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Theater: Its Origins and Its History

Theater History I Lectures

Jessica Barkl

on 17 May 2016

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Transcript of Theater: Its Origins and Its History

Religion = Collective
Ritual: The Purpose
Symbolic behavioral expression of cosmology, belief system embedded in body of traditional myth.
Sanctions and legitimizes the social order through conditioning of the thought of the society's members
Socialization and enculturation mode of exercising ongoing social control and integration.
Social communication among members of a culturally homogeneous group, small in scale of size and complexity and characterized by non-literacy.
Innovation potential relatively low with respect to structure and content of performance.

- From Per Brask and William Morgan's "Towards a Conceptual Understanding of the Transformation From Ritual to Theatre"

Theater: The Purpose
Symbolic behavioral expression of and possible reflexive commentary upon the value system and cosmology of a state society.
Sanctions and legitimizes the social order (integration propaganda) or conversely, questions that order (agitation).
Mode of social control, ongoing enculturation and socialization, promotion of integration of segments of state society.
Communication between heterogeneous class and ethnicity based groups, with multi-community organization on a relatively large size and complexity scale.
Comparatively high innovation potential with respect to structure and content of performance.

- From Per Brask and William Morgan's "Towards a Conceptual Understanding of the Transformation From Ritual to Theatre"
Ritual/Theater: Purpose
Both contain: "...communicating among such a society's total membership a sanction of the social order and in exercising social control through thought control or conditioning."

They differ in that..."Ritual is associated with a body of myth, a cosmology and a belief system common in details of tradition to the entire membership of society." While "...theatre is concerned with a body of myth and belief sanctioning a social order where neither the myth nor the social order are inherently and uniformly acceptable to the inhabitants of a state characterized by class and ethnic differentiation."

- From Per Brask and William Morgan's "Towards a Conceptual Understanding of the Transformation From Ritual to Theatre"
"...leads the soul through a series of states and transformations until within the very depths of itself it feels the touch of divinity and experiences the life of God'." - From Paul Kuritz' THE MAKING OF THEATRE HISTORY

