A group of performers working together vocally and physically. A chorus of approximately 12 to 15 singer-dancers who interacted with and responded to the actors was an important element of ancient Greek theatre.
In ancient Greece, a choric presentation sung and danced in homage to the God Dionysus.
(1) In a modern Proscenium theatre the audience seating area at floor level immediately in front of the stage. (2) In ancient Greece a typically circular performance space, literally, “dancing place.”
In Greek theatre, an open space between the skene and the theatron that served as entrance and exit for the chorus and sometimes actors.
In ancient Greece, a stage house upstage of the circular orchestra (our source for the words scene and scenery).
The audience seating area (literally “seeing place”) in the theatre of ancient Greece. A first temporary seating on a hillside, seats were set in stone permanently by the fourth century B.C.E.
Three related plays; ancient Greek playwrights submitted three tragedies– sometimes a trilogy– for the contest in honor of Dionysus in Athens.
Any production of a play that occurs after the original production.
(1) In ancient Greece and Rome, a “pass the hat” street performer, a kind of variety entertainment. (2) Today used interchangeably with “pantomime” and “pantomime artist.”
The first important examination of the tragic form, written by the Greek Philosopher Aristotle in c. 335-323 B.C.E.
An opening in the stage floor for ascents and descents.
An entrance to elevated seating for the audience that runs underneath the audience and comes up to empty out into the seating area.
An architectural background for the action of a play; a generalized standing or hanging structure, often multilevel, that may be neutral or decorated but always resides upstage of the action, creating a background that can suggest nearly any location, inside or out.
A critical document by the Roman Horace (65-8 B.C.E) that influenced the Italian Renaissance as much as Seneca and perhaps more than Aristotle.
An exchange of dialogue in musical form in which the singers or chanters represented characters from the Bible, presented as early as as c. 925 in the European Christian monasteries and cathedrals. The first recorded type of liturgical drama.
Plays performed by the clergy in Latin as a part of the worship service in Christian monasteries and cathedrals during the Middle Ages.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, an open playing space in front of a symbolic scenic unit (mansion).
A symbolic scenic unit indicating place in staging during the Middle Ages.
A series of religious plays (often called mystery plays) popular throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. Cycles (or cycle plays) were based on biblical stories ranging from the creation of the world to the last judgement and were performed outdoors in the vernacular (local language).
A play depicting humanity’s struggle with good and evil using allegorical characters such as Good Deeds and Death, popular during the Middle Ages in Europe.
European play from the 15th or 16th Centuries that recounted the real or apocryphal lives of saints. Also called saint’s play.
A man who coordinated and staged the cycles in Europe during the Middle Ages; a precursor of the modern director. Also called prompter and ordinary.
A notebook kept by the director and stage manager of a production containing the text of the play, detailed stage directions, lighting and sound cues, and noted on production practices.
In the Middle Ages, the practice of moving wagons or pageants through the streets carrying actors and scenery to perform in various locations.
In the Middle Ages, wagons with scenery used in processional staging.
A secular play (non religious drama) in the medieval period, sometimes presented between the courses of banquets. Interludes began to be written and performed by the 1200s. Most surviving interludes are farces from France and England.
A play from ancient Hindu culture organized by mood, or rasa. Sanskrit drama suggested directions that later Asian theatre would take.
Sometimes translated as “Doctrine of Dramatic Art,” a detailed Indian document by Bharata that appears to predate the most important surviving Sanskrit plays and outlines the principles of performance, staging, and dramatic form as practiced in India and applied to Sanskrit plays.
A religious theatrical form from India based on ancient epics using music, open space, male and female performers, and colorful costumes.
A form of Indian dance-drama that is rooted in Hindu mythology, featuring dance and stylized gesture performance by men in elaborate, colorful costumes and makeup. Kathakali originated in the 17th century in southern India.
A device typical of the end of melodrama: Good is rewarded; evil is punished.
Chinese Music Drama
A form of classical Chinese theatre that is highly stylized with movements, dance, chant, and music. In the early 1800s Chinese artists combined forms of theatre that had developed in many different regions to create what is now known as Chinese Music Drama, also called Beijing Opera.
The first great classical theatre of Japan, developed in the court of the shogun in the feudal samurai system of the late 14th Century. Noh features music, slow, choreographed movement, use of carefully carved masks, and all male performers.
Japanese treatise on the theory of performance and composition for Noh theatre written by Zeami (1363-1444), which presents Yugen as the central image of Noh.
The most popular classical Japanese form of theatre, tragic, comic, and melodramatic in genre, featuring magnificent spectacle, colorful costumes, and the performance of female roles by men (see onnagata).
An actor who is a female impersonator in Kabuki theatre. The male performer attempts to create as complete and literal a transformation as possible through makeup, costume, movement, and gesture. In speech, however, the actor uses a falsetto voice that ultimately stylizes the presentation.
