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Mapping Theatre History


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  • 1. Religious Influences Kirsty Emery, Laura Guthrie, Eun Keung Lee and Harry Trow
  • 2.
    • Greek theatre originated from a religious ceremony, where songs and dances were performed to honour the god Dionysius or Bacchus.
    • Dionysius was the god of fertility, wine, merry-making and feasting and by the end of 6th Century BC his cult had conquered the whole of Greece.
    • Dionysian festivals involved his worshippers dressing up, men as Satyrs and women as Bacchante; the wine and religious ecstasy lead them to believe they had became the scared herd of Dionysius.
    • This was the first expression of concealing identity and becoming someone or something else, which is the basis of acting. Gradually this developed and a ritual performance was added.
  • 3.
    • The performance would take place on a flat area of hillside near the gods temple and included a chorus of fifty men surrounding the alter and chanting in unison the Dithyramb, a narrative hymn telling of some legend relating to the god.
    • Today we can still see links between religion and theatrical performance the most common being at Christmas time when we see children re-enacting the nativity scene, showing the birth of Christ.
  • 4.
    • At first the Dithyramb was improvised, with the first said to have been constructed by Arion or Methymna, and by the 7th and 6th centuries BC individual poets were composing lines for the chorus to perform.
    • During the 6th century the exarchos , leader of the chorus, had began to move away from the chorus, creating a separate character which transformed the narrative into a dramatic representation.
    • This was further developed, with the introduction of an actor to replace the exarchos , by Thespis and his new form of theatre.
  • 5.
    • In the 6th century BC Thespis travelled on a cart, in the form of a ship, carrying his belongings from Icaria to Athens. With him travelled a priest representing Dionysius. Thespis detached himself from the chorus and performed from his cart throughout the countryside, where he engaged in dialogue with the god. He would use masks which allowed him to impersonate several different characters throughout the drama and became the first actor-manager. The Greeks honoured him as founder and established his first performance at the Athenian festival as 534 BC. Thespis' cart and early theatre set the foundations for the medieval pageant and the modern carnival float.
  • 6.
    • Other dramatists soon followed suit with performances being given at civic festivals, still maintaining their religious association, and funded by rich citizens. As it became more competitive festival contests were held where plays were performed to huge audiences, judged and awarded prizes. On the first day of the festival a goat would have been sacrificed and given as a prize on the last. This could be the origin of 'tragedy' as 'trajos' is the Greek word for goat. The word 'comedy' comes from the Greek ‘ cosmos’ , meaning 'a revel'.
    • This form of entertainment has hardly changed in terms of what we enjoy today events such as Edinburgh festival echo that of the Greek festivals and X factor is built on the same principle.
  • 7.
    • As theatrical performances had great appeal to the whole community there became a need for a venue. The word theatre comes from theasthai (to see) and is applied to the group of onlookers, not the building itself for which there was no word.
    • The original Dionysian theatre in Athens was built into the hillside, on the slopes of the Acropolis and seated twenty thousand people. The area for the orchestra had to be backed up to create a flat performance space for the large chorus . This left a six and a half foot drop back to the Temple of Dionysius which was later used to show descent in Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus in 470 BC.
  • 8.
    • Aeschylus
    • Born in Eleusis in 525 BC
    • He was born at a time when great historical events were happening and grew up under the threat of a Persian invasion.
    • In the majestic, grand plays of Aeschylus his human characters are shown almost god like and his tragedies express the relationship between god and man and the eternal problem of good and evil.
    • By 458 BC, in Aeschylus' play The Oresteia, there had been some significant changes. The scene could now be depicted as an interior and there were three actors engaged in dialogue. Aeschylus had introduced the idea of theme and locality, thus the tragedy took a definite form.
    • Comedies developed during the time of Aeschylus and continued until the end of the Greek era.
    • Only 7 of his 74 works are preserved today.
    • Sophocles
    • Born in Colonus in 495 BC during the Persian struggle but grew up at a time of peace and calm.
    • Greek culture at this time was heavily interested with the relationship between man and the universe which lead Sophocles to look at darkness, pain and suffering. Themes that are present throughout his work.
    • He experimented with scene painting and also used three actors in his work.
    • Sophocles puts emphasis on the human character, with a dialogue close to that of ordinary life, telling the legend from a human perspective.
    • Unlike the trilogies of Aeschylus, his dramas were complete in themselves thus moving towards future Western drama.
  • 9.