"Methexis: Group Sharing: The African tradition...is generally based on methexis: group sharing. It emphasizes audience participation, group creativity, and improvisation. As a result, whereas European theatre is meant to affect the audience - to entertain or to teach - the purpose of the African tradition is to embody or to be. African ceremonies, although set, offer opportunities for improvisation, and not only the leader or priest but everyone participates, entering into the action and also into transformations of body and spirit." - From LIVING THEATRE: HISTORY OF THEATRE by Edwin Wilson and Alvin Goldfarb
Art = Individual
"...aesthetic experience perceives things and brings forth a sign, weak though it may be, of the spirituality within them; he is connaturalized, not with God himself, but with the mystery that is scattered in things and which has come down from God, the invisible powers within the universe."
"...the art of theatre conveys human experiences, human destinies, human greatness, and human misery."
"...it lures human beings from the poverty and triviality of humdrum experience to a vision of the infinite possibilities of live..."
"The emergence of the individual perspective from the group perspective marks one of the conditions for the development of drama from ritual." - All quotes from Paul Kuritz' THE MAKING OF THEATRE HISTORY
the definition...
"...culturally patterned, repetitive activities having as their prime explicit aim the articulation of some or all of the members of that culture with those forces which are believed to structure and govern the universe." - From Per Brask and William Morgan's "Towards a Conceptual Understanding of the Transformation From Ritual to Theatre"
the definition...
A story or situation that has or includes high stakes, conflict/battle, heightened emotions, intensity, and/or, force.
Conditions Necessary for the Transformation
of Ritual Performance to Dramatic/Theatrical Performance
"Audience separated from performers as non-participants in staged events, special performance space.
Script/dialogue/action is a reflection of the accepted moral and social order of the society, sanctioning or inveighing against the values and social order of the society, explicitly or implicitly.
Trained performers, the protagonist of drama, the other major character, the chorus and its leader of the Classical Greek stage embody aspects of the members, of the audience, represent them.
Costumes, masks, makeup, stage set, other paraphernalia (Fiction).
Dissociation for members of audience from daily reality, a "willing suspension of disbelief" in reality of staged action, non-participatory in terms of stage action with actors implementing roles through which an audience member may (or may not) feel identified in terms of the "social drama' subject of the staged exegesis.
Representation, with the desired intent not of manipulating the controlling spirit forces of the universe but with manipulating the behaviour of staged characters to simulate the predicted outcome of the behaviour of those characters when they conduct themselves in accordance with or inveigh against the ideology and social forces of the state." - From Per Brask and William Morgan's "Towards a Conceptual Understanding of the Transformation From Ritual to Theatre"
Theater: Its Origins and Its History
The map of a play; dictates what is supposed to occur.
Theater/(Theatricality): Definition
The (the quality of) presentation or representation of an art form, the way a piece of art is presented, whether it be fluff or full of trickery, it is the way it is done.
(The quality of...) visual and or tangible objects or subjects made by human hands that hold a certain dynamic of being put into a category that is meant to be watched, performed, played, made, etc.
Histrionic Sensibility
"The dramatic art is based upon this form of perception as music is based upon the ear. The trained ear perceives and discriminates sounds; the histrionic sensibility (which aslo may be trained) perceives and discriminates actions." - From Francis Fergusson's "The Idea of a Theatre"
"We perceive each other's actions. It is a sympathetic response of the whole psyche, and may be expressed more or less completely and immediately in bodily changes, postures and movements." - John Wilson's "Theatre History Notes"
The Paradox of Theater...
The paradox that is often discussed in theater is that in theater we try to achieve real life while in all actuality we are imitating it. However, it can be noted that in imitating we are finding the best way to communicate.
"...it is represented by a palpable body which appeals to the senses with an imposing grandeur." - From Paul Kuritz' THE MAKING OF THEATRE HISTORY
Theatre's Doubleness: "At all times in the theatre there is a doubleness. The actors are human beings playing at being other human beings; the stage is a platform that convinces us it is another world. Shakespeare said it best in AS YOU LIKE IT: "All the world's a stage/And all the men and women merely players." Theatre's doubleness -- art mirroring life, and life mirroring art - is another special quality of this complex art." - From THEATRE: A WAY OF SEEING by Milly S. Barranger
Victor Turner's Four Stages of Social Drama
I. Breach: "...occurs where interpersonal and intergroup stress conflicting interests result in disruption of shared values and integrity of the society."
II. Crisis: "...involves the awareness of members of society (particularly those who possess authority) that the conflicts occasioned by the breach threaten social relations or structure."
III. Redress: "...involves the invoking of either juridical or ritual processes of crisis resolution. This results in an increase in what one might call social or plural reflexivity, the ways in which a group tries to scrutinize, portray, understand, and then act on itself."
IV. Reintegration: "...has the social group recognizes and integrates schism." - From Per Brask and William Morgan's "Towards a Conceptual Understanding of Transformation From Ritual to Theatre"
Performance/(Performativity): Definition
That (the quality of) which encompasses drama, script, theater, theatricality into a piece that can be put before an audience. This includes where it occurs, who will see it, who does see it, how it is presented or represented, and what social workings surround the performance.
The Possible Origins of Theater

The general consensus is that theater sprang from ritual in Greece around the 5th Century BCE, in India in the 4th Century C.E., and after being "dark" - again in Europe in the Middle Ages. Essentially, theater is an illusion that is around 2,500 years old.

Tragedy and Comedy were originally improvisation that originated with the Dithyramb (a choral song form ancient Greece that describes the adventures a god/goddess or a heroic figure).

