Theatre History Western Theater: Greece

Created By: Christian Rios

Brief Background Info:
• The majority of Ancient Greek theatrical texts have not survived intact. • Flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC.

The Three Dramatic ‘Genres’:
1. Comedy (c. 486 BC): is divided into 3
Old Comedy: survives today largely in the form of the eleven surviving plays of Aristophanes. Middle Comedy: mostly lost, preserved in short fragments in authors such as Athenaeus of


New Comedy: known primarily from the substantial papyrus fragments of Menander.

2. Tragedy (6th Century BC): is based on
human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. -Greek literature boasts three writers of tragedy: Aeschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles.

3. Satyr: a form of tragicomedy, similar to
the modern-day burlesque style.
-They always featured a chorus of satyrs and were based in Greek mythology.

• The tragic & sartyr plays were performed at the festival where they were part of a series of four performances -a "tetralogy“. - The 1st , 2nd and 3rd plays were a dramatic trilogy based on mythological events. - The 4th performance was a satyr. Performances lasted several hours and were held during daytime.

The Fantastic Four:
• • • • Aeschylus Sophocles Euripides Aristophanes Are regarded as the most influential by critics of subsequent eras including Aristotle. 

• The dramas rarely had more than three actors. • All actors were male. • Dramas were staged only once, at the drama contest. • The plays had a chorus of up to fifty people, who performed the plays in verse accompanied by music.

Theater Architecture:

• The performance space was a semi-circular space. • The orchestra space was where the chorus danced and sang. • Theater was situated on a flattened terrace at the foot of a hill, the slope of which produced a natural theatron, literally "watching place".

Later, the term "theatre" came to be applied to the whole area of theatron, orchestra, and skené.

• The theatres were originally built on a large scale to accommodate the large number of people on stage AND the large number of people in the audience (up to 14,000). • Mathematics played a large role in the construction of these theatres- their designers had to be able to create acoustics in them so that the actors' voices could be heard throughout the theatre. • The first seats in Greek theatres (other than sitting on the ground) were wooden. Around 499 BC the practice of inlaying stone blocks into the side of the hill to create permanent, thus, stable seating became more common.

Scenic Elements:
• In 465 BC, playwrights began using a backdrop or scenic wall, which hung or stood behind the orchestra, which also served as an area where actors could change their costumes. • The death of a character was always heard behind the ‘skene’- it was considered inappropriate to show a killing in view of the audience.

Link to Today’s Proscenium:
• In 425 BC a stone scene wall (paraskenia), became a common supplement to ‘skenes’ in the theatres. It was a long wall with projecting sides, which may have had doorways for entrances and exits. Just behind the paraskenia was the proskenion. The proskenion ("in front of the scene") was columned, and was similar to the modern day proscenium. Today's proscenium is what separates the audience from the stage.

• machina, a crane that gave the impression of a flying actor (thus, deus ex machina). • ekkyklema, a wheeled wagon used to bring dead characters into view for the audience • trap doors, or similar openings in the ground to lift people onto the stage • Pinakes, pictures hung into the scene to show a scene's scenery • Thyromata, more complex pictures built into the second-level scene (3rd level from ground) • Phallic props were used for satyr plays, symbolizing fertility in honor of Dionysus.

This made them seem larger, so the audience could see them better throughout the entire Amphitheatre: • The actors wore very colorful & large masks. • The masks did not amplify the actors voice. • They also wore thick, padded clothing, and shoes with thick soles.

• The Greek term for mask is persona and was a significant element in the worship of Dionysus in Athens.

• One of the iconic conventions of classical Greek theatre.
• No physical evidence remains available to us, as the masks were made of organic materials and not considered permanent objects, ultimately being dedicated to the altar of Dionysus after performances.

Mask Details:
• Helmet-like, covering the entire face & head, holes for the eyes, a small aperture for the mouth,& an integrated wig. • The masks were most likely made out of light weight, organic materials like stiffened linen, leather, wood, or cork, with the wig consisting of human or animal hair. • The mouth opening was relatively small, preventing the mouth to be seen during performances. • In a large open-air theatre, like the Theatre of

Dionysus in Athens, the classical masks were able to bring the characters' face closer to the audience, especially since they had intensely overexaggerated facial features and expressions.

• • • • All male. 3-Actor rule (besides chorus). Multiple-Role Playing. Performance in ancient Greece did not distinguish the masked actor from the theatrical character. • They enabled an actor to appear and reappear in several different roles, thus preventing the audience from identifying the actor to one specific character. Their variations help the audience to distinguish sex, age, and social status, in addition to revealing a change in a particular character’s appearance. • Mask was to ‘melt’ into the face to allow the actor to vanish into the role.

Terms, Places, People and Things to Know
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • City Dionysia Trilogies Satyr Play Lenaea Theatra (Theatron) Voice Theatre of Dionysus Courtroom Trials Interiority Presentationalism Acropolis Orchestra Theatre at Thorikos Skene Skenographia Ekkyklema Mechane

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Orestes Orestes Clytemnestra Multiple-Role-Playing Three-Actor Rule Trialogue Stichomythy Microphonia Protagonist Deuteragonist Tritagonist Choregos (Choregoi) Chorodidaskalos Aeschylus Sophocles Euripides Aristophanes

Works Sited:
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