Many believe that the ancient Greeks were the first to invent theater.
Although stories have been passed down from generation to generation since the beginning of time, it was the Greeks who were the first to record and perform these tales for audiences in formal theaters.
These social spaces were constructed with three distinct sections for these gatherings.
The ancient Greek theater was divided into three sections: the Orchestra, the Scene, and the Theatron, which was known as the Koilon.
Theaters were established by the ancient Greeks for the public to see satyr, tragedy, and comedy acts.
They subsequently spread the notion throughout their colonies in the Aegean, resulting in the widespread presence of theaters in Greek cities across the country.
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The orchestra was positioned in front of the stage, facing the audience, in a nearly circular arrangement.
The Thymeli, in the orchestra’s middle, served as both an altar and a platform for the chorus’s conductor, Coryphaeus, in its early years.
An archaeological investigation in the Athenian area provided some evidence for rectangular orchestras, but the circular design was the most common and most closely linked to Dionysiac cult practices in ancient Greek theaters (they believed the circle possessed metaphysical power).
Even though the orchestra used to be where actors performed, the action eventually migrated to the stage and, to be more specific, to a section called Proscenio since it was located at the front of the stage (pro+scene).
Performers were able to enter the scene by one or more entrances. A Palace or Temple-like backdrop was used on the sides of the stage facing the audience.
Paintings depicting different topics, such as woods, army camps, etc., were afterward added to the scenography (i.e. theatrical painting).
On either side of each seat were two additional entrances, known as Parodoi, from where the chorus and others who had come from outside of the Temple or Palace were joining the scene.
If arriving from the metropolis or a harbor, someone would enter the parodos from the right.
They were expected to have come from the countryside or another country if they were arriving from the left parodos.
Two structures with doors leading into the Proscenio were located toward the rear of the scene, and depending on their ornamentation, they could serve to further develop the scene’s theme or present a whole new one.
The Logeion, a narrow but elevated platform, was constructed along the Scene’s back wall. The actors had a designated area where they could be isolated from the rest of the cast.
In traditional theater, there was no logeion, so the presentation took place solely inside the orchestra.
Hence, this construction may have emerged in the Hellenistic era.
Theos (the Greek word for deity) was the Greek name for the flat roof that sat atop the set.
The audience was seated in the Theatron (or Koilon) of a Greek theater. Due to its shape, it was known as a “koilon.”
It had a semi-circular form and was constructed around an orchestra. The upper and lower Diazoma were separated from each other.
The audience initially gathered around the orchestra in a semicircle. Eventually, the Greeks began construction on the Koilon.
Spectators are said to have brought pillows to sit on in the 5th century. The Koilon was divided into wedge-shaped portions by radial staircases to make it easier for spectators to enter and exit.
Proedria chairs were allocated for high-ranking officials and clergy. The priests of Eleftherios Dionysus, seated on a marble pedestal, were the theater’s most esteemed audience.
Other than the orchestra, which was made of stone, all of the theater’s pieces were made of wood and could be moved.
Toward the end of the 5th century BC, the Greeks began to construct stone-built Scenes and Koilons (as a replacement for the previous wooden structures).
The instruments used in the performance were maintained in the permanent scene:
- The ekeclema: On a wheeled platform, the bodies of the dead were displayed (since spectators were not supposed to see a killing or a suicide scene).
- The Periaktoi: These two prismatic pillars are used to change a scene’s background by rotating in the direction of its axons, which are placed on either side of the scene.
- Aroma: A crane known as deus ex machina that brought the gods to the scene.
Theaters that were located indoors were called Odelias, and typically only music and sad Proagones were performed in these.
There were three types of plays in Greek theaters: satyrs, tragedies, and comedies.
Not all Greek comedies were amusing. When we talk about a “comedy,” we’re talking about a play with a happy conclusion.
The “everyman hero” is the focus of many comedies. When it comes to the first-ever situational comedies, we can look no further than ancient Greek playwright Menander, who created several of the world’s earliest plays in an episodic style.
