History of Greek Theater

History of Greek Theater

The great american actress & acclaimed dramatic arts teacher, Stella Adler has bestowed upon us the origin and meaning of the theater: "The word theater comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation."

The city of Athens is where theater originated from. It was part of a broader culture in Ancient Greece that included festivals, religious rituals, politics, athletics, gymnastics, music, poetry, weddings, funerals, and symposia. According to Aristotle (the Hellenic philosopher, scientist and first theoretician of the dramatic arts), the descent of theater in Greece came from religious activities from the outset. It was associated with the glorious feast of the God, Dionysus - where the "Great Dionysia" were dominant on the Athenian calendar. The festival was led by drunken men, dressed up in goat skins, that would sing and play in choruses to welcome Dionysus. The drinking rites resulted in the worshipper losing full control of their emotions and in effect becoming another person.

The plays were either comedies (funny, often mocking the political situation) or tragedies (sad and serious, with lessons about right and wrong). Most Greek cities had a theater that consisted of 3 basic parts: The main hall (the place where the spectators sat); the orchestra (the circular or semicircular space between the main hall and the scene) and; the scene (the third section of the architecture, extended behind the orchestra. The latter was intended, at least initially, to guard the actors' garments and/or  props).

The Greek word for "actor" is "hypocrites", which means "answerer" or "interpreter", but the word cannot tell us anything about tragedy's origins since we do not know when it came into use. Notably, all of the actors were men. Dancers and singers, called the chorus, performed on the flat area of the orchestra. The ancient dramatic poet Thespis is considered to be the inventor of the tragedy and the first actor. It was the first of the Dithyramb (a religious and devotional chant singing by the sacred troupe of Dionysus believers), an improvisation where dancers came out of the circle of the dance and responded to their counterparts. Thus, we had the beginning of a dialogue and the transition from narrative to action. Over time, solo actors also took part and a raised stage became part of the theater.

Unfortunately, only 33 tragedies and 11 comedies from this time actually were able to be preserved through modern times. Most Greek tragedies praised the heroic man who collided with the Squadron, the Need and, divine justice. The composition of tragedies included layers of elements. These were the Preface (this is the first words of the hypocrite, preceding entry of Dance), Epeisodia (corresponding to current operations), Exit (confirms the termination of the tragedy), Lane (the song that was sung at the Dance in the first entrance), Stationary (songs that were sung at the Dance when the actor had taken his position after being inspired by the episode that preceded).


History of Greek Theater (Introduction)
Who is who in Greek Ancient Theater
The most famous Ancient Greek Theaters
The Greek Theaters today
Theaters in Athens
Personalities of Modern Greek Theater