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A Brief Overview of Theatre History
Transcript of A Brief Overview of Theatre History
Theatre Theatre History Timeline Egyptian
Theatre During a society's development, they become aware of outside forces that influence their well-being.
They attribute these occurences to supernatural or magical forces.
They then search for a way to influence or win the favor of these forces. Most rituals are related to one of three basic concerns: Pleasure
(Shelter, Food, Fertility, Health) Power
(Conquest, Increasing Tribe Status) Duty
(To the Gods, to Tribe, to Society) An important premise of many rituals is that a desired result can be achieved by acting it out. Masks and costumes are often used to represent supernatural forces in hopes that the spirit will be attracted to its likeness. Much that is found in theatre is also present in ritual:
•Actors: those that enact the rites and stories
• Directors: those who exercise control over the performances
i.e. elders, priests, priestesses, shamans
• Performance Space: ”acting area” for the ritual to take place and be observed Bharatnatyam is one of the many traditional dances from India. It originated in grand temples of Ancient India. Native American Indian war dance by Cherokee tribe from North Carolina during First Peoples Festival. West African drums and dance. The story enacted in the Abydos Passion Play. There is no concrete evidence that says ancient Egyptians dramatized their myths and rituals. The performance we know the most about is known as the Abydos Passion Play. This play tells of the death and resurrection of the god Osiris. We know that some performance related to Osiris was performed annually. However, no part of the text remains. Some scholars believe it was a huge spectacle occurring over the course of weeks. Other scholars believe it was never dramatized. The play J.B., by Archibald NacLeish, is based on the Book of Job. Dance and ritual are both mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible.
However, there is no real reference to theatre. The Song of Solomon was probably chanted at weddings. It contains beautiful poetic dialogue spoken by a bride and groom.
The Book of Job has many dramatic elements in it, such as five acts, a prologue, and an epilogue.
There is no record of it ever being performed as drama. approx. 500 BCE Festival Dionysia Dionysus-God of theatre, wine, & fertility Singing of hymns (dithyrambs) to honor Dionysus choral groups were organized with vocal contests tragedy means "goat song" not sure why; may have worn goatskins, or draped them on an altar, or sacrificed a goat March Festival-City Dionysia-National and Religious Festival; 1 week tragedy festival; prize awarded to best series of plays Men & women attended, but only men acted If you couldn't afford the ticket price, the state would pay it for you Final 3 days had play contests Trilogy of tragedies & a satyr (comedic) play
Winner could wear ivy garland Comedies were sometimes in the afternoon
"komos" means band of revelers
most performed at Lenaea Festival in February Play Performances Outdoor, stone theaters built into a hillside
Could seat up to 50,000 in some Parts of the theater Theatron-"a seeing place," where audience sat
Skene-"scene," background building, used to change in, doors to enter and exit from
Parodos-left and right passageway between skene and orchestra, chorus entrance and exit Very little action in plays, mostly rhetorical
Used exaggerated masks-helped amplify voice
All death took place OFFSTAGE Mechanical Features Pinakes-painted backdrop
Periaktois-triangular prisms that can revolve for scene changes
Eccyclema-wagon platform ro show dead body Deus ex Machina-"God by machine," crane used for lowering & raising gods, now used for a plot device that quickly wraps up a very complicated conflict Playwrights Most plays were based on classic stories Thespis-first winner of City Dionysia play festival Introduced chorus leader-1st actor
Thespis-"thespian," actor Aeschylus Greatest tragic playwright of all time
Invented trilogy & 2nd actor
Orestia Trilogy Sophocles Introduced 3rd actor
Oedipus Rex Euripides Not well liked
Medea Aristophanes Comedy, public life
Lysistrata Menander Comedy, private life
The Grouch, complete work found in the '50s Aristotle's 6 Elements of Drama 1. Plot--overall structure
3. Thought--themes, meaning, focus
4. Diction--language, expression
5. Music/Sound--sound effects, voices, music
6. Spectacle--visual elements i. physical appearance
ii. social status
iii. mental status
iv. moral code Copied Greeks in many ways; unoriginal
Theatre for low class people; free for everyone
Theaters were built on flat ground
Scaenae Frons was the Roman version of a skene
First to use a front curtain
Created the "claque;" people who were paid to clap at the right times Coliseum Famous Roman Amphitheater
Chariot races, beast fights, sporting events, battles, gladiators
loved violence & blood; violence shown on stage Playwrights Plautus-Comedy Fast paced, mistaken identities
Influenced later works Seneca-Tragedy Not sure if ever performed
Very detailed & fantastical Terence-Comedy Used to be a slave; bought his freedom Japanese Theatre
There are three main types of traditional Japanese Theatre: Noh, Bunraku, and Kabuki.
