THE PERFORMANCE SPACE
Because no complete structures of Greek theaters remain intact, most of the information that we have about the structures come from other sources, although some does come from the ruins of the theaters themselves. Much of what we know comes from literary evidence, including the works of Vitruvius, a Roman architect who wrote a book about architectural styles, as well as from the text of the plays that were performed in the structures. However, there are no stage directions written into Greek plays, and therefore we have very little evidence of what they would have needed to house the performances. Because our sources of information about Greek theaters are so limited, it is best to consider our reconstructions of them as only theory rather than fact.
Greek theaters can be grouped into three categories: Athenian, Hellenistic, and Graeco-Roman. With each of these different types came slight variations in the structure of the performance spaces, as well as in the specifics of the style of the performances.
Athenian theater, which took place during the 5th century BC, was very much focused on religion. The plays had a chorus of up to 50 people, who performed the plays in verse accompanied by music. The performance space was a simple circular space, or orchestra, where the chorus danced and sang. The orchestra, that had an average diameter of 78 feet, was situated on a flattened terrace at the foot of a hill, the slope of which produced a natural theatron, or "watching place". Later, the term "theater" came to be applied to the whole area, including the theatron, the orchestra, and the skene.The theaters were originally built on a very large scale to accommodate the large number of people on stage, as well as the large number of people in the audience, up to fourteen thousand. Mathematics played a large role in the construction of these theaters, as their designers had to able to create acoustics in them such that the actors voices could be heard throughout the theater, including the very top row of seats. Many people believe that the ancient Greeks had a better understanding of the science behind acoustics then we do today, as even with the invention of microphones, there are very few modern large theaters that have truly good acoustics. The first seats in Greek theaters were wooden, but around 499 BC the practice of inlaying stone blocks into the side of the hill to create permanent, stable seating became more common. In 465 BC, the playwrights began using a backdrop or scenic wall, which hung or stood behind the orchestra, which also served as an area where actors could change their costumes. It was known as the skene. In 425 BC a stone scene wall, called a paraskenia, became a common supplement to skenes in the theaters. A paraskenia was a long wall with projecting sides, which may have had doorways for entrances and exits. Just behind the paraskenia was the proskenion. The proskenion was columned, and was similar to the modern day proscenium. Today's proscenium is the what separates the audience from the stage. It is the frame around the stage that makes it look like the action is taking place in a picture frame. Greek theaters also had entrances for the audience called parodoi. The paradoi (plural of parados) were tall arches that came out from the sides of the stage, through which the audience entered. By the end of the 5th century BC, the skene, the back wall, was two stories high. The upper story was called the episkenion. Some theaters also had a raised speaking place on the orchestra called the logeion.
Hellenistic theater took place during the 4th century and onward, during roughly the same time period as the conquests of Alexander the Great. The Hellenistic theater included the same basic parts as the Athenian theaters; the orchestra, the parados, and the skene. Most of the theaters of this time period share a similar symmetrical layout. Columns ranging from 13 to 8 feet in height were placed next to the skene. They were typically enclosed by the paraskene. There were painted boards located behind the columns called pinakes. In summary, the Hellenistic style theaters included a circular orchestra, an auditorium, pillars, a skene divided into rooms, and a proskene with three doors.
When Greek civilization was coming to an end, Roman
ideas were spreading through Greece and therefore Graeco-Roman theater soon
evolved. This type of theater was distinctly different from the earlier types,
as it incorporated the ideas of the Romans into the Greek theater, resulting
in some specific changes in the design as well as in the plays themselves. Graeco-Roman
theaters had larger audience areas, and the bottom level of seats was lowered
to the same level as the orchestra. Although designers of Graeco-Roman theaters
disposed of the columnsto create a a plainer stage area, the background and
front edge of the orchestra became elaborate and decorative. Designers began
putting more of their energy into making the permanent structure more decorative,
and less into the sets made for each play. The Graeco-Roman period also saw
the invention of some new set machinery. To make the plays most effective, the
actors who played the parts of the Gods
had to arrive and leave in a godly fashion, and the invention of the crane allowed
them to be flown in and out in a way that was fitting to the role. They also
began using rolling platforms, most commonly used for bringing in dead bodies
onto the stage, as no violence ever took place on stage. This device was called
was called the ekkuklema. There were also a lot of simple inventions in addition,
such as trap doors for the actors to enter and exit from. Graeco-Roman plays
consisted mostly of comedy, as opposed to Athenian and Hellenistic theater which
was mostly tragedy.
Can you match the parts of the theater with the Greek names?
|logieon||round place where actors performed|
|paraskenia||arches where the audience entered|
|skene||a seating area|
|orchestra||long wall with projecting sides and exit ways|
|ekkuklema||raised speaking place|
|orchestra||long wall with projecting sides|
|painted boards to create a set|
|scenic drop or wall|
|what was used to fly in the gods|
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