    • Euripides
    • In the 4th century BC social conditions changed and theatrical form altered.
    • Born in 485 BC when the Peloponnesian war was at its height.
    • Euripides was interested in the political and social scene and created writings for the young intelligentsia.
    • The ritual element of tragedy declined and more realistic theatre began to emerge in which Euripides focuses on characteristics and human interaction.
    • Euripides productions became increasingly spectacular with rich costumes and scenic ornament.
    • By the end of the 4th century BC theatre had begun to move away from tragedy and more realistic, closer to that of modern stage.
    • He wrote 72 works, 19 of which are saved ( 18 tragedies and 1 satiric drama: "The Cyclops")
    • Aristophanes
    • Born in 448 BC, Aristophanes' work was on par with that of Euripides only with a different philosophy.
    • While Euripides discredited the legends of the past, Aristophanes recalled the virtues of early Greece to the degenerated citizens of his own age.
    • The element of old comedy is introduced with and ode sung, directly addressing the audience. His comedies were characterised by a great sense of humour.
    • The Acharnians , one of Aristophanes plays, sets out to make a travesty of many famous figures and events of his time, including the fact that it was a anti-war comedy staged in the middle of a real war.
    • In 405 BC Athens was surrendered to Sparta and old comic freedom was withdrawn and comedy changed.
  • 10.
    • Theatre was now for entertainment - not religious ritual alone and new comedy was performed from 330 BC in new theatres which were being built all over Greece. Theatrical performance had evolved and new theatres echoed this change. The stone seats still took the shape of a semi-circle but the importance of the chorus had decreased so the orchestra also decreased in size. Scenery was freely used and actors appeared in front of painted scenes with an overall more domestic look. Costumes are no longer grotesque but instead characters appear familiar with plays including everyday figures such as fathers, sons, slaves, old gossips, young wives and, especially, courtesans. Masks were modelled more on real life.
  • 11.
    • Founded in 753 BC after Rome took over Greek territories and was greatly influenced by the Greeks. 240 BC was the beginning of roman theatre
    • At the beginning roman theatre consisted of acrobatics, animals, dance, music and dramatic acts and was more like a carnival rather than theatre. This was because at first the roman public demanded diversions to keep them entertained. New forms of entertainment were constantly being produced to entertain the public and people would travel far to come and view these performances.
  • 12.
    • By 240 BC Greek theatre came to Rome although theatrical entertainment was always apart of roman culture, regular drama was introduced from the Greeks.
    • BY 146BC Rome had conquered Greece and absorbed all influences of culture from art and literature, religion and theatre. ‘Borrowing’ ideas from parts of Europe was what the Romans did best as they grew their empire and it is what makes roman culture so memorable today.
    • As roman theatre and culture expanded it actually became more advanced than the Greeks new thrills were constantly being introduced, sex, violence, tragedies and comedies but was mostly associated with religion.
    • Other forms of entertainment were gladiatorial contests which was introduced by starting off as funeral ceremonies which led on to great forms of entertainment for the roman public. And is the most famous form of roman entertainment known today.
  • 13.
    • One roman poet historian dates roman theatre to start in 344 BC when music and dance was introduced from Etruria to appease the Gods and rid of common plagues.
    • One Roman Leader Rom Tarquin introduced The first ‘Ludi Romani’ (Roman Festival). These festivals were various forms of entertainment to honour the Gods. Also influenced from the Greeks.
  • 14.
    • Rome gradually inherited features of religious festivals from Etruria which included acting, dancing, juggling musical instruments, prize fighting and sports.
    • Religious festivals had to be performed accurately and without error, if mistakes were made they were made to do them again from the start in order to respect the Gods.
    • As time went on and the roman empire was expanding so were the Gods, more and more Gods were being introduced to Rome for worship which meant new festivals.
  • 15.
    • Festivals were also used to celebrate other occasions in Rome such as war victories, funerals and weddings.
    • Festival days differed from year to year such as the honour of Jupiter every September.
    • By 200BC 4-11 days were set aside a year for festival and theatrical events to take place.
    • Then by 35 AD one hundred days were devoted to theatre productions and entertainments.
  • 16.
    • The first theatre in Rome was constructed round 55 BC when 200 years after drama was introduced form the Greeks, it sat around 8,000 - 10,000 people but as the empire and theatre grew they became to sit around 1000,000 people.
    • The theatres or stadiums would be positioned in front of a temple in sight of the God whose temple it belonged to, the first theatre being dedicated to the God Venus.
