Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of fine art that uses
live performers, typically actors or actresses, to present the
experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a
specific place, often a stage. The performers may communicate this
experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech,
song, music, and dance. Elements of art, such as painted scenery and
stagecraft such as lighting are used to enhance the physicality,
presence and immediacy of the experience. The specific place of the
performance is also named by the word "theatre" as derived from the
Ancient Greek θέατρον (théatron, "a place for viewing"),
itself from θεάομαι (theáomai, "to see", "to watch", "to
Modern Western theatre comes, in large measure, from ancient Greek
drama, from which it borrows technical terminology, classification
into genres, and many of its themes, stock characters, and plot
Patrice Pavis defines theatricality,
theatrical language, stage writing and the specificity of theatre as
synonymous expressions that differentiate theatre from the other
performing arts, literature and the arts in general.
Modern theatre includes performances of plays and musical theatre. The
art forms of ballet and opera are also theatre and use many
conventions such as acting, costumes and staging. They were
influential to the development of musical theatre; see those articles
for more information.
1.1 Classical and Hellenistic Greece
1.2 Roman theatre
1.3 Indian theatre
1.4 Chinese theatre
1.5 Post-classical theatre in the West
1.6 Eastern theatrical traditions
2.2 Musical theatre
4 Technical aspects
5 Sub-categories and organization
5.2 Producing vs. presenting
6 See also
9 External links
Main article: History of theatre
Classical and Hellenistic Greece
Greek theatre in Taormina, Sicily
Theatre of ancient Greece
A depiction of actors playing the roles of a master (right) and his
slave (left) in a Greek phlyax play, circa 350/340 BCE
The city-state of Athens is where western theatre originated. It
was part of a broader culture of theatricality and performance in
classical Greece that included festivals, religious rituals, politics,
law, athletics and gymnastics, music, poetry, weddings, funerals, and
Participation in the city-state's many festivals—and mandatory
attendance at the City Dionysia as an audience member (or even as a
participant in the theatrical productions) in particular—was an
important part of citizenship. Civic participation also involved
the evaluation of the rhetoric of orators evidenced in performances in
the law-court or political assembly, both of which were understood as
analogous to the theatre and increasingly came to absorb its dramatic
vocabulary. The Greeks also developed the concepts of dramatic
criticism and theatre architecture. Actors were either amateur or
at best semi-professional. The theatre of ancient Greece consisted
of three types of drama: tragedy, comedy, and the satyr play.
The origins of theatre in ancient Greece, according to Aristotle
(384–322 BCE), the first theoretician of theatre, are to be found in
the festivals that honoured Dionysus. The performances were given in
semi-circular auditoria cut into hillsides, capable of seating
10,000–20,000 people. The stage consisted of a dancing floor
(orchestra), dressing room and scene-building area (skene). Since the
words were the most important part, good acoustics and clear delivery
were paramount. The actors (always men) wore masks appropriate to the
characters they represented, and each might play several parts.
Athenian tragedy—the oldest surviving form of tragedy—is a type of
dance-drama that formed an important part of the theatrical culture of
the city-state. Having emerged sometime during the 6th century
BCE, it flowered during the 5th century BCE (from the end of which it
began to spread throughout the Greek world), and continued to be
popular until the beginning of the Hellenistic period.
No tragedies from the 6th century BCE and only 32 of the more than a
thousand that were performed in during the 5th century BCE have
survived. We have complete texts extant by Aeschylus, Sophocles,
and Euripides. The origins of tragedy remain obscure, though by
the 5th century BCE it was institutionalised in competitions (agon)
held as part of festivities celebrating
Dionysus (the god of wine and
fertility). As contestants in the City Dionysia's competition (the
most prestigious of the festivals to stage drama) playwrights were
required to present a tetralogy of plays (though the individual works
were not necessarily connected by story or theme), which usually
consisted of three tragedies and one satyr play. The performance
of tragedies at the City Dionysia may have begun as early as 534 BCE;
official records (didaskaliai) begin from 501 BCE, when the satyr play
Most Athenian tragedies dramatise events from Greek mythology, though
The Persians—which stages the Persian response to news of their
military defeat at the
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Salamis in 480 BCE—is the notable
exception in the surviving drama. When
Aeschylus won first prize
for it at the City Dionysia in 472 BCE, he had been writing tragedies
for more than 25 years, yet its tragic treatment of recent history is
the earliest example of drama to survive. More than 130 years
later, the philosopher
Aristotle analysed 5th-century Athenian tragedy
in the oldest surviving work of dramatic theory—his Poetics (c. 335
Athenian comedy is conventionally divided into three periods, "Old
Comedy", "Middle Comedy", and "New Comedy". Old
Comedy survives today
largely in the form of the eleven surviving plays of Aristophanes,
Comedy is largely lost (preserved only in relatively
short fragments in authors such as Athenaeus of Naucratis). New Comedy
is known primarily from the substantial papyrus fragments of Menander.
Aristotle defined comedy as a representation of laughable people that
involves some kind of blunder or ugliness that does not cause pain or
In addition to the categories of comedy and tragedy at the City
Dionysia, the festival also included the Satyr Play. Finding its
origins in rural, agricultural rituals dedicated to Dionysus, the
satyr play eventually found its way to Athens in its most well-known
form. Satyr's themselves were tied to the god
Dionysus as his loyal
woodland companions, often engaging in drunken revelry and mischief at
his side. The satyr play itself was classified as tragicomedy, erring
on the side of the more modern burlesque traditions of the early
twentieth century. The plotlines of the plays were typically concerned
with the dealings of the pantheon of Gods and their involvement in
human affairs, backed by the chorus of Satyrs. However, according to
Webster, satyr actors did not always perform typical satyr actions and
would break from the acting traditions assigned to the character type
of a mythical forest creature.