Noh (or No): means “talent” or “skill.” Uses song, mask, and theatrical aspects.
Bunraku: Puppet Theatre
Kabuki: Emphasizes dance and music; had painted white faces; men played all the women’s roles because it was believed that only a man could truly capture the essence of a woman.
The theatre of India
Performed in Palaces
Very stylized with an emphasis on music and dance, like Kabuki.
Emphasis on religious and supernatural influences
Alternates between prose and poetry.
Originally used no spoken words; relied on music.
The acting style, stage, and costuming were all conventionalized, but there was a lot of freedom with the narrative.
Was meant for all audiences, not just royalty.
No attempt at realism; relies heavily on symbolism
Miracle Plays - based on legends of saints
Mystery Plays - based on Biblical History
Morality Plays - dealt with principles of right and wrong Passion Play Based on the last week of Jesus's life on Earth.
It is still performed in
Germany every 10 years Sets Mansions - acting stations set in a line
Hell's Mouth - breathed fire and smoke, sinners were "thrown" into the mouth Festival of Corpus Christi 13th century
individual guilds would present Biblical stories
Each guild had its own pageant wagon
stage on wheels
wagons traveled from town to town in a procession
Entire sequence of plays was a cycle 2nd Shepherd's Play
Secular Drama Key Facts Renaissance means "rebirth"
Transition from Medieval world to Modern world
Began in Italy in 14th Century, spread throughout Europe
Time of great artistic and scientific acheivement Italian Renaissance Opera originated in Italy during this time
Originated in Florence. Scholars were looking for a way to imagine what the Greek chorus sounded like in Ancient Greece.
Italian is the international languarge of opera. Commedia dell'Arte - "Comedy of craft or skill" Performed by troops who specialized in comedic improvisation- INCLUDED WOMEN!!
Mastered the art of playing out comedic scenarios, which were short plot descriptions, that would be posted backstage right before performance.
There were no scripts!
All the characters were stock (the same person each time)
Actors memorized movements, jokes, and stage business for each type of character, then would improvise the dialogue
English Renaissance The climax of English Renaissance was during the Elizabethan time (which we will discuss later)
One of the first comedies was "Ralph Roister Doister."
The playwright was influenced by the works of Plautus. Elizabethan
Theatre The Elizabethan era is named after Queen Elizabeth I.
The Queen loved the theatre, even though other authorities were against it. They believed the crowds spread disease and people would start fights. The Elizabethan period was a time for literary enlightenment.
The playwrights of this time wrote with great freedom, mixed prose with poetry, and interspersed comedy with tragedy. Three Famous Playwrights Christopher Marlowe First to introduce blank (unrhymed) verse Some of his plays include:
"The Jew of Malta"
"Edward II" In his play, "Dr. Faustus," the main character sells his soul to the devil in exchange for something. This was his way of bridging the
gap between medieval & renaissance drama. Some conspiracy theorists believe Marlowe wrote some-or even all-of Shakespeare's plays. Ben Johnson Master of comedy Wrote:
"Every Man in His Humor"
"The Alchemist" William Shakespeare Considered by many to be the greatest playwright of all time.
Wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. His first play was King Henry VI, part one.
