- Slides: 20
Greek Theater From Ancient Chant to Modern Theater
Introduction to Greek Theater 2500 years ago, 2000 years before Shakespeare, Western theater was born in Athens, Greece. Between 600 and 200 BC, the ancient Athenians created a theater culture whose form, technique and terminology have lasted 2 millennia. They created plays that are still considered among the greatest works of world drama.
Ancient Greek Theater Their achievement is truly remarkable when one considers that there have been only 2 other periods in the history of theater that could be said to approach the greatness of ancient Athens Elizabethan England and, perhaps the 20 th Century. The greatest playwright of Elizabethan England was Shakespeare, but Athens produced at least 5 equally great playwrights. The 20 th Century produced thousands of fine plays and films, but their form and often their content are based on the innovations of the ancient Athenians.
The Cult of Dionysus Ancient Greek Theater evolved from religious rites dating back to at least 1200 BC In 500 BC, in Northern Greece (Thrace) a cult arose that worshipped Dionysus (god of fertility and procreation) An essential part of the rites of Dionysus was the dithyramb Dithyramb means “choric hymn” This chant or hymn was accompanied by mimic gestures and music The dithyramb was performed by a chorus of about 50 men
Dithyramb The performers wore costumes, danced, and played drums, lyres and flutes, They described the adventures of Dionysus. The dithyramb was given a regular form and raised to the rank of artistic poetry about 600 BC. It became one of the competitive subjects at the various Athens festivals. It attracted the most famous poets of the day.
From Dithyramb to Drama As time went on, the dithyramb started to cease to concern itself exclusively with the adventures of Dionysus and began to choose its subjects from all periods of Greek mythology. In this way, over time the dithyramb would evolve into stories in “play” form: DRAMA.
Golden Age of Greek Theater The most prominent city-state in Greece by 600 BC was Athens where at least 150, 000 people lived. In Athens the rites of Dionysus evolved into what we know today as theater.
Thespis In about 600 BC Arion of Corinth wrote down formal lyrics for the dithyramb. Some time in the next 75 years, Thespis of Attica added an actor who interacted with the chorus. This one actor was called the protagonist. Thespis walked around Athens pulling a handcart, setting up a kind of one man plays, where he showed the bad behavior of man. The word for actor, “thespian”, comes from his name.
Thespis The "inventor of tragedy" was born in Attica, and was the first prize winner at the Great Dionysia in 534 BC. Thespis was an important innovator for theater, since he introduced such things as the independent actor (as opposed to the chorus) as well as masks, make up and costumes.
Athenian Drama Competitions In 534 BC, the ruler of Athens, Pisistratus, changed the Dionysian Festivals and instituted drama competitions. In the next 50 years, the competitions became popular annual events. During this time, major theatres were constructed , notably theater at Delphi, the Attic theater and the Theater of Dionysus in Athens.
Greek Amphitheatres Theater of Dionysus, built at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, could seat 17, 000 people. During their heyday, the competitions drew as many as 30, 000 spectators. The words theater and amphitheater derive from the Greek word theatron, which referred to the wooden spectator stands erected on the hillsides.
Amphitheatres w. Artistic replica of the Theater at Dionysus w. Current day Theater at Dionysus w. Delphi Theater reconstruction and current day ruins
How plays were performed Plays were performed in the daytime. Since women were not allowed to take part, male actors had to play female roles. The playing of multiple roles, both male and female, was made possible by the use of masks. The masks prevented the audience from identifying the face of any actor with one character in the play. The masks had exaggerated facial expressions, different lengths and color hair, and helped the audience identify the sex, age, and social rank of the characters.
The Skene? The theater of Dionysus in the earliest days of tragedy must have consisted of only the most basic elements. All that was required was a circular dancing area for the chorus at the base of a gently sloping hill, on which spectators could sit and watch the performance. On the other side of the orchestra facing the spectators there probably stood a tent in which the actors could change their costumes (one actor would play more than one part). This is suggested by the word skene which means 'tent', and was used to refer to a wooden wall having doors.
The Skene and Seating The wall was painted to represent a palace, temple or whatever setting was required. The wall, which eventually became a full-fledged stage building, probably acquired this name because it replaced the original tent. The construction of the wooden skene (cf. our theatrical terms "scene" and "scenery") and of a formal seating area consisting of wooden benches on the slope, which had been hollowed out, probably took place some time toward the middle of the fifth century.
Mechanical Stage Devices One device is the ekkyklema “a wheeledout thing”, a platform on wheels rolled out through one of the doors of the skene, on which a tableau was displayed representing the result of an action indoors (e. g. , a murder) and therefore was unseen by the audience. The other device is called a mechane “theatrical machine”, a crane to which a cable with a harness for an actor was attached. This device allowed an actor portraying a god or goddess to arrive on scene in the most realistic way possible, from the sky.
Flying Actors? The mechane deposited the actor on top of the skene so that he as a deity could address the human characters from an appropriately higher level. This device was not exclusively limited to use by divine characters, but was employed whenever the plot required any character to fly.
Actors The actors in tragedy were hired and paid by the state and assigned to the tragic poets probably by lot. By the middle of the 5 th century 3 actors were required for the performance of a tragedy. In descending order of importance of the roles they assumed they were called the protagonist “first actor”, (a term also applied in modern literary criticism to the central character of a play), deuteragonist “second actor” and tritagonist “third actor”.
Actors The protagonist took the role of the most important character in the play while the other 2 actors played the lesser roles. Since most plays have more than 2 or 3 characters (although never more than 3 speaking actors in the same scene), all 3 actors played multiple roles. The fact that the chorus remained in the orchestra throughout the play and sang and danced choral songs between the episodes allowed the actors to exit after an episode in order to change mask and costume and assume a new role in the next episode without any illusion-destroying interruption in the play.