Theatre of ancient Rome
Mosaic depicting masked actors in a play: two women consult a "witch"
Western theatre developed and expanded considerably under the Romans.
The Roman historian
Livy wrote that the Romans first experienced
theatre in the 4th century BCE, with a performance by Etruscan
actors. Beacham argues that they had been familiar with
"pre-theatrical practices" for some time before that recorded
contact. The theatre of ancient
Rome was a thriving and diverse
art form, ranging from festival performances of street theatre, nude
dancing, and acrobatics, to the staging of Plautus's broadly appealing
situation comedies, to the high-style, verbally elaborate tragedies of
Rome had a native tradition of performance, the
Hellenization of Roman culture in the 3rd century BCE had a profound
and energizing effect on Roman theatre and encouraged the development
Latin literature of the highest quality for the stage. The only
surviving Roman tragedies, indeed the only plays of any kind from the
Roman Empire, are ten dramas- nine of them pallilara- attributed to
Lucuis Annaeus Seneca (4 b.c.-65 a.d.), the Corduba-born Stoic
philosopher and tutor of Nero.
Main article: Indian classical theatre
See also: Koothu
See also: Koodiyattam
Koothu is an ancient form of performing art that originated in early
The earliest-surviving fragments of
Sanskrit drama date from the 1st
century AD. The wealth of archeological evidence from earlier
periods offers no indication of the existence of a tradition of
theatre. The ancient
Vedas (hymns from between 1500 and 1000 BC
that are among the earliest examples of literature in the world)
contain no hint of it (although a small number are composed in a form
of dialogue) and the rituals of the
Vedic period do not appear to have
developed into theatre. The
the earliest reference to what may have been the seeds of Sanskrit
drama. This treatise on grammar from 140 BC provides a feasible
date for the beginnings of theatre in India.
The major source of evidence for Sanskrit theatre is A Treatise on
Theatre (Nātyaśāstra), a compendium whose date of composition is
uncertain (estimates range from 200 BC to 200 AD) and whose authorship
is attributed to Bharata Muni. The Treatise is the most complete work
of dramaturgy in the ancient world. It addresses acting, dance, music,
dramatic construction, architecture, costuming, make-up, props, the
organisation of companies, the audience, competitions, and offers a
mythological account of the origin of theatre. In doing so, it
provides indications about the nature of actual theatrical practices.
Sanskrit theatre was performed on sacred ground by priests who had
been trained in the necessary skills (dance, music, and recitation) in
a [hereditary process]. Its aim was both to educate and to entertain.
Sugriva in the
Koodiyattam form of Sanskrit theatre.
Under the patronage of royal courts, performers belonged to
professional companies that were directed by a stage manager
(sutradhara), who may also have acted. This task was thought of as
being analogous to that of a puppeteer—the literal meaning of
"sutradhara" is "holder of the strings or threads". The performers
were trained rigorously in vocal and physical technique. There
were no prohibitions against female performers; companies were
all-male, all-female, and of mixed gender. Certain sentiments were
considered inappropriate for men to enact, however, and were thought
better suited to women. Some performers played characters their own
age, while others played ages different from their own (whether
younger or older). Of all the elements of theatre, the Treatise gives
most attention to acting (abhinaya), which consists of two styles:
realistic (lokadharmi) and conventional (natyadharmi), though the
major focus is on the latter.
Its drama is regarded as the highest achievement of Sanskrit
literature. It utilised stock characters, such as the hero
(nayaka), heroine (nayika), or clown (vidusaka). Actors may have
specialised in a particular type.
Kālidāsa in the 1st century BCE,
is arguably considered to be ancient India's greatest Sanskrit
dramatist. Three famous romantic plays written by
Kālidāsa are the
Mālavikāgnimitram (Mālavikā and Agnimitra), Vikramuurvashiiya
(Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi), and Abhijñānaśākuntala (The
Recognition of Shakuntala). The last was inspired by a story in the
Mahabharata and is the most famous. It was the first to be translated
into English and German. Śakuntalā (in English translation)
Goethe's Faust (1808–1832).
The next great Indian dramatist was
Bhavabhuti (c. 7th century AD). He
is said to have written the following three plays: Malati-Madhava,
Mahaviracharita and Uttar Ramacharita. Among these three, the last two
cover between them the entire epic of Ramayana. The powerful Indian
Harsha (606–648) is credited with having written three
plays: the comedy Ratnavali, Priyadarsika, and the
Public performance in Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Open Air Theatre.
There are references to theatrical entertainments in China as early as
the Shang Dynasty; they often involved happiness, mimes, and acrobatic
Tang Dynasty is sometimes known as "The Age of 1000
Entertainments". During this era, Ming Huang formed an acting school
known as The
Pear Garden to produce a form of drama that was primarily
musical. That is why actors are commonly called "Children of the Pear
Garden." During the Dynasty of Empress Ling, shadow puppetry first
emerged as a recognized form of theatre in China. There were two
distinct forms of shadow puppetry, Pekingese (northern) and Cantonese
(southern). The two styles were differentiated by the method of making
the puppets and the positioning of the rods on the puppets, as opposed
to the type of play performed by the puppets. Both styles generally
performed plays depicting great adventure and fantasy, rarely was this
very stylized form of theatre used for political propaganda.
