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An introduction to Theatre History


Audience wanted to recognise and understand why characters reacted as they did on stage. The famous practitioner Stanislavski developed The System . – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: An introduction to Theatre History

An introduction to Theatre History
  • Objectives
  • To know the significant periods in Theatre
  • To understand a range of theatrical styles and
  • To develop a basic understanding of Theatre

  • 600AD-300BC was about the origins of theatre
  • 12th -14th century was about the role of religion
    and morality
  • 16th-17th century was about the writer and the
  • 18th-19th Century was about the actor and the
  • 20th- today was about the director and taking

Greek Theatre 600BC to 300BC
  • Influences
  • Most of the plays in Greek times were based
    around the religious festivals. Playwrights
    would compete to be allowed to put play on
  • Performance venues
  • Amphitheatre. An arena style stage
  • Audience
  • Everyone went to the theatre

Greek Theatre 600BC to 300BC
  • Characteristics of Greek theatre
  • No Women on stage
  • Use of a Chorus
  • Actors wore masks
  • Only 3 actors on stage
  • Performed in the open air
  • Playwrights of Greek theatre
  • Aeschylus
  • Sophocles
  • Euripides
  • Aristophanes

Medieval Theatre 12th -14th Century
  • Characteristics
  • Centred on religious themes teaching the
    illiterate audience stories from the bible.
  • Actors portrayed concepts and morals rather then
    characters. E.g. The play Everyman where the
    central character represented all of mankind.
  • Plays
  • 3 main types of plays The passion plays, The
    morality plays, the Cycle plays.
  • Type of stage
  • The performances would travel round to the
    different villages to perform on a wagon stage.
    This held elaborate staging and scenery.

Renaissance Theatre 14th-16th century
  • Characteristics
  • Renaissance means new birth it heralded the
    development of the arts and literature
  • Performed in theatres using an amphitheatre style
    stage - no roof
  • All male actors
  • Renaissance also included the Elizabethan Period
    Shakespeares time.
  • Everyone went to the theatre as there was little
    other entertainment.
  • Theatre was censored the plays had to have a
    licence and deemed to be suitable for a public
    audience by the Lord Chamberlain

Renaissance Theatre 14th-16th century
  • Playwrights of the day
  • Shakespeare
  • Marlowe
  • Audiences
  • They were an aural audience who expected complex
  • Where they sat depended on their wealth.
  • The theatres were open air and a thrust stage
  • Influences Today
  • Many of Shakespeare's plays are still popular and
    performed today.

Commedia Dell Arte 16th Century
  • Characteristics
  • Developed in Italy
  • Physical type of improvisational theatre that
    uses dance, music, tumbling, acrobatics and
  • Commedia dell'arte troupes had a repertoire of
    stories that they performed in fairgrounds and
    market places.
  • Commedia spread across Europe from Italy to
    France and by the middle of the 17th century
    began to be popular in England

Commedia Dell Arte 16th Century
  • Stock characters had set movements and gestures
    that represented his or her personality. The old
    man (Pantalone) naughty servants including
    Arlecchino a lover, his lady and her servant
    girl, clown or Pierrot character.
  • Actors wore costumes that depicted their
    character. Originally they also wore leather half
    masks over their faces.
  • Actors did not have a script but would improvise
    within the outline of a story.
  • Stories were often satirical and would poke fun
    at contemporary issues or ideas

Restoration 17th 18th Century
  • Characteristics
  • 1642 theatres closed in England
  • After a period of about 10 years theatres were
  • Women were now allowed to perform on stage
  • Theatres were now indoors
  • Theatre was no longer about Kings, heroes and
    tragedies they were about issues important to the
    wealthy social classes

Restoration 17th 18th Century
  • Acting Style
  • The acting was flamboyant and over the top
  • There were stock movements and reactions for the
    different emotions
  • This resulted in stock characters characters
    were portrayed as types rather then as
  • During this period Pantomime became popular.
    Based on Commedia dellarte.
  • They became associated with Christmas and stories
    were often repeated.
  • Type of stage
  • Proscenium arch, a raised stage we traditionally
    see today.

  • Characteristics
  • The leading male juvenile character (the
    "principal boy") - traditionally played by a
    young woman.
  • An older woman (the pantomime dame - often the
    hero's mother) is usually played by a man in
  • The animal, played by an actor in "animal skin"
    or animal costume.
  • A slapstick comedy routine may be performed.
  • Use of audience participation

Melodrama 18th-20th Century
  • Characteristics
  • Melodrama became popular from the 1780s to 1790s
    and lasted until the early 20th century.
  • Melodrama consisted of short scenes
    interspersed with musical accompaniment and was
    characterized by simple morality, good and evil
    characters and overblown acting style.
  • Characters in melodrama were stereotypical -
    there was always a villain, a wronged maiden and
    a hero.
  • The emotions of the actors were played out in the
    music and accompanied by dramatic tableaux.

Naturalism 19th-20th Century
  • Characteristics
  • In the late 1800s came the movement Naturalism.
    The aim was to portray real life through real
  • Characters became complex and were inspired by
    real life situations.
  • Audience wanted to recognise and understand why
  • characters reacted as they did on stage.
  • The famous practitioner Stanislavski developed
    The System. Exercises showed the actor how to
    create a realistic character

Experimental Theatre 20th Century
  • In 1960 theatre was no longer censored this led
    to a new wave in theatre. Theatre began to take
    more risks e.g the stories they dealt with and
    the themes they chose.
  • Theatre also found new mediums
  • Radio
  • Cinema
  • Television
  • This also meant more competition for an audience.
  • Stages began to change
  • Theatre in the round
  • Traverse
  • Promenade.

Theatre Today 21st Century
  • Age of choice?
  • Realistic dramas reflecting real life
  • Experimental theatre e.g. DV8, Frantic Assembly
  • Physical Theatre e.g. Complicite, Lecoq
  • Total Theatre e.g. Berkoff, Brook
  • Musical Theatre e.g. Broadway and West End
  • Street Theatre e.g. Carnival, Clowning
  • Epic Theatre e.g. Brecht
  • Absurd Theatre e.g. Stoppard, Beckett