Traditional form of Japanese theatre using large puppets (three-fifths the size of a human). The operators remain visible to the audience.
In Japanese Kabuki theatre, a stage-level ramp that passes directly from the stage apron down right center to the back of the house. This narrow path, which places the actor in the midst of the audience, is used for many important entrances and exits. Sometimes a secondary Hanamichi is used down left as well.
In Japanese Kabuki, an actors showy pose and facial expression suggesting sustained emotion.
A systematic approach to playwright and production based on interpretations of classical Greek and Roman models of plays and theory. Neoclassical principles were developed in Renaissance Italy and popularized in 17th Century France.
A large open arch that marks the primary division between audience and performance space in a proscenium space. The proscenium arch frames the action of the play for the audience and limits the view of backstage areas.
(1) In a proscenium theatre, space offstage left and right for actors, crew, and scenery not yet in the visible performance space.(2) Changeable flats that could be pulled quickly on and offstage in grooves on the floor and at the top of the tall wings (in wing, drop, and border scenery).
A scenic unit typically framed with 1×3 lumber and covered with canvas, muslin, plywood, or other material. Flats often represent a solid surface such as a wall but are actually lightweight and easy to move.
Spectacular Italian pageants full of symbolism and allegory that were frequently performed at court between other entertainments or during the intervals between acts of a play or opera, popular from the 1400s to 1600s.
A poetic, extravagant court entertainment with dancing, often celebrating the monarch or a royal visitor to the English court in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
A neoclassical concept that established that theatrical events as written and staged should be reality-based (events that could really occur in life).
Neoclassical guidelines for writing plays. These were unity of time (the action of the play should take place in twenty-four hours or less), unity of place (action should occur in one location), and unity of action (no subplots unless fully integrated with the central conflict).
The neoclassical concept of universality in morality and characterization, which led to characters drawn by playwrights according to current notions of what was most appropriate for behavior, values, and language in terms of character’s age, sex, social class, occupation, and economic condition.
Improvisational comedy that originated in Italy sometime before 1568. Commedia actors played conventional characters (some of which were masked) and planned the scenario and comic business ahead of time but developed specific dialogue and action as the show progressed in front of an audience.
Masked servant clowns such as Arlecchino and Brighella in commedia dell’arte.
The leading female role (performed without a mask) in commedia dell’arte.
Female/male young lover. Stock characters in commedia dell’arte. Actors playing the young lovers were not masked and were cast in part for their physical attractiveness.
Professional playhouses in England and Spain in the Renaissance. In Elizabethan England, a three-story polygonal building featuring roofed galleries and a central pit (yard) open to the sky. Actors performed on a thrust stage backed by a facade with probably two doors and sometimes a curtained discovery space between them.
A system of daily changes of plays. Maintaining many plays in the company’s production season– any play can be performed at any time.
Poetry that does not use rhyme but has a specific, set rhythm (iambic pentameter with occasional variations). Blank verse was used extensively by Elizabethan playwrights.
Set rhythm of verse in which there is a stress on each second syllable and five stresses per line (see also blank verse).
A dramatic adaptation of historical events dealing with kings and frequent struggles for the crown, especially popular in Elizabethan England. Also called a History Play.
wheel of Fortune
The notion that fortunes change if we wait long enough. In medieval and Renaissance art literature, it is a literal wheel that carries a person to the top of good fortune before dropping him or her to bad fortune.
Religious plays performed in Spain during the Golden Age (c. 1580-1680) and well into the 18th Century.
A secular (not religious) play during the Golden Age in Spain.
A type of theatre that was popular during the Golden Age in Spain and featured a raised, roofed stage backed by a facade with doors and a discovery space, a second balcony level, three levels of galleries and boxes for the audience, and a pit (patio) for standees open to the sky.
In the Spanish Golden Age, a segregated area for unmarried or unaccompanied women at the back of the house on the second level facing the stage.
A group of characters serving together as the protagonist of a play.
A style of acting that was popular prior to the coming of realism in the late 19th Century. Actors often attempted to make very direct contact with the audience rather than interact directly with other actors (at least as the norm). A big voice and grand gestures were intended to capture the attention and admiration of a fully lit and social audience.
Financial organization of a theatre company that splits any profits after the day’s expenses based on how many shares each had invested in the venture or had been granted by the manager depending on his or her duties and importance to the company.
A movement of the late 18th Century and early 19th Centuries that rejected nearly every aspect of Neoclassicism, celebrated the natural world., and valued intense emotion and individuality.
Sturm und Drang (“Storm and Stress”)
A pre-romantic movement that deliberately broke all the rules of neoclassicism. The Sturm and Drang playwrights shocked their audiences with plays full of violence and forbidden topics such as teen pregnancy, rape, self-mutilation, and infanticide.
A production or play that self-consciously comments on the play as taking place in a theatre.