Cantonese shadow puppets were the larger of the two. They were built
using thick leather which created more substantial shadows. Symbolic
color was also very prevalent; a black face represented honesty, a red
one bravery. The rods used to control Cantonese puppets were attached
perpendicular to the puppets’ heads. Thus, they were not seen by the
audience when the shadow was created. Pekingese puppets were more
delicate and smaller. They were created out of thin, translucent
leather (usually taken from the belly of a donkey).They were painted
with vibrant paints, thus they cast a very colorful shadow. The thin
rods which controlled their movements were attached to a leather
collar at the neck of the puppet. The rods ran parallel to the bodies
of the puppet then turned at a ninety degree angle to connect to the
neck. While these rods were visible when the shadow was cast, they
laid outside the shadow of the puppet; thus they did not interfere
with the appearance of the figure. The rods attached at the necks to
facilitate the use of multiple heads with one body. When the heads
were not being used, they were stored in a muslin book or fabric lined
box. The heads were always removed at night. This was in keeping with
the old superstition that if left intact, the puppets would come to
life at night. Some puppeteers went so far as to store the heads in
one book and the bodies in another, to further reduce the possibility
of reanimating puppets. Shadow puppetry is said to have reached its
highest point of artistic development in the eleventh century before
becoming a tool of the government.
Song Dynasty, there were many popular plays involving
acrobatics and music. These developed in the
Yuan Dynasty into a more
sophisticated form known as zaju, with a four- or five-act structure.
Yuan drama spread across China and diversified into numerous regional
forms, the best known of which is Beijing Opera,
which is still popular today.
Xiangsheng is a certain traditional Chinese comedic performance in the
forms of monologue or dialogue.
Post-classical theatre in the West
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Theatre took on many alternate forms in the West between the 15th and
19th centuries, including commedia dell'arte and melodrama. The
general trend was away from the poetic drama of the Greeks and the
Renaissance and toward a more naturalistic prose style of dialogue,
especially following the Industrial Revolution.
Theatre took a big pause during 1642 and 1660 in England because of
the Puritan Interregnum.
Theatre was seen as something sinful and the
Puritans tried very hard to drive it out of their society. This
stagnant period ended once Charles II came back to the throne in 1660
in the Restoration.
Theatre (among other arts) exploded, with
influence from French culture, since Charles had been exiled in France
in the years previous to his reign.
One of the big changes was the new theatre house. Instead of the type
of the Elizabethan era, such as the Globe Theatre, round with no place
for the actors to really prep for the next act and with no "theatre
manners,” the theatre house became transformed into a place of
refinement, with a stage in front and stadium seating facing it. Since
seating was no longer all the way around the stage, it became
prioritized – some seats were obviously better than others. The
king would have the best seat in the house: the very middle of the
theatre, which got the widest view of the stage as well as the best
way to see the point of view and vanishing point that the stage was
Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg
Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg was one of the
most influential set designers of the time because of his use of floor
space and scenery.
Because of the turmoil before this time, there was still some
controversy about what should and should not be put on the stage.
Jeremy Collier, a preacher, was one of the heads in this movement
through his piece A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of
the English Stage. The beliefs in this paper were mainly held by
non-theatre goers and the remainder of the
Puritans and very religious
of the time. The main question was if seeing something immoral on
stage affects behavior in the lives of those who watch it, a
controversy that is still playing out today.
Billing for a British theatre in 1829
The seventeenth century had also introduced women to the stage, which
was considered inappropriate earlier. These women were regarded as
celebrities (also a newer concept, thanks to ideas on individualism
that arose in the wake of
Renaissance Humanism), but on the other
hand, it was still very new and revolutionary that they were on the
stage, and some said they were unladylike, and looked down on them.
Charles II did not like young men playing the parts of young women, so
he asked that women play their own parts. Because women were
allowed on the stage, playwrights had more leeway with plot twists,
like women dressing as men, and having narrow escapes from morally
sticky situations as forms of comedy.
Comedies were full of the young and very much in vogue, with the
storyline following their love lives: commonly a young roguish hero
professing his love to the chaste and free minded heroine near the end
of the play, much like Sheridan's The School for Scandal. Many of the
comedies were fashioned after the French tradition, mainly Molière,
again hailing back to the French influence brought back by the King
and the Royals after their exile.
Molière was one of the top comedic
playwrights of the time, revolutionizing the way comedy was written
and performed by combining Italian commedia dell'arte and neoclassical
French comedy to create some of the longest lasting and most
influential satiric comedies. Tragedies were similarly victorious
in their sense of righting political power, especially poignant
because of the recent Restoration of the Crown. They were also
imitations of French tragedy, although the French had a larger
distinction between comedy and tragedy, whereas the English fudged the
lines occasionally and put some comedic parts in their tragedies.
