Fundamental to the theater experience is the act of seeing and being seen; in fact, the word theater comes from the Greek word theatron, meaning " seeing place ." Throughout the history of world cultures, actors have used a variety of locations for theater, including amphitheaters, churches, marketplaces, garages, street corners, warehouses, and formal buildings. It is not the building that makes theater but rather the use of space for actors to imitate human experience before audiences.
In addition to the actor and the audience in a space, other elements of theater include a written or improvised text, costumes, scenery, lights, sound, and properties (props ). Most theatrical performances require the collaborative efforts of many creative people working toward a common goal: the production.
These two masks have come to symbolize the theater and its two major dramatic categories, comedy and tragedy. Masks have played an important part in the history of drama since the time of the ancient Greeks. They were originally used to allow the actors to clearly convey emotions such as anger, joy, or sorrow to the entire audience, and they made it easier for men to portray female characters .
Theater can serve many ends. It can be designed to entertain , instruct , motivate, persuade, and even shock . But whatever the intentions of the director, performers, and crew, the result depends on the interaction with an audience. The audience for theater differs from the reader of a novel or the viewer of a painting in that it assembles as a group at a given time and place to share in the performance with the actors and all the surrounding elements of light, sound, music, costumes, and scenery. The audience affects the performance by providing the performers with immediate feedback, such as laughter, tears, applause, or silence. Each night there is continuous interaction between the auditorium and the stage.
Some audiences want only to be entertained. Others want the theater to provide new insight and understanding about political, social, or personal issues . Throughout history theater has reflected and, at times, commented on the society in which it takes place.
Roger Rees, bottom, and David Threlfall, top, appeared in the television adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage production of Nicholas Nickleby. The play, which aired in the United States in January 1983, was adapted from the novel of the same name by 19th-century English writer Charles Dickens. England’s Royal Shakespeare Company has received international acclaim for its performances of modern and classic works.
Designers collaborate with directors to create an environment for a play. That environment may be a well-appointed living room or a run-down tenement apartment, or it may be a nightclub setting or an empty stage for a chorus-line audition. The designers' work is to shape and fill the stage space and to make the play's world visible and interesting. In the modern theater various artists are responsible for different design effects. There are four principal types of designers: scene, costume, lighting, and sound.
Fairies emerge from doorways in space, and Bottom’s bed hangs suspended before the moon in this 1998 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. The set, lighting, staging, and costumes all combine to intensify the play’s enchanted, unreal atmosphere.
The sound designer is the theater's newest artist. The technological capability today for both live and recorded sound has brought the sound designer onto the director's creative team to provide sounds of nature, such as rain or dogs barking; locations, such as doorbells, trains, or airplanes; and abstract sounds to underscore moods of romance or treachery, for example. Working with the director, the sound designer plots the effects required by the script and adds a creative element to enhance atmosphere and psychological meaning. The technology available to the sound designer includes tape recorders and playback units, microphones and turntables, mixers and amplifiers, elaborate speaker systems, and control consoles.
It is an art performed by individuals or group of human beings, in which the human body is the instrument and movement is the medium, the medium is the stylized, and the entire dance work is characterized by form.