Other possible origins include:

Role Play
Story Telling
Shamanistic acts
Communal Ritual
Burial Ceremonies
by John G. Neihardt
Black Elk, a young Sioux boy experienced a vision that is later performed by the people of his village, and the performance of this vision illuminates our notions of ritual and theater performance because...

"It is from understanding that power comes; and the power in the ceremony was in understanding what is meant." - From Black Elk, & Neihardt, J. G.' BLACK ELK SPEAKS

We come to understand from Black Elk that the only way one can understand fully and convey such powerful messages is to perform them to the masses. History and current events are always a cautionary tale when people are murdered or terrorized because we don't "understand" them. There is an inherent danger in not understanding. The danger in not performing his vision, was the death of his culture. Black Elk had the knowledge that could help the world understand his culture and let it grow. He felt a duty to share that information with the world and that his vision could not only be useful to him but to the continuation of his culture. Therefore, performance is the vessel for certain kinds of powers in the world. The importance is in the meaning and in the understanding.

"One noteworthy aspect setting religious ceremonies and rituals apart from dramatic presentations is that religious ceremonies and rituals are efficacious; that is, they are intended to achieve results." - From LIVING THEATRE: HISTORY OF THEATRE by Edwin Wilson and Alvin Goldfarb
RETURN TO LAUGHTER by Elenore Smith Bowen
(Laura Bohannan)
The performance in the book RETURN TO LAUGHTER was important to the life of that African community because "...in an environment in which tragedy is genuine and frequent, laughter is essential to sanity. Such laughter is neither callous nor humorous. It is both to one of us, for behind the protecting curtains of ease and resource which civilization has woven we grow sensitive. For us, to be indifferent to suffering is to kill in ourselves that sympathy without which we become dead to our fellows and ultimately ourselves."