Common forms of non-comedic plays were sentimental comedies as well as
something that would later be called tragédie bourgeoise, or domestic
tragedy – that is, the tragedy of common life – were
more popular in England because they appealed more to English
While theatre troupes were formerly often travelling, the idea of the
national theatre gained support in the 18th century, inspired by
Ludvig Holberg. The major promoter of the idea of the national theatre
in Germany, and also of the
Sturm und Drang
Sturm und Drang poets, was Abel Seyler,
the owner of the
Hamburgische Entreprise and the Seyler Theatre
Through the 19th century, the popular theatrical forms of Romanticism,
Victorian burlesque and the well-made plays of Scribe and
Sardou gave way to the problem plays of Naturalism and Realism; the
farces of Feydeau; Wagner's operatic Gesamtkunstwerk; musical theatre
(including Gilbert and Sullivan's operas); F. C. Burnand's, W. S.
Gilbert's and Oscar Wilde's drawing-room comedies; Symbolism;
Expressionism in the late works of
August Strindberg and Henrik
Ibsen; and Edwardian musical comedy.
These trends continued through the 20th century in the realism of
Stanislavski and Lee Strasberg, the political theatre of Erwin
Piscator and Bertolt Brecht, the so-called
Theatre of the Absurd
Theatre of the Absurd of
Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, American and British musicals, the
collective creations of companies of actors and directors such as Joan
Theatre Workshop, experimental and postmodern theatre of
Robert Wilson and Robert Lepage, the postcolonial theatre of August
Wilson or Tomson Highway, and Augusto Boal's
Theatre of the Oppressed.
Eastern theatrical traditions
Rakshasa or the demon as depicted in Yakshagana, a form of musical
dance-drama from India
The first form of Indian theatre was the Sanskrit theatre. It
began after the development of Greek and Roman theatre and before the
development of theatre in other parts of Asia. It emerged sometime
between the 2nd century BCE and the 1st century CE and flourished
between the 1st century CE and the 10th, which was a period of
relative peace in the history of
India during which hundreds of plays
were written. Japanese forms of Kabuki, Nō, and
in the 17th century CE.
Theatre in the medieval Islamic world
included puppet theatre (which included hand puppets, shadow plays and
marionette productions) and live passion plays known as ta'ziya, where
actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. In particular, Shia
Islamic plays revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons
Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. Secular plays were known as akhraja,
recorded in medieval adab literature, though they were less common
than puppetry and ta'ziya theatre.
Main article: Drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance.
The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action", which is derived
from the verb δράω, dráō, "to do" or "to act". The enactment of
drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience,
presupposes collaborative modes of production and a collective form of
reception. The structure of dramatic texts, unlike other forms of
literature, is directly influenced by this collaborative production
and collective reception. The early modern tragedy
by Shakespeare and the classical Athenian tragedy
Oedipus Rex (c. 429
Sophocles are among the masterpieces of the art of drama.
A modern example is
Long Day's Journey into Night
Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill
Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been
contrasted with the epic and the lyrical modes ever since Aristotle's
Poetics (c. 335 BCE)—the earliest work of dramatic theory. The
use of "drama" in the narrow sense to designate a specific type of
play dates from the 19th century.
Drama in this sense refers to a play
that is neither a comedy nor a tragedy—for example, Zola's Thérèse
Raquin (1873) or Chekhov's Ivanov (1887). In
Ancient Greece however,
the word drama encompassed all theatrical plays, tragic, comic, or
anything in between.
Drama is often combined with music and dance: the drama in opera is
generally sung throughout; musicals generally include both spoken
dialogue and songs; and some forms of drama have incidental music or
musical accompaniment underscoring the dialogue (melodrama and
Japanese Nō, for example). In certain periods of history (the
ancient Roman and modern Romantic) some dramas have been written to be
read rather than performed. In improvisation, the drama does not
pre-exist the moment of performance; performers devise a dramatic
script spontaneously before an audience.
Main article: Musical theatre
Music and theatre have had a close relationship since ancient
times—Athenian tragedy, for example, was a form of dance-drama that
employed a chorus whose parts were sung (to the accompaniment of an
aulos—an instrument comparable to the modern clarinet), as were some
of the actors' responses and their 'solo songs' (monodies). Modern
musical theatre is a form of theatre that also combines music, spoken
dialogue, and dance. It emerged from comic opera (especially Gilbert
and Sullivan), variety, vaudeville, and music hall genres of the late
19th and early 20th century. After the Edwardian musical comedy
that began in the 1890s, the Princess
Theatre musicals of the early
20th century, and comedies in the 1920s and 1930s (such as the works
of Rodgers and Hammerstein), with
Oklahoma! (1943), musicals moved in
a more dramatic direction. Famous musicals over the subsequent
My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady (1956),
West Side Story
West Side Story (1957), The
Fantasticks (1960), Hair (1967),
A Chorus Line
A Chorus Line (1975), Les Misérables
Into the Woods
Into the Woods (1986), and The Phantom of the Opera
(1986), as well as more contemporary hits including Rent (1994),
The Lion King (1997), Wicked (2003), and
Hamilton (musical) (2015).
Musical theatre may be produced on an intimate scale Off-Broadway, in
regional theatres, and elsewhere, but it often includes spectacle. For
instance, Broadway and West End musicals often include lavish costumes
and sets supported by multimillion-dollar budgets.
Theatrical masks of
Tragedy and Comedy. Mosaic, Roman artwork, 2nd
century CE. Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy
Main article: Comedy
Theatre productions that use humour as a vehicle to tell a story
qualify as comedies. This may include a modern farce such as Boeing
Boeing or a classical play such as As You Like It.
bleak, controversial or taboo subject matter in a deliberately
humorous way is referred to as black comedy. Black
Comedy can have
several genres like slapstick humour, dark and sarcastic comedy.
