The Greek Theater”The arts of the western world have beenlargely dominated by the artistic standards established by the Greeks ofthe classical period” (Spreloosel 86). It is from the Greek word theatron,meaning a place for sitting, that we get our word theater. Accordingto James Butler, “The Greeks were the first people to erect special structuresto bring audiences and theatrical performers together” (27).
“Thetheaters were normally located near a populated area at the bottom of orcut out of a carefully selected, sloping hillside overlooking a seascape,a plain, or a city” (Butler 30). “They eventually with few exceptionsconsisted of three distinct parts: theatron (viewing place) for spectators,orchestra (dancing place) where the chorus and actors performed; and alater addition, a skene (scene building), which provided a scenic backing”(Butler 30). The theatron was the place wherethe audience sat. At first the spectators sat on the ground, lateron wooden bleachers and finally on tiers of stone seats which followedthe circular shape of the orchestra and the natural contours of the countryside. The theatron surrounded the orchestra on three sides.
Describingthe theater of Dionysus, David Taylor writes, ” The spectators seats werein a curving area, a little more than a semi-circle and slope down to thecenter” (Taylor 19). Even though all classes of people attended thetheater there were reserved areas for the more prestigious, such as theking. ” The audience arranged in rows,looked out across a rounded orchestra” (Kennedy 1102). Because mostof the early dramas were religious and required a sacrificial ceremony,a thymele (an altar or sacrificial table) was located in the center ofthe orchestra. The orchestra was where the chorus and actorsperformed.
Arnott states, ” the nucleus of the drama was the chorus”(Arnott 9). David Taylor comments, ” The theater actually did startwithout any separate actors; there was only the chorus” (15). Lateractors were added, but the chorus still remained the center of attention. The audience sat at a considerable distance from the orchestra and lookeddown on the performance. Although the amount of detail perceivedwas limited, they often were drawn into the play and became charactersthemselves. ” The action has spilled over from the orchestra to theauditorium to embrace the whole community, players and public alike” (Anott21).
The third distinct part of the theaterwas the skene (scene building). “The earliest scene buildings were verysimple wooden structures ” (Butler 31). ” Originally, the skene wasa dressing room; later it is believed to have borne a painted backdrop”(Kennedy 1102). This area was known as the actors place. Itwas intended to provide a background against which actors could perform. “In Greek theater as we know it, the skene appears as a appendage, adjunct,breaking the perfect circularity of the design” (Arnott 13).
Although the origin of the Greek theateris unclear, many historians believe that it developed out of religiousritual and its performances were connected to religious festivals. Theperformances were used to educate and entertain. “The theater is certainlynot the same as it was in ancient Greece – but it has not changed completely”(Taylor 8). This form of art has always had a special appeal formany people. Works CitedArnott, Peter.
The Ancient Greekand Roman Theatre. New York: RandomHouse,1971. Butler, James H. The Theatre andDrama of Greece and Rome.
San Francisco:Chandler,1972. Kennedy, X. J. , and Dama Gidia, eds. Literature: An Introduction To Fiction,Poetryand Drama. New York: Harper Collins, 1995.
1102-1105. Spreloosel, Jackson J. Western CivilizationVolume I. St. Paul Mn: West,1994. 86-88.
Taylor, David. Acting and the Stage. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1978.