. he refined the topics of his own to be more sophisticated. but even after that time new scenarios were written and performed. such as the mystery plays that formed a part of religious festivals in England and other parts of Europe during the Middle Ages. masters. No women were allowed to act in theater at this time. The City of London authorities were generally hostile to public performances. a doctor or lawyer who acted far more intelligent than he really was. The mystery plays were complex retellings of legends based on biblical themes. but an accomplished dancer. but was often terrifically unskilled in both. By 1775. He was both cunning and ignorant. Improvisation today is very close to the Commedia. These became the foundation for the professional players that performed on the Elizabethan stage. The role of master was normally based on one of three stereotypes: Pantalone. Pantalone's friend or rival. The companies maintained the pretence that their . the performance of masques by courtiers and other amateurs. was replaced by the professional companies with noble patrons. Theatres sprang up in suburbs. but evolved into a man who bragged about his exploits in love and war. apparently common in the early years of Elizabeth. who grew in number and quality during her reign. The tours of these players gradually replaced the performances of the mystery and morality plays by local players. Most actors were paid by taking a share of the play's profits roughly equivalent to the size of their role. The actors improvised most dialogue and comedic interludes(called lazzi). Companies of players attached to households of leading noblemen and performing seasonally in various locations existed before the reign of Elizabeth I. accessible across the Thames to city dwellers.complications. At court as well. and servants. He normally carried a sword and wore a cape and feathered headdress. especially in the liberty of Southwark. Renaissance theatre Renaissance theatre derived from several medieval theatre traditions. So there were absolutely no female performers. He typically carried a wooden stick with a split in the middle so it made a loud noise when striking something. The plays were based around a few stock characters. Dottore. The lovers had different names and characteristics in most plays and often were the children of the master's character. which could be divided into three groups: the lovers. and outcome of the work. The style of theatre was in its peak from 1575-1650. Carlo Goldoni wrote a few scenarios starting in 1734. This "weapon" gave us the term "slapstick." A troupe typically consisted of 13 to 14 members.

Dario Fo and Tony Kushner. Along with the economics of the profession. Late modern theatre Late Modern. With the development of the private theatres. Bertolt Brecht. often continues the project of realism. Harold Pinter. there has also been a great deal of experimental theatre that rejects the conventions of realism and earlier forms. the drama was a unified expression as far as social class was concerned: the Court watched the same plays the commoners saw in the public playhouses. which sustained themselves on the accumulated works of the previous decades. Samuel Beckett. However. Antonin Artaud. Neoclassical theatre as well as the time period is characterized by its grandiosity. the former were the real source of the income professional players required. few new plays were being written for the public theatres.public performances were mere rehearsals for the frequent performances before the Queen. It demanded decorum and rigorous adherence to the classical unities. Examples include: Epic theatre.[11] Restoration comedy Restoration spectacular Neoclassical theatre Neoclassicism was the dominant form of theatre in the eighteenth century. the character of the drama changed toward the end of the period. drama became more oriented toward the tastes and values of an upper-class audience. and postmodern theatre. but while the latter did grant prestige. Eugene O'Neill. 1737 Parliament passed the Stage Licensing Act which introduced state censorship of public performances and limited the number of theatres in London to just two. Under Elizabeth. including: • Naturalism • Realism • Dadaism • Expressionism • Surrealism • Absurdism • Postmodernism . Konstantin Stanislavski. The acting is characterized by large gestures and melodrama. absurdist theatre. By the later part of the reign of Charles I. and especially twentieth century theatre. The costumes and scenery were intricate and elaborate. Key figures of the century include: Luigi Pirandello. A number of aesthetic movements emerged in the 20th century. Theatres of the early 18th century – sexual farces of the Restoration were superseded by politically satirical comedies.