Main article: Tragedy
Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete,
and of a certain magnitude: in language embellished with each kind of
artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of
the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and
fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions.
— Aristotle, Poetics
Aristotle's phrase "several kinds being found in separate parts of the
play" is a reference to the structural origins of drama. In it the
spoken parts were written in the
Attic dialect whereas the choral
(recited or sung) ones in the Doric dialect, these discrepancies
reflecting the differing religious origins and poetic metres of the
parts that were fused into a new entity, the theatrical drama.
Tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a
unique and important role historically in the self-definition of
Western civilisation. That tradition has been multiple and
discontinuous, yet the term has often been used to invoke a powerful
effect of cultural identity and historical continuity—"the Greeks
and the Elizabethans, in one cultural form; Hellenes and Christians,
in a common activity," as
Raymond Williams puts it. From its
obscure origins in the theatres of Athens 2,500 years ago, from which
there survives only a fraction of the work of Aeschylus,
Euripides, through its singular articulations in the works of
Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Racine, and Schiller, to the more recent
naturalistic tragedy of Strindberg, Beckett's modernist meditations on
death, loss and suffering, and Müller's postmodernist reworkings of
the tragic canon, tragedy has remained an important site of cultural
experimentation, negotiation, struggle, and change. In the wake of
Aristotle's Poetics (335 BCE), tragedy has been used to make genre
distinctions, whether at the scale of poetry in general (where the
tragic divides against epic and lyric) or at the scale of the drama
(where tragedy is opposed to comedy). In the modern era, tragedy has
also been defined against drama, melodrama, the tragicomic, and epic
Main article: Improvisational theatre
Improvisation has been a consistent feature of theatre, with the
Commedia dell'arte in the sixteenth century being recognised as the
first improvisation form. Popularized by Nobel Prize Winner Dario Fo
and troupes such as the
Upright Citizens Brigade
Upright Citizens Brigade improvisational
theatre continues to evolve with many different streams and
Keith Johnstone and
Viola Spolin are recognized as the
first teachers of improvisation in modern times, with Johnstone
exploring improvisation as an alternative to scripted theatre and
Spolin and her successors exploring improvisation principally as a
tool for developing dramatic work or skills or as a form for
situational comedy. Spolin also became interested in how the process
of learning improvisation was applicable to the development of human
potential. Spolin's son,
Paul Sills popularized improvisational
theatre as a theatrical art form when he founded. as its first
director, the Second City in Chicago.
Main article: Dramatic theory
Village feast with theatre performance circa 1600.
Having been an important part of human culture for more than 2,500
years, theatre has evolved a wide range of different theories and
practices. Some are related to political or spiritual ideologies,
while others are based purely on "artistic" concerns. Some processes
focus on a story, some on theatre as event, and some on theatre as
catalyst for social change. The classical Greek philosopher Aristotle,
in his seminal treatise, Poetics (c. 335 BCE) is the
earliest-surviving example and its arguments have influenced theories
of theatre ever since. In it, he offers an account of what he
calls "poetry" (a term which in Greek literally means "making" and in
this context includes drama—comedy, tragedy, and the satyr play—as
well as lyric poetry, epic poetry, and the dithyramb). He examines its
"first principles" and identifies its genres and basic elements; his
analysis of tragedy constitutes the core of the discussion. He
argues that tragedy consists of six qualitative parts, which are (in
order of importance) mythos or "plot", ethos or "character", dianoia
or "thought", lexis or "diction", melos or "song", and opsis or
"spectacle". "Although Aristotle's Poetics is universally
acknowledged in the Western critical tradition," Marvin Carlson
explains, "almost every detail about his seminal work has aroused
divergent opinions." Important theatre practitioners of the 20th
century include Konstantin Stanislavski, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Jacques
Copeau, Edward Gordon Craig, Bertolt Brecht, Antonin Artaud, Joan
Littlewood, Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski, Augusto Boal, Eugenio Barba,
Dario Fo, Viola Spolin,
Keith Johnstone and Robert Wilson (director).
Stanislavski treated the theatre as an art-form that is autonomous
from literature and one in which the playwright's contribution should
be respected as that of only one of an ensemble of creative
artists. His innovative contribution to modern acting theory has
remained at the core of mainstream western performance training for
much of the last century. That many of the precepts of his system
of actor training seem to be common sense and self-evident testifies
to its hegemonic success. Actors frequently employ his basic
concepts without knowing they do so. Thanks to its promotion and
elaboration by acting teachers who were former students and the many
translations of his theoretical writings, Stanislavski's 'system'
acquired an unprecedented ability to cross cultural boundaries and
developed an international reach, dominating debates about acting in
Europe and the United States. Many actors routinely equate his
'system' with the North American Method, although the latter's
exclusively psychological techniques contrast sharply with
Stanislavski's multivariant, holistic and psychophysical approach,
which explores character and action both from the 'inside out' and the
'outside in' and treats the actor's mind and body as parts of a
A theatre stage building
Main article: Stagecraft
Theatre presupposes collaborative modes of production and a collective
form of reception. The structure of dramatic texts, unlike other forms
of literature, is directly influenced by this collaborative production
and collective reception. The production of plays usually involves
contributions from a playwright, director, a cast of actors, and a
technical production team that includes a scenic or set designer,
lighting designer, costume designer, sound designer, stage manager,
production manager and technical director. Depending on the
production, this team may also include a composer, dramaturg, video
designer or fight director.
