Ancient Greek Theater This is where it all began: the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens. Scope of Influence The comedy and tragedy that developed in Athens and flourished in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE have influenced nearly all subsequent Western drama, starting with that of the Romans. When the Romans conquered Greece
they brought Greek literature back to Italy and set about making it their own. The Romans, with their love of spectacle, soon took over the existing theatres in Greece and began renovating and rebuilding them for their own spectacles, which included everything from pantomime (closer to ballet than to the children's 'panto') to mock naval battles. Most of the remains of the theatre of Dionysus which we can
see in Athens today date to Roman times and not the fifth century BCE. The tragedies and comedies of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE that remain to us today were almost all written for performance in the Theatre of Dionysus at Athens. The Theatre of Dionysus was first dug out of the slope beneath the south side of the Acropolis in the late 6th century BCE, possibly while Athens was still under the rule of the Peisistratid dynasty. It was rebuilt and expanded many times, and so it is difficult to tell exactly what its original shape was. Theater is a ritualistic art form which celebrates the Olympian gods who often
appeared as characters. Dionysus, god of wine and procreation, was honored at the dramatic festivals. Legendary kings and heroes were often portrayed as well. Theater and the Common Man
Business and activities were suspended during the week-long festivals held three times per year. It was considered a CIVIC DUTY for people to participate in the productions in some way. The plays were to give a lesson to the people - DIDACTIC PURPOSE The Physical Structure of the Greek Theater
The theatron held benches on which the audience sat. The semicircular theatron was specifically built in to a hillside to provide good views of the action. The orchestra was the circular dancing place for the chorus. The parados were two broad aisles which allowed the chorus to enter
the theater. Parados is also the term for the entrance song of the chorus. The skene was a rectangular building with three doors which provided a generic backdrop for entrances and exits of the characters. The proskenion was a small platform in front of the skene to give actors more visibility to the audience. The Physical Structure of the Greek Theater
Approx. 15,000 people fit in the Theater of Dionysus in Athens. No sets, props, etc. Actors lines marked the passage of time and the setting. Design of theatron was important for acoustics no microphones. The Players
Because Greek tragedy and comedy originated with the chorus, the most important part of the performance space was the orchestra, which means 'a place for dancing' (orchesis). A tragic chorus consisted of 12 or 15 dancers (choreuts), who may have been young men just about to enter military service after some years of training. Athenians were taught to sing and dance from a very early age. The effort of dancing and singing through
three tragedies and a satyr play was likened to that of competing in the Olympic Games. Performance Characteristics Plays were initially held with just the chorus singing/chanting the lines. In 534 BCE Thespis was credited with
creating the first actor (thespians). The character spoke lines as a god. This begins the concept of DIALOGUE the character interacts with chorus. The Role of the Actor Aeschylus earliest Greek tragedy writer brought idea of second actor.
Sophocles brought third actor no more than three actors on stage ever in a Greek tragedy. Euripedes also used three actors after Sophocles. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes each wrote a version of the Oedipus tragedy, but Sophocles version is the most famous.
Actors needed to be LARGER THAN LIFE and thus easy to see. Size was symbolic of their social status. Chiton a long, flowing robe, padded at the shoulders for width, selected in symbolic colors Cothurni platform shoes for added height The Greek Actor
Participation is a civic duty; many volunteered for the chorus. Experienced speakers became actors (often govt. officials or imp. businessmen) Actors were revered and exempt from military duty. Women were excluded from acting and had to sit in the higher seats in the theatron. Masks
The large size of the theatre (in its final form it seated 20,000 people) and the distance of even the nearest spectators from the performers (more than 10 meters) dictated a non-naturalistic approach to acting. All gestures had to be large and definite so as to 'read' from the
back rows. Facial expression would have been invisible to all but the closest members of the audience. The masks worn by the actors looked more 'natural' than bare faces in the Theatre of Dionysus. The masks of tragedy were of an ordinary, face-fitting size, with wigs attached, and open mouths to allow clear speech. Contrary to some later theories, there were no 'megaphones' in the masks, and their decoration and expression was quite subtle, as vase paintings from the 5th and 4th centuries attest. Theatrical masks were made of wood (like the
masks of Japanese Noh drama), leather (like the masks of the Commedia dell' arte, or cloth and flour paste (like many of the masks used at the Carnevale of Venice, and many masks made for modern productions today). Various theories are advanced in favor of each material, but no originals remain, only stone carvings which may have been used as mask-molds and the paintings on pottery. Declamatory Acting Style Actors could not move easily, so lines were delivered in a speech style.
Broad sweeping gestures. General movements to express emotions: Bowed head grief; beating chest mourning; stretching arms prayer. Minor props scepter king, spear warrior, elderly cane. Greek Theater Masks Paradox of the Mask
The most distinctive feature of the mask was its ability to limit and broaden at the same time. It identified a specific character, but it also had generalized features which gave an Everyman quality. This allowed the audience to get the personal message intended for each member of the audience. Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King)
Written by Sophocles in 430 B.C.E. Based on a great legend of western culture from Ancient Greece. Greatest Greek tragedy; drama of extreme tension; one person rules action Sophocles version deals with the discovery of Oedipus fate.
Tragedy lies in Oed. learning of his guilty deeds rather than the committing of them. Shows Oed. at war with himself Tension lies in the first realization of outcome and
his push for full truth and proof. Free will cannot blame fate. Reason is mans greatest possession and power. Sophocles. Oedipus shows how mans strength becomes his weakness Loss of eyesight is symbolic regarding Oed.s abuse of Teresias, Oed.s own
blindness to his fate, and our blindness to our own calamities.
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