“The arts of the western world have been largely dominated by the artistic standards established by the Greeks of the classical period” Spreloosel 86. It is from the Greek word theatron, meaning a place for sitting, that we get our word theater.
According to James Butler, “The Greeks were the first people to erect special structures to bring audiences and theatrical performers together” 27. “The theaters were normally located near a populated area at the bottom of or cut out of a carefully selected, sloping hillside overlooking a seascape, a plain, or a city” Butler 30. “They eventually with few exceptions consisted of three distinct parts: theatron viewing place for spectators, orchestra dancing place where the chorus and actors performed; and a later addition, a skene scene building, which provided a scenic backing” Butler 30.Order now
The theatron was the place where the audience sat. At first the spectators sat on the ground, later on wooden bleachers and finally on tiers of stone seats which followed the circular shape of the orchestra and the natural contours of the countryside.
The theatron surrounded the orchestra on three sides. Describing the theater of Dionysus, David Taylor writes, ” The spectators seats were in a curving area, a little more than a semi-circle and slope down to the center” Taylor 19. Even though all classes of people attended the theater there were reserved areas for the more prestigious, such as the king.
” The audience arranged in rows, looked out across a rounded orchestra” Kennedy 1102. Because most of the early dramas were religious and required a sacrificial ceremony, a thymele an altar or sacrificial table was located in the center of the orchestra. The orchestra was where the chorus and actors performed. Arnott states, ” the nucleus of the drama was the chorus” Arnott 9. David Taylor comments, ” The theater actually did start without any separate actors; there was only the chorus” 15. Later actors were added, but the chorus still remained the center of attention.
The audience sat at a considerable distance from the orchestra and looked down on the performance. Although the amount of detail perceived was limited, they often were drawn into the play and became characters themselves. ” The action has spilled over from the orchestra to the auditorium to embrace the whole community, players and public alike” Anott 21.
The third distinct part of the theater was the skene scene building. “The earliest scene buildings were very simple wooden structures ” Butler 31. ” Originally, the skene was a dressing room; later it is believed to have borne a painted backdrop” Kennedy 1102. This area was known as the actors place. It was 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 theater is unclear, many historians believe that it developed out of religious ritual and its performances were connected to religious festivals. The performances were used to educate and entertain. “The theater is certainly not 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 for many people.