Stagecraft is a generic term referring to the technical aspects of
theatrical, film, and video production. It includes, but is not
limited to, constructing and rigging scenery, hanging and focusing of
lighting, design and procurement of costumes, makeup, procurement of
props, stage management, and recording and mixing of sound. Stagecraft
is distinct from the wider umbrella term of scenography. Considered a
technical rather than an artistic field, it relates primarily to the
practical implementation of a designer's artistic vision.
In its most basic form, stagecraft is managed by a single person
(often the stage manager of a smaller production) who arranges all
scenery, costumes, lighting, and sound, and organizes the cast. At a
more professional level, for example in modern Broadway houses,
stagecraft is managed by hundreds of skilled carpenters, painters,
electricians, stagehands, stitchers, wigmakers, and the like. This
modern form of stagecraft is highly technical and specialized: it
comprises many sub-disciplines and a vast trove of history and
tradition. The majority of stagecraft lies between these two extremes.
Regional theatres and larger community theatres will generally have a
technical director and a complement of designers, each of whom has a
direct hand in their respective designs.
Sub-categories and organization
There are many modern theatre movements which go about producing
theatre in a variety of ways. Theatrical enterprises vary enormously
in sophistication and purpose. People who are involved vary from
novices and hobbyists (in community theatre) to professionals (in
Broadway and similar productions).
Theatre can be performed with a
shoestring budget or on a grand scale with multimillion-dollar
budgets. This diversity manifests in the abundance of theatre
sub-categories, which include:
Broadway theatre and West End theatre
Off-Broadway and Off West End
Regional theatre in the United States
Summer stock theatre
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, circa 1821
While most modern theatre companies rehearse one piece of theatre at a
time, perform that piece for a set "run", retire the piece, and begin
rehearsing a new show, repertory companies rehearse multiple shows at
one time. These companies are able to perform these various pieces
upon request and often perform works for years before retiring them.
Most dance companies operate on this repertory system. The Royal
Theatre in London performs on a repertory system.
Repertory theatre generally involves a group of similarly accomplished
actors, and relies more on the reputation of the group than on an
individual star actor. It also typically relies less on strict control
by a director and less on adherence to theatrical conventions, since
actors who have worked together in multiple productions can respond to
each other without relying as much on convention or external
Producing vs. presenting
In order to put on a piece of theatre, both a theatre company and a
theatre venue are needed. When a theatre company is the sole company
in residence at a theatre venue, this theatre (and its corresponding
theatre company) are called a resident theatre or a producing theatre,
because the venue produces its own work. Other theatre companies, as
well as dance companies, who do not have their own theatre venue,
perform at rental theatres or at presenting theatres. Both rental and
presenting theatres have no full-time resident companies. They do,
however, sometimes have one or more part-time resident companies, in
addition to other independent partner companies who arrange to use the
space when available. A rental theatre allows the independent
companies to seek out the space, while a presenting theatre seeks out
the independent companies to support their work by presenting them on
Some performance groups perform in non-theatrical spaces. Such
performances can take place outside or inside, in a non-traditional
performance space, and include street theatre, and site-specific
theatre. Non-traditional venues can be used to create more immersive
or meaningful environments for audiences. They can sometimes be
modified more heavily than traditional theatre venues, or can
accommodate different kinds of equipment, lighting and sets.
A touring company is an independent theatre or dance company that
travels, often internationally, being presented at a different theatre
in each city.
There are many theatre unions including: Actors' Equity Association
(for actors and stage managers), the Stage Directors and
Choreographers Society (SDC), and the International Alliance of
Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE, for designers and technicians).
Many theatres require that their staff be members of these
Main article: Outline of theatre
Black light theatre
List of awards in theatre
List of playwrights
List of theatre personnel
List of theatre festivals
List of theatre directors
Lists of theatres
Theatre for development
^ Originally spelled theatre and teatre. From around 1550 to 1700 or
later, the most common spelling was theater. Between 1720 and 1750,
theater was dropped in British English, but was either retained or
American English (Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition,
2009, CD-ROM: ISBN 9780199563838). Recent dictionaries of
American English list theatre as a less common variant, e.g., Random
House Webster's College Dictionary (1991); The American Heritage
Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition (2006); New Oxford
American Dictionary, third edition (2010); Merriam-Webster Dictionary
^ M. Carlson, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, , 2011
^ Pavis (1998, 345). Drawing on the "semeiotics" of Charles Sanders
Peirce, Pavis goes on to suggest that "the specificity of theatrical
signs may lie in their ability to use the three possible functions of
signs: as icon (mimetically), as index (in the situation of
enunciation), or as symbol (as a semiological system in the fictional
mode). In effect, theatre makes the sources of the words visual and
concrete: it indicates and incarnates a fictional world by means of
signs, such that by the end of the process of signification and
symbolization the spectator has reconstructed a theoretical and
aesthetic model that accounts for the dramatic universe" (1998, 346).
^ Brown (1998, 441), Cartledge (1997, 3–5), Goldhill (1997, 54).
Brown writes that ancient Greek drama "was essentially the creation of
classical Athens: all the dramatists who were later regarded as
classics were active at Athens in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE (the
time of the Athenian democracy), and all the surviving plays date from
this period" (1998, 441). "The dominant culture of Athens in the fifth
century", Goldhill writes, "can be said to have invented theatre"
^ Cartledge (1997, 3, 6), Goldhill (1997, 54) and (1999, 20-xx), and
Rehm (1992. 3). Goldhill argues that although activities that form "an
integral part of the exercise of citizenship" (such as when "the
Athenian citizen speaks in the Assembly, exercises in the gymnasium,
sings at the symposium, or courts a boy") each have their "own regime
of display and regulation," nevertheless the term "performance"
provides "a useful heuristic category to explore the connections and
overlaps between these different areas of activity" (1999, 1).