Born in Stratford-Upon-Avon on April 23, 1564, and died on his birthday in 1616.
Moved to London as a young man & joined The Lord Chamberlain's Men.
His acting company did their performances at The Globe theater, which was recently rebuilt. His plays are still performed there.
Shakespeare was influenced heavily by greek and roman playwrights.
His plays include: "Romeo & Juliet," "Hamlet," "Macbeth," "Othello," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," & "The Tempest." Theatre Space Theaters were built on the edge of town to keep disease
Raise a ﬂag to let people know there would be a performance that day.
In 1613 the Globe burned down during a production of Henry VIII. It was rebuilt. It lasted until 1644, when the Puritans tore it down. For a penny, audience members could stand in front of
the stage in the open air. This place was called the pit,
and these people were called the “groundlings.”
You could pay nearly double to sit in the elevated box
seats behind the groundlings.
Audiences liked plays that were exciting, violent, and
moving. If they did not like something they were quick to
let their feelings known to the actors on stage. Actors during Shakespeare’s time were called players.
All players were men and boys; there were no female actresses during this time. Young boys would play women’s roles until their voices began to change.
Players were viewed as very low-class and disreputable. People thought they spread disease. Actors Either way, there was competition between the two. Restoration
Theatre Between the Elizabethan era and the Restoration period, England went into political upheaval. Puritan Rebellion 1642-1660 Theatre was banned during this time. When Charles II returned to the throne, theatre became legal again. English Royal Patent of 1662:
1. Gave complete control (monopoly) to two theaters
2. Allowed women onstage while BANNING men from playing women's parts
3. Viewed theatre not only as a "harmless delight" but also useful and thought-provoking. Theaters
Closed air theaters for the first time
Audience on level floor, stage raked
Started using elaborate scenery and mechanical devices Playwrights
William Wycherly - "The Country Wife"
started the trend towards comedies
William Congreve - "The Way of the World"
George Farquar - "The Beaux Strategem"
Moliere - most famous; French
wrote "The Imaginary Invalid," "The Misanthrope," and countless others 19th Century
Napoleon names himself Emperor and conquers most of Europe.
Defeated at Battle of Waterloo.
Europe fell into economic trouble, so people moved to towns.
Created an opposite reaction in the arts. Romanticism
Emphasized imagination and emotions.
Nature worship/reverence, individualism, free thought, idealism.
Rousse was the father of Romanticism.
Folklore became popular (Grimm's Fairy Tales) Melodrama
Virtuous hero is sought after by a villain; endures hardships & threats to virtue; wins out in the end. Germany
Gov't control and censorship.
Young Germany movement created controversial plays.
First box set. French Theatre
Pixerecourt was the father of melodrama (wrote 120 plays).
Victor Hugo; "Les Miserables," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
Gov't control & censorship by Napoleon.
Claque returned to theatre (people who were paid to clap). Actors formed a semi circle at the front of the stage.
Panorama: audience sat in middle of room, surrounded by continuous painting.
Diorama: audience sat in middle of room, platform turned them every 15 minutes to one side of the room or other. Russian Theatre
Gov't control & censorship
Rules that governed rehearsals, actor's behaviors, and their entire lives
Ballet (from France) became an important part of Russia's arts (still is). English Theatre
Patent Houses were only allowed to produce melodrama.
Melodrama had to have 3 acts and music.
Would get around rule by putting on normal plays & hitting a piano every 5 minutes.
Patent Houses finally abolished.
Visiting stars popular; quality declined.
People distrusted foreign actors unless they were sophisticated.
Ira Aldridge-African American actress.
Edwin Forrest est. "American School of Acting."
Minstrel shows where white companies performed in blackface.