Scenery that imitates the interior of a room with walls, sometimes ceiling, furniture, and visual detail, standard in Europe and North America after 1830.
In 19th Century Europe, the practice of researching and recreating authentic style of dress, architecture, and interior design when producing plays written or set in the past. This term was later replaced by “historical accuracy.”
A dramatic genre featuring a conflict between good and bad characters, fast-paced action, a spectacular climax, and poetic justice.
A movement of the late 19th Century championing the depiction of everyday life on the stage and the frank treatment of social problems in the theatre. The plays of Henrik Ibsen of the 1870s were important in establishing a dramatic style for realism. “Realism” continues to be used as a term for representational plays and production style.
From 16th to 19th Century Europe, a male character performed by a woman or a female character who disguises herself as a man.
A category of drama in which a meticulous and involved plot takes precedence over all other elements. As perfected by French playwright Eugene Scribe (1791-1861), the well-made play featured an intricate pattern of causality, carefully controlled suspense, and misunderstandings and reversals, leading to an emotionally satisfying climax followed by rapidly falling action.
A style of drama called for in 1880 by Emile Zola in which playwrights were to present a “slice of life” on the stage, following the actual pace of everyday life and avoiding well-made play structure.
An approach to staging in which actors move and behave in the set as if it were actually the room represented and do not acknowledge the presence of an audience; the proscenium arch, if present, is often treated as the fourth wall of an enclosed room.
The shift in theatre beginning with realism; throughout the 20th Century scholars noted that the modern theatre and drama began with Ibsen. Many late 20th Century scholars associated modernism with the type of theatre that rebelled against realism and naturalism. In this book we use the term “modernism” to refer to both realistic and much nonrealistic theatre from the late 19th Century to the present day.
Art that pushes recognized boundaries. Originally a French military term meaning Vanguard (the front line of troops who are the first to engage the enemy), the term was appropriated by artists to signify those who venture into a new, unknown territory in the arts. The term is often used synonymously with the term experiment.
Beginning in the 1890s in France, this avant-garde movement was the first major challenge to realism. Its plays were dominated by obvious symbolism and were often played in simple spaces with anti-realistic scenery and acting styles. The legacy of symbols is very much alive in theatre for children, Disney films, and many romantic musicals.
A term used for an approach to scenic design featuring simplicity, avoidance of detail, and reduction of a location to its most significant elements. New stagecraft was based on the innovative designs of Adolphe Appia and Gordon Craig with their images of platforms, stairs, and open spaces.
A nonrealistic approach to production in which the subjective experience of the character is depicted on stage. Visual and aural aspects of production often suggests anxiety and the mental breakdown of the central character. German and American expressionism in the 1910s and 1920s dramatized the dehumanization or destruction of humanity at the hands of commercialism, industry, and war.
Originating in France beginning in 1917, an avant-garde movement in which the dream world and the real world are intertwined and difficult or impossible to distinguish.
Anti-illusionist theatre featuring emotional detachment, narration, songs, and obvious theatricality that was developed by German playwright, director, and theorist Bertolt Brecht.
Theatre of Cruelty
An approach to theatre developed by Antonin Artaud between the world wars emphasizing a breakdown of causality and stressing emotion over intellect. Artaud hoped to work on emotions by assaulting the senses of the audience.
Theatre of the Absurd
Post-World War II plays centered on characters who are strangers to each other, trapped in a violent, meaningless world seemingly without design or purpose.
In the 1960s, theatre in New York City that occurred outside the traditional theatre spaces of Broadway and off-broadway. Such work was typically experimental in nature and often occurred in alternative spaces-Coffee Houses, Church Basements, Warehouses, and Private Homes. Today, the term off-off-broadway is used to refer to professional or semiprofessional performances that are not Equity. While the term off-off-broadway originated in New York, this kind of theatre can exist anywhere. Such theatres in Chicago are known as off-loop and in L.A. as equity waiver.
A musical play that tells a story and has spoken text as well as songs.
In theatre, work that is no longer “modern” (in the sense that August Strindberg and Tennessee Williams, were modern). The postmodern comments on, satirizes or reinterprets the modern. The postmodern artist is sometimes identified as artist and critic simultaneously. Some critics see it as an artistic style, hence postmodernism. Others claim that it is a mindset, a point of view that looks back on the previous century of artistic work with cynicism or futility- and sometimes despair. In visual terms it is dominated by simultaneous action and electronic or cybernetic technology, and structurally by repetition and deconstruction of masterpieces of the past.
A radically reinterpreted famous play in which the original play may still be recognized. The new production, however, uses the written play as only a pretext and frequently comments on or negates the apparent intent of the original play. Also called deconstructed production.
Typically, a director who creates a production without and existing text or who chooses a text that then becomes a pretext for the director’s conception. Such creative work is often dominated by dynamic visual images, music, dance, and carefully choreographed movement.