^ Pelling (2005, 83).
^ Goldhill (1999, 25) and Pelling (2005, 83–84).
^ Dukore (1974, 31), Janko (1987, ix), and Ward (1945, 1).
^ Brockett and Hildy (2003, 15–19).
^ "Credo Reference Library Login Page".
^ Brown (1998, 441), Cartledge (1997, 3–5), Goldhill (1997, 54), Ley
(2007, 206), and Styan (2000, 140). Taxidou notes that "most scholars
now call 'Greek' tragedy 'Athenian' tragedy, which is historically
correct" (2004, 104).
^ Brockett and Hildy (2003, 32–33), Brown (1998, 444), and Cartledge
(1997, 3–5). Cartledge writes that although Athenians of the 4th
century judged Aeschylus, Sophocles, and
Euripides "as the nonpareils
of the genre, and regularly honoured their plays with revivals,
tragedy itself was not merely a 5th-century phenomenon, the product of
a short-lived golden age. If not attaining the quality and stature of
the fifth-century 'classics', original tragedies nonetheless continued
to be written and produced and competed with in large numbers
throughout the remaining life of the democracy—and beyond it" (1997,
^ Brockett and Hildy (2003, 15) and Kovacs (2005, 379). We have seven
by Aeschylus, seven by Sophocles, and eighteen by Euripides. In
addition, we also have the Cyclops, a satyr play by Euripides. Some
critics since the 17th century have argued that one of the tragedies
that the classical tradition gives as Euripides'—Rhesus—is a
4th-century play by an unknown author; modern scholarship agrees with
the classical authorities and ascribes the play to Euripides; see
Walton (1997, viii, xix). (This uncertainty accounts for Brockett and
Hildy's figure of 31 tragedies.)
^ Brockett and Hildy (2003, 15). The theory that
Prometheus Bound was
not written by
Aeschylus adds a fourth, anonymous playwright to those
whose work survives.
^ Brockett and Hildy (2003, 13–15) and Brown (1998, 441–447).
^ Brown (1998, 442) and Brockett and Hildy (2003, 15–17). Exceptions
to this pattern were made, as with Euripides' Alcestis in 438 BCE.
There were also separate competitions at the City Dionysia for the
performance of dithyrambs and, after 488–7 BCE, comedies.
^ Brockett and Hildy (2003, 13, 15) and Brown (1998, 442). Rehm offers
the following argument as evidence that tragedy was not
institutionalised until 501 BCE: "The specific cult honoured at the
City Dionysia was that of
Dionysus Eleuthereus, the god 'having to do
with Eleutherae', a town on the border between
had a sanctuary to Dionysus. At some point Athens annexed
Eleutherae—most likely after the overthrow of the Peisistratid
tyranny in 510 and the democratic reforms of
Cleisthenes in 508–07
BCE—and the cult-image of
Dionysus Eleuthereus was moved to its new
home. Athenians re-enacted the incorporation of the god's cult every
year in a preliminary rite to the City Dionysia. On the day before the
festival proper, the cult-statue was removed from the temple near the
Dionysus and taken to a temple on the road to Eleutherae.
That evening, after sacrifice and hymns, a torchlight procession
carried the statue back to the temple, a symbolic re-creation of the
god's arrival into Athens, as well as a reminder of the inclusion of
the Boeotian town into Attica. As the name
Eleutherae is extremely
close to eleutheria, 'freedom', Athenians probably felt that the new
cult was particularly appropriate for celebrating their own political
liberation and democratic reforms." (1992, 15).
^ Brown (1998, 442).
Jean-Pierre Vernant argues that in The Persians
Aeschylus substitutes for the usual temporal distance between the
audience and the age of heroes a spatial distance between the Western
audience and the Eastern Persian culture. This substitution, he
suggests, produces a similar effect: "The 'historic' events evoked by
the chorus, recounted by the messenger and interpreted by Darius'
ghost are presented on stage in a legendary atmosphere. The light that
the tragedy sheds upon them is not that in which the political
happenings of the day are normally seen; it reaches the Athenian
theatre refracted from a distant world of elsewhere, making what is
absent seem present and visible on the stage"; Vernant and
Vidal-Naquet (1988, 245).
^ Brown (1998, 442) and Brockett and Hildy (2003, 15–16).
^ Aristotle, Poetics, line 1449a: "Comedy, as we have said, is a
representation of inferior people, not indeed in the full sense of the
word bad, but the laughable is a species of the base or ugly. It
consists in some blunder or ugliness that does not cause pain or
disaster, an obvious example being the comic mask which is ugly and
distorted but not painful'."
^ WEBSTER, T. B. L. “MONUMENTS ILLUSTRATING TRAGEDY AND SATYR PLAY
(Second Edition with Appendix).” Bulletin Supplement (University of
London. Institute of Classical Studies), no. 20, 1967, pp. iii-190.
^ Beacham (1996, 2).
^ Beacham (1996, 3).
^ John, Gassner, and Allen Ralph.
Drama in the Making. 1st
ed. New York, NY: Applause
Theatre Books, 1992. 93. Print.
