Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Thacher to The Cualnge Tam B6 >> Theatre_P1

Theatre

stage, orchestra, seats, greek, athens, dionysus, buildings, called and stood

Page: 1 2 3

THEATRE (Greek, na place for seeing,* from Otafftkil to regard or look at), literally any building used for purposes of exhibition, hut now generally applied to a place in which dramatic and musical performances are given.

The theatre may be considered as a form which found its earliest expres sion in the classic ages of Greece and Rome, and after a long eclipse has again become im portant within the last 250 years. The term theatre also comprises the whole mass of dra matic literature and its theatrical representa tion. In this article it is proposed to deal (1) with the theatre as an architectural edifice from its earliest beginnings down to the pres ent. For the treatment of the theatre as a form of artistic expression see DRAMA.

The Theatre in Architecture.— The thea tre had its origin among the Greeks. Its germ was the ring in which dithyrambs and phallic songs were performed by choruses in honor of Dionysus. These were performed in an orchestra or circular dancing place, on all sides of which the spectators were ranged. Later a table was introduced, on which the leader of the chorus stood while he carried on a dialogue with the rest of the choreutre in the intervals between the choral odes. This table was the first and most rudimentary form of stage and the date of its introduction is about 560 n.c. Next an actor, a single actor, was introduced by Thespis and, as he played many different parts, a tent had to be erected in which he should be able to change his mask and dress. Out of this tent arose ultimately the stage buildings of the Greeks, which, even after they became elaborate structures of stone, retained the name skine, atent or booth') (cf. English scene).

Greek Theatrical Architecture.— From the remains of various Greek theatres which have been excavated it is possible to reconstruct, at least in its main features, one of these edifices. In the centre the orchestra formed an exact circle in the middle of which stood the altar of Dionysus. Later the circle was cut on the side next the stage. Round the orchestra, in size rather more than a semi-circle, the seats for the audience rose tier upon tier like a modern baseball field-stand. These seats were at first of wood, but owing to a collapse of the benches in 499 B.c., it was resolved at Athens to erect a permanent stone theatre. This was the theatre of Dionysus, which exists to day, although it has been partly reconstructed. It consists of three parts— the orchestra, stage buildings and the auditorium. The orchestra was occupied solely by the chorus. Behind it rose the stage buildings, usually a long, narrow rectangle, facing the audience; the most an cient one at Athens was 55 yards long and only 11 yards deep. But then little scenery was used. In front the buildings represented a palace or a temple. There were usually three doors opening on to the stage, which was a wooden platform, standing 8 or 10 feet above the orchestra. On it the actors appeared. The

auditorium was of great extent as the theatre was intended to accommodate practically the whole population of the city in which it stood. The rows of seats in consequence were of enormous size, the theatre of Dionysus at Athens holding 27,500 persons, and that at Megalopolis being computed to seat 44,000. In order to obtain the necessary slope for the tiers of seats as well as a natural substructure for the same the Greeks always chose some natural hollow, where the shape of the ground aided the design of the architect. Tiers of seats rose one above another, divided vertically by passages for access and in many cases hon zontally also. The lowest or first row of seats at Athens is of marble, and was reserved for persons of distinction; the rest are of ordinary stoae. Between the auditorium and the stage were the passages of entrance (parodoi) which in some instances were of great breadth. The back-wall was called the scena, the side-walls, or wings, in each of which was an entrance door being called paraskenia. The stage was called the proscenium. A flight of steps, later two, con nected the stage with the orchestra and these steps, continued out of sight beneath the or chestra floor, were the means by which appari tions from the lower world ascended. The front of the stage nearest the orchestra was called the Royeiovi (logeum). The back-wall represented a suitable background or setting for the play, and, before the performance, was covered by a curtain (aulaia) which was let down, not drawn up as is usual to-day. When the action of the play required a different scene, the back of the stage was covered with painted curtains or boards. At either end of the stage were large revolving triangular prisms, each side of which bore a different scene, thus pro viding three sets of wings. In dealing with the early Greek theatre it must always be re membered that the stage was only of second ary importance, the orchestra being deemed the .chief point of interest. There was a cer tain amount of machinery, of which the most famous was a species of crane by which a god could be let down from on high or drawn up ag-ain as occasion required. The Greelc theatre was open to the sky and attendance at it was a species of religious observance; performances took place only on festal days, when the whole population turned out to wit ness them The acoustic properties appear to have received little attention. Actors used a species of megaphone device, concealed in their masks, in order to make their voices carry to a distance. Besides the theatre at Athens Greek theatres existed also at Epidaurus, Delphi, Syracuse and Megalopolis.

Page: 1 2 3