    • Gradually as theatre in Rome grew it began to cost too much to build and run so many theatres dedicated to all the roman gods, so they abandoned the idea of building full stadiums and decided to honour each god with its own festival creating temporary theatres each time.
  • 17.
    • All theatre in Rome was under the influence of the magistrates. They had all authorisation of that was performed and watched every play before the public for censorship purposes.
    • Generals and leaders or troupes also bought plays of play writes and supplied the music, props and costumes for the plays to commence.
    • Most plays and theatrical productions were performed in font of judges (who were also mostly magistrates) and prizes were given.
    • In the stadiums seats were reserved for emperors and senators or other people of performance so they had best viewing positions.
  • 18.
    • Most scenic backgrounds were basic normally representing a normal city street depending on the nature of the play, some backgrounds were set in temples or the countryside.
    • Because there was little in terms of scenery the public relied on the actors to inform them of where the play would be set.
    • To separate scenes there would be a curtain which came up to present the actors in a tableau. Which is what most modern theatres use today for theatrical effects.
    • Masks were used in Rome as costume from the very beginning, it was a creative use of showing expression and representing characters. This was the same all over Europe in early theatre and mainly used in comedies and tragedies for exaggerated emotions.
    • The masks would be made of linen and some would have blank expressions to show no emotion in order not to change their mask in every scene.
  • 19.
    • Masks slowly became less common as new forms of theatre was introduced such as mime where the actors would sometimes paint their face instead.
    • Costumes were simple and were modelled on Greek fashions rather than their own, wearing toga’s and cloaks. This was the same all over Europe as most plays were set in modern Rome or Greece anyway.
    • Mines would sometimes wear hooded cloaks and some actors would dress in their best entire to show of their latest fashions.
  • 20.
    • In Rome is thought that most actors were slaves bought by managers and trained to perform for local entertainment ad magistrates.
    • They would each specialise in a genre, comedy, tragedy, pantomime or mime.
    • Most companies would only consist of five or six members later falling to only three to four members as the empire grew and mime acts would only consist of one man.
    • Body language and facial expression was important, especially for mime.
    • Most plays were written in advance but mimes were instructed to improvise.
  • 21.
    • Theatre had a resurge of popularity in the Medieval times through the Mystery plays. These were plays originally written by high ranking members of the clergy about events in the bible and included both new and old testament.
    • They were written to be performed at religious festivals. The Bible had not been translated from Latin and there was a very low level of literacy at the time so plays became a very useful way of preaching the stories.
  • 22.
    • In the beginning they were performed in church by priests or altar boys. The church released a bit of hold over them and the Pope banned clergy from performing around the 12 th century.
    • As they developed and were slightly rewritten they became more lively and full of humour. The portrayal of the Devil was focus of particular comedy.
    • By the 1350, Plays were in English rather than
    • Latin. They were performed on religious days like Corpus Christi day outdoors around the city.
  • 23.
    • Guilds had taken over responsibility for performing the plays. They funded and performed the shows themselves. Quite often there would be a link between the play and the guild, for example the Shipwrights guild would perform the story of Noah.
    • Towns and cities had there own collection of plays collectively these were called cycles. Some of the more famous and most documented cycles were the York mystery Cycle and the Wakefield cycle. Coventry still perform the Mystery Plays every year.
  • 24.
    • To begin with priests or altar boys performed early versions in the church and in Latin.
    • Later male members of the community, usually part of the guild that was sponsoring the show took over the acting and the plays were rewritten in English.
  • 25.
    • When the plays were moved outdoors they were performed on pageant wagons. These were stages on the back of carts so once they had performed in one place they could wheel the stage to a new location and perform it again.
    • During the festival there would be many pageant wagons scattered around the city performing different plays or parts of plays at the same time.
    • The stages could have changing backdrops so they could change a scene if the performance demanded or they were switching plays half way through a day. Another trick used was putting a different backdrop on either side of the stage, so if the performers were on the left of the stage that would show one location and the right side another location
  • 26.
    • Books;
    • History of theatre 6 th edition- Oscar G. Brockett
    • The English Mystery plays- Rosemary Woolf
    • The Wakefield pageants in the Towneley cycle – A. C. Cawley
    • Ten Miracle plays- R. G. Thomas
    • The Ancient Greek and Roman Theatre – Peter D. Arnott
    • An Illustrated Guide to Staging History, Book one: The Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Medieval Theatre – Mary Woollard
    • Web;