Blackface later outlawed. 20th Century
Theatre 21st Century
Theatre The Irish Renaissance
1900: interest in Gaelic and Celtic heritage
William Butler Yeats: poet
Lady Gregory: realistic and domestic
John Millington Synge: “Riders to the Sea”
Early 20th in England and US
WWI: changes in codes of conduct, dress, women’s rights, artistic experimentation
Commercial producers and long runs
Chu Chin Chow (musical version of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves) ran for 2,238 performances
“Old Vic” and Saller’s Wells (Theatre, Opera, and Ballet) 1880-present day The Cambridge Festival Theater-Terence Gray 1926
Romeo and Juliet in flamenco costumes
Twelfth Night on roller skates
Judge in The Merchant of Venice used a yo-yo The Great Depression of the 1930s
“little theaters” 1912-1920, preparation of audiences to accept new conventions
1905: Community Theatre movement
1925: 2,000 community theaters (or little theaters)
Theater Programs in Colleges and Universities
Courses offered around 1900
Richard Boleslav: American Laboratory Theatre (1923-1930)
“Acting, the First 6 lessons”
More than 500 Students: Stella Adler, Lee Strasburg
1917: Communists in power
Communistic view: theatre was a national treasure
Theatre had 2 categories: established and unproven
Biomechanics: acting method-machine age, muscular activity and emotional response (from outside in)
Federal Theatre Project
The Stock Market Crash and Great Depression (1929)
Federal Theatre Project (1935-1939)
Employed 10,000 people in 40 states
about 1,000 productions, 65% were free
“Triple A Plowed Under” (agriculture)
“Power” (rural electrification)
“One Third of a Nation” (slum housing and poverty)
“Spirochete” (venereal disease, had free syphilis testing at intermission)
Orson Wells wrote “The Cradle Will Rock” as an anti-capitalist musical
Emergence of African-American Theatre
--Eugene O’Neill wrote “Long Day’s Journey into Night” and “All God’s Chillun Got Wings”
--Worker’s Drama League (1926)
--The Actors’ Equity Association (1912)
--The Dramatist’s Guild
--Elmer Rice: “The Adding Machine”
--Philip Barry: “The Philadelphia Story”
--George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart: “You Can’t Take it with You” and “The Man Who Came to Dinner”
--William Saroyan: “The Time of Your Life”
--Thorton Wilder: “Our Town”
--Zona Gale: “Lulu Bett” was the first to win a Pulitzer Prize written by a woman
--Broadway musicals: “Oklahoma!” (1943)
--New approach to musicals
New Theatrical Movements
“truth is to be found in humanity’s spiritual qualities.”
developed in Germany
audience always aware that they were watching a performance
Fauvism, cubism, futurism, constructivism, Dadaism, surrealism
Contemplates the meaninglessness of life
“human existence has no meaning or purpose, and therefore all communication breaks down.”
Jean Paul Sartre wrote “No Exit”
Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Godot” and “Endgame”
Eugene Ionesco wrote “The Bald Soprano” and “The Rhinoceros”
The Hollywood Blacklist and the Red Scare
During Great Depression and WWII, people turned toward ideals of the Communist Party
The belief in equality and money for all when there was no money or equality was attractive.
Many people joined the Communist Party, including people in the arts and entertainment fields.
After the situations with communism in Russia became public to the US, many people became scared of communism.
The government began hunting for people who sympathized with Communism.
Keep in mind: IT WAS NOT ILLEGAL TO BE A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY.
43 people were put on the witness stand to give testimony about their colleagues
19 of those declared they would not give evidence.
Of those 19, 11 were called before the committee.
Of the 11 “unfriendly witnesses,” only 1, Bertolt Brecht (an immigrant), gave in and answered the committee’s questions.
The other 10 refused, citing their 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech and assembly.
The question they ultimately refused to answer was, “Are you now of have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”
They were formally accused of contempt of Congress, fired or suspended without pay, and were not allowed to return to work unless they were cleared of charges of contempt and swore they were not Communists.
Eventually, they were convicted of contempt, and spent a year in jail.
Their careers suffered for years.
Hundreds of people in the industry were put on the blacklist over the next several years.
Many of those put on the blacklist were prevented from being credited for things they
had done before the blacklist.