Week 7 and 8: Greek Theatre
In this unit we will be studying the origins of modern theatre and it's beginning over 2,500 years ago in Greece. Here is a short introduction that is also available on download...have a look!
Greek theater began over 2,500 years ago. It began in the religious festivals that honored Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and the harvest. The festivals grew in popularity and importance until, at its peak, the great theater festival in Athens lasted six days. Over 15,000 people attended the festival each year.
The earliest plays were stories told by a chorus of men and boys. According to legend, one day a man named Thespis stepped out of the chorus and spoke alone. The chorus then responded to his speeches. Thespis was the first actor. Today we call actors Thespians in his honor. Later, the number of actors increased to three in addition to the chorus.
Each actor in the Greek theater played more than one role. To portray different roles, the actor wore different masks. The masks of comedy and tragedy have become symbols of the theater.
Greek authors entered their plays in contests for the festival. The winning playwright won a prize of money and an ivy wreath to wear as a symbol of victory. Greek theater had many important playwrights. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides wrote tragedies (drama in which the main character suffers a disastrous end). Aristophanes and Menander wrote comedies (light, humorous dramas with a happy ending). A special type of play called the satyr play made fun of the Greek legends. We get our word satire from this. Some of the most famous Greek plays were Oedipus, Antigone, Electra, Medea, The Birds, and The Frogs.
The great Greek philosopher and teacher, Aristotle, wrote The Poetics. In this book he discussed the theater of his time. Aristotle discussed important topics of the theater including plot (what happens), theme (the idea or message), character, music, diction (speech), and spectacle (what was seen). Aristotle became the first literary critic.
The Greeks built their theaters on hillsides. They used the natural slope of the hill for seating the audience. A large circular area called the orchestra was located at the foot of the hill. It was here that the members of the chorus moved as they chanted their lines. Behind the orchestra was a raised platform on which the actors performed. A small building named the skene was built in the back of the acting platform. The skene was where the actors changed masks. The Greeks used the front wall of the skene to represent the location of the play. Our word scene comes from skene.
The Greek theater also had special machinery including platforms on wheels and a device to lower an actor from the top of the skene house onto the stage. They used this device to show a god coming down to earth. The Greeks also used scenery to help give locations for the action of the play.
Most historians agree that the Greek era is one of the most important times in theater history.
Lets have a look at this video detailing the origins of Greek Theatre!
This is a video that we will watch in class, which shows a Greek Chorus .
Now watch this summary of the tragedy "Medea". Medea's character is mad with jealousy. Watch the plot summary. After that watch the great actress Zoe Caldwell perform as the obsessed Medea. She begs Creon not to be banished, so she can have time to execute her plans of revenge against her unfaithful husband, Jason!
The Greek festival of Dionysus was a great festival in which drinking and celebration greeted the sailing season and all boats came to Athens. Dionysus was the Greek God of wine and pleasure. Games of skill were shown and great plays were performed. Drunken behaviour was common as well singing and dancing. The great playwrites of the day entered their plays in the games. The plays included:
In the National Theatre video, their is a full description of each style. Lets try and create the atmosphere of the festival of Dionysus. Your job is to:
Create a scene at a Greek Festival in the Year 10BC. What could happen??
Add movement and sound.
Freeze and hold an image. What is happening at the festival? Who are the characters you would see? What would they be thinking? Why would they be there? What would they want to see?
Now let's learn a few terms:
Protagonist: The hero of the story.
Antagonist: The villain of the story.
What are some examples of Protagonists and Antagonists?
In groups of 6 create a short scene between a hero and a villain. Three members of the group must narrate the action!
What is the effect of narrators?
Can you think of another term for the narrators?
How is this different from a "naturalistic" drama?
Get into a circle. Snapping your fingers, stomping your feet or clapping your hands...one person should start a rythm. Start changing the rythm.
Working together, try to make a soundscape.
Use stange noises, but keep a common rythm.
Try moving together and experimenting with volume.
What is the effect when everyone moves together?
Can it effect the "mood" of the performance?
Now let's turn down the lights and just hear the sound.
What effect does it create?
In your groups, create a performance of Theseus and the Minotaur.
Your performance must be made of 5 still images, to show the story.
You must narrate the story using choral techniques.
Criteria for Assessment.
You must use your body language and facial expressions to tell the story.
You must use choral techniques. You should include canon, sharing lines and unison.
You will be asked to complete a full quiz on the including labeling the areas of a Greek Theatre. Have a look at this diagram!
Note the areas of the stage in this diagram...this will be part of your final test on Greek Theatre!
Here are the areas that you should note for your final quiz!
The National Theatre video on Greek Theatre.
The information worksheet (downloadable on this site).
Definitions and reflections from class performance work.