The tribe often lost members and they had their sanity and values of love and friendship at stake without a ritual that would help them transition out of the mourning of their loss. They had learned to live with this "...terror and death and hate..." by laughing at it through stories or whatever is useful to help them transition to experiencing life without those that they love anymore.
Audience Viewpoints
From THEATRE: A WAY OF SEEING by Milly S. Barranger;
Human Significance: "Playwrights and other theatre artists connect audiences with a common humanity. Great plays confront us with life's verities, conveying the hope, courage, despair, compassion, violence, love, hate, exploitation, and generosity experienced by all humankind."
Social Significance: "Of all the arts, theatre has an inherent relationship to society; by definition, an audience is an assembled group of spectators, a social unit. We become part of a community as we see theatre. Communities vote, express themselves at town council meetings, and respond to local, national, and international events. So, too, audiences share collectively in the social meanings of the play's world and relate them to the people and the world surrounding them."
Aesthetic/Artistic Quality Significance: "Each of us has aesthetic standards. We know what we like and what we don't like. We have seen a lot of television shows and many films. As we attend more and more plays, we quickly come to recognized honesty in acting and writing."
Entertainment: "Great theatre is always amusing or diverting in one or more ways. Although we think of entertaining theatre as comedy and farce because of the foolish behavior, the clever lines, the laughable gags, and the pratfalls, even tragedy delights us in unusual ways...By witnessing the trials and hearing the poetic insights of the heroes, we are liberated from despair over the senselessness of human deeds."
Prohibition of Theater:
from LIVING THEATRE: HISTORY OF THEATRE by Edwin Wilson and Alvin Goldfarb
Religious Opposition: "The early Christians, for example, repeatedly denounced Roman theattre and at one point issued an edict than any Christian attending a theatre on a holy day would be excommunicated..."; "...the ancient Hebrew nation did not produce theatre...Some commentators believe that this injunction against theatre stems from the the Second Commandment in the Bible: "You shall not make a graven image, or any likeness of anythign that is in heaven above or in the earth beneath."; "In Islam, the prohibition of theatre is equally explicit...Islam forbids the personification of God -- that is, showing a person who might embody God -- and this rule has remained steadfast from its earliest days to the present."
Societal Opposition: "Society specifically forbids theatre..."
Political Opposition: "In England, when the Puritans came to power and took control of Parliament in 1642, one of the first things hey did was to close all the theatres in London."
The Components of Theater
from THEATRE: A WAY OF SEEING by Milly S. Barranger
"The three basic components of theatre are the actor, the space, and the audience. The history of theatre has been, in one sense, the changing physical relationships of actor and audience. The changing relationship mirrors the changing status of audiences and the changing social, economic, and political importance of theatre to society. The audience has moved from the hillside of the Greek open-air theatre to a place before the Christian altar, to standing room around the Elizabethan theatre's platform stage, to seats in a darkened hall before a curtained proscenium stage, to the floor or scaffolds of a modern environmental production...In the same historical sequence, the actor has moved from the dancing circle of the Greek amphitheatre to the open stage of the Elizabethan theatre, to the picture-frame stage of the proscenium theatre, to contemporary environmental spaces. The effects of historical trends and social institutions on theatre are important. What is crucial is an understanding of the common denominators, unchanged, as unsubstantiated legend has it, since the sixth-century BCE poet Thespis introduced the first actor (himself) to converse with the chorus and created dialogue. It is no accident that the Greek word for actor is hypokrites, meaning "answerer." The first actor literally stepped apart and answered questions asked by the chorus."
The Audience's Expectations from THEATRE: A WAY OF SEEING by Milly S. Barranger
Audiences expect plays to be related to life experiences: "...we expect the play's events (and also the actor's performances) to be AUTHENTIC, to "ring true," in feelings and experiences."
Most audiences go to the theatre expecting the familiar...
Another facet of the audience experience is the collective response: "...the need to participate in the collective response, whether with laughter, tears, appreciative silence, or thundering applause...One major element of the experience of live theatre is this sharing of feelings with others around us...An audience by definition is a sharing with others -- of laughter and tears, expectations and delight."
Audiences must make preparations for attending a play and observe certain unwritten rules of decorum: "Courtesy is possibly the only rule for audience members...We must remember that they are creating a living work of art and require the audience's collaboration to concentrate as they become characters and contribute to the story." "Sometimes audience participation is designed into a performance."
The audience, or spectator, is central to the theatrical event: "As an active participant in the theatrical occasion, audiences share in defining the "global village."
Suspension of Disbelief
"Suspension of disbelief or "willing suspension of disbelief" is a formula for justifying the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literature. It was put forth in English by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge who suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative...The phrase "suspension of disbelief" came to be used more loosely in the later 20th century, often used to imply that the onus was on the reader, rather than the writer, to achieve it. It might be used to refer to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitation of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises. These fictional premises may also lend to the engagement of the mind and perhaps proposition of thoughts, ideas, art and theories." - From princeton.edu
"In theatre we both believe in what is happening before us ("suspend our disbelief," as the poet Coleridge said) and disbelieve in the pretense. We give way to theatre's magic and fiction as our minds and emotions are involved, yet we exist apart." - From Milly S. Barranger's THEATRE: A WAY OF SEEING
Theater's Uniqueness
From Milly S. Barranger's THEATRE: A WAY OF SEEING: "Whereas we respond to the theatre event from moment to moment over a period of an hour or more, films and radio and television shows require no immediate feedback from viewer, except as digits in Nielsen ratings...Unlike products of electronic media, theatre cannot be replicated in another medium. Once the theatrical performance ends, it is gone forever. What is unique (and even disheartening) about the theatre is that, even as it is taking place, it is being lost to future generations...As director Peter Brook says, "A man walks across the empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theater to be engaged." In other words, theatre presents human beings playing characters who move, speak, and "live" in the here and now. As we watch, they become recognizable people, events, and places. For a short time we share an experience with actors that is imitative, provocative, entertaining, and magical. Theatre's living quality on both sides of the footlights sets it apart from its popular competitors."
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