^ Brandon (1981, xvii) and (1998, 516–517).
^ a b Richmond (1998, 516).
^ a b c d Richmond (1998, 517).
^ Brandon (1981, xvii) and Richmond (1998, 517).
^ Richmond (1998, 518).
^ Richmond (1998, 518). The literal meaning of abhinaya is "to carry
^ a b Brandon (1981, xvii).
^ Kuritz (1988, 305).
^ Robinson, Scott R. "The English Theatre, 1642–1800". Scott R.
Robinson Home. CWU Department of
Theatre Arts. Retrieved August 6,
^ "Women's Lives Surrounding Late 18th Century Theatre". English 3621
Writing by Women. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
^ Bermel, Albert. "Moliere—French Dramatist". Discover France.
Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
^ Black, Joseph; et al. (2010). The Broadview Anthology of British
Literature: Volume 3: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century.
Canada: Broadview Press. pp. 533–535.
^ Matthew, Brander. "The
Drama in the 18th Century". Moonstruch Drama
Bookstore. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
^ Wilhelm Kosch, "Seyler, Abel", in Dictionary of German Biography,
eds. Walther Killy and Rudolf Vierhaus, Vol. 9, Walter de Gruyter,
2005, ISBN 3110966298, p. 308.
^ Brockett and Hildy (2003, 293–426).
^ a b Richmond, Swann, and Zarrilli (1993, 12).
^ Brandon (1997, 70) and Richmond (1998, 516).
^ Deal (2007, 276).
^ Moreh (1986, 565–601).
^ Elam (1980, 98).
^ a b Pfister (1977, 11).
^ Fergusson (1949, 2–3).
^ Burt (2008, 30–35).
Francis Fergusson writes that "a drama, as distinguished from a
lyric, is not primarily a composition in the verbal medium; the words
result, as one might put it, from the underlying structure of incident
and character. As
Aristotle remarks, 'the poet, or "maker" should be
the maker of plots rather than of verses; since he is a poet because
he imiates, and what he imitates are actions'" (1949, 8).
^ See the entries for "opera", "musical theatre, American",
"melodrama" and "Nō" in Banham (1998).
^ While there is some dispute among theatre historians, it is probable
that the plays by the Roman Seneca were not intended to be performed.
Manfred by Byron is a good example of a "dramatic poem." See the
entries on "Seneca" and "Byron (George George)" in Banham (1998).
^ Some forms of improvisation, notably the Commedia dell'arte,
improvise on the basis of 'lazzi' or rough outlines of scenic action
(see Gordon (1983) and Duchartre (1929)). All forms of improvisation
take their cue from their immediate response to one another, their
characters' situations (which are sometimes established in advance),
and, often, their interaction with the audience. The classic
formulations of improvisation in the theatre originated with Joan
Keith Johnstone in the UK and
Viola Spolin in the US;
see Johnstone (1981) and Spolin (1963).
^ Rehm (1992, 150n7).
^ Jones (2003, 4–11).
^ The first "Edwardian musical comedy" is usually considered to be In
Town (1892), even though it was produced eight years before the
beginning of the Edwardian era; see, for example, Fraser Charlton,
"What are EdMusComs?" (FrasrWeb 2007, accessed May 12, 2011).
^ Kenrick, John (2003). "History of Stage Musicals". Retrieved May 26,
^ S.H. Butcher, , 2011
^ Banham (1998, 1118) and Williams (1966, 14–16).
^ Williams (1966, 16).
^ Williams (1966, 13–84) and Taxidou (2004, 193–209).
^ See Carlson (1993), Pfister (1977), Elam (1980) and Taxidou (2004).
Drama, in the narrow sense, cuts across the traditional division
between comedy and tragedy in an anti- or a-generic
deterritorialization from the mid-19th century onwards. Both Bertolt
Augusto Boal define their epic theatre projects
Non-Aristotelian drama and
Theatre of the Oppressed
Theatre of the Oppressed respectively)
against models of tragedy. Taxidou, however, reads epic theatre as an
incorporation of tragic functions and its treatments of mourning and
speculation (2004, 193–209).
^ Gordon, Robert (2006). The Purpose of Playing: Modern Acting
Theories in Perspective. University of Michigan Press.
^ Dukore (1974, 31) and Janko (1987, ix).
Aristotle Poetics 1447a13 (1987, 1).
^ Carlson (1993, 19) and Janko (1987, xx, 7–10).
^ Carlson (1993, 16).
^ Benedetti (1999a, 124, 202) and (2008b, 6), Carnicke (1998, 162),
and Gauss (1999, 2). In 1902, Stanislavski wrote that "the author
writes on paper. The actor writes with his body on the stage" and that
the "score of an opera is not the opera itself and the script of a
play is not drama until both are made flesh and blood on stage";
quoted by Benedetti (1999a, 124).
^ Banham (1998, 1032), Carnicke (1998, 1), Counsell (1996, 24–25),
Gordon (2006, 37–40), and Leach (2004, 29).
^ a b Counsell (1996, 25).
^ Banham (1998, 1032), Carnicke (1998, 1, 167), Counsell (1996, 24),
and Milling and Ley (2001, 1).
^ Benedetti (2005, 147–148) and Carnicke (1998, 1, 8).
^ Peterson (1982.)
^ Alice T. Carter, "Non-traditional venues can inspire art, or just
great performances", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 2008-07-07. Retrieved
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