Political satire was a specialty of Aristophanes, who was classical Greece’s preeminent comic author.
Aristophanes’ plays, unlike most comedies, focused on the vices and scandals of the wealthy and powerful, like in his best-known comedy, “Lysistrata.”
Tragedies in Greek literature focused on the darker sides of human nature, like love as well as bereavement.
As the term “terrible hero” suggests, the protagonists of these plays are typically excellent people who commit a tragic error out of arrogance.
Often, he and the people he cares about are destroyed by his error. It’s not uncommon for the tragic hero to be wealthy, influential, or otherwise “above normal.”
By identifying with imagined anguish, the Greek spectator could forget for a moment about their issues and focus on the fictional characters’ plight.
This was known as “catharsis.”
When the tragedy was performed, Aristotle argued, it “purified the soul.” Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles were among the most well-known polished tragedians.
Several of their masterpieces, such as “The Bacchae,” “Oedipus Rex,” as well as “The Orchestra,” also persevered into the contemporary age.
In Greek theatre, a brief play known as a satyr was a humorous play occurring between the acts of a tragic play.
When it comes to Greek mythology, the satyr was a half-goat, half-man creature. Satyr plays sometimes featured performers donning huge artificial penises for comic effect.
They would make fun of the unfortunate circumstances of the personalities in the play. To entertain the audience, the satyr plays operated as a form of levity.
Because of their satirical nature, these plays have inspired the term “satire”.
The structure of all Greek plays, regardless of whether they were comedy or tragic, was the same.
A prologue was read by one or two performers at the start of the play. The chorus would then enter and begin singing.
The chorus introduced every one of the show’s three scenes with a tribute. Rather than a distraction, their songs functioned as a catalyst for action.
Each play was acted out by a cast of up to three actors, all of whom were male. It was common for actors to don masks and play various roles.
Choral conductor, choreographer, and composer were all roles played by the dramatist himself. In some cases, they even performed in their plays.
When it came to public spectacles, the Romans were huge admirers of Greek architecture and replicated and improved upon it in their style.
They expanded the fixed background surrounding the Greek theater sets.
The Dionysos Eleuthereus theater’s marble stage was decreased to its current semi-circular shape by Nero’s addition of magnificent Roman-style stage construction.
Also, in the second or third century CE, the stage was expanded to include a low podium for the presenter (bema).
The orchestra was also concreted by the Romans, and then an awning roof (vela) was sometimes erected, as were substructures beneath the seats, and theaters were generally decorated with monumental sculptures, unusual marble pillars, as well as solace carvings on the stage.
The Roman theater’s enclosed and even suffocating atmosphere would more closely resemble modern theaters as their backstages and roofs rose in height.
On the island of Crete, a Minoan open area with tiered seats can still be seen in Phaistos, where the first Greek theaters can be found.
Beginning in the sixth century BCE, the first theaters were constructed entirely of wood and made with a stage made of trudged soil placed in front of a natural hill, where people might sit and attend religious activities.
Even while it may have started in the form of a rectangular configuration of seats, the semicircular configuration soon became the norm, making it possible for more people to see and enjoy the shows.
Stages were roughly one meter above the surface and had stairs at the front, as per Greek pottery depictions of theaters from the 5th to the 4th century BCE.
It was common for actors to enter the stage via a single central entryway in the backdrop behind them, which was sometimes designed to mimic a temple, castle, or cave.
It’s also extremely possible that painted scenery was used. There may also have been a platform at the top of the stage where actors could assume the role of gods and speak to the audience from.
It was common practice to utilize an ekkylema (a wheeled platform) to expose new scenery as well as a crane to raise actors portraying deities or heroes out through the entryway.
All of the seating in the fourth century BCE were made from stone, and pathways were built to connect portions of benches.
Stone ramps were installed at the theater’s entryways to make it easier for the audience to exit.
Finally, stone and semi-columns were used to construct the stage background or backdrop. The theatre had now taken on the architectural shape that would become the norm in the Greek and Roman empires in the centuries following.