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THEATER

Theater is the performance of a drama (play) on a STAGE in front of an audience. The ancient Greeks were the first to build theaters where people could watch the two main types of dramas: TRAGEDY and COMEDY.

Table 39. KEY PLAYWRIGHTS

16–17th century Shakespeare (England)
17th century Molière (France)
18–19th century Goethe (Germany)
19th century Wilde (England)
19–20th century Chekhov (Russia)
19–20th century Ibsen (Norway)
20–21st century Miller (US)
20–21st century Soyinka (Nigeria)

WHAT WERE THE FIRST PLAYS?

The first plays developed from religious rituals where a chorus (a group of performers) recited stories of the Greek gods and heroes. In the 6th century BC, a Greek poet, Thespis, became the first actor to recite lines by himself.

WHO IS INVOLVED IN MAKING A PLAY?

The director is the person who chooses the play and tells everyone what to do. The actors become the characters in the play by acting out the plot (story). Other people design and make the set and costumes, and create lighting and sound effects.

KABUKI

Kabuki is traditional Japanese theater with an all-male cast. (Men play the female roles.) The highly dramatic plots rely on skills in dancing and singing, as well as acting.

WHAT IS MIME?

Mime expresses a mood or an idea through gestures and facial expressions, without using words. The well-known mime characters Harlequin and Pierrot developed in Italian theater during the 16th century, and later gave rise to the clown. In China, drama contained no words until the 19th century.

IS DRAMA ALWAYS PERFORMED IN A THEATER?

Street theater is performed in public places and is often free to those who watch. It aims to bring plays to people who would not generally get the chance to go to a theater, and is a direct way of communicating with local people about issues that affect them.

TRAGEDY

Tragedy is a sad story with an unhappy ending. It originated in Greece in the 5th century BC. In classical tragedy, the main character is noble and good, but has a flaw (weakness) which causes his or her downfall.

WHY DO PEOPLE WATCH TRAGEDY?

According to the Greek scholar Aristotle (384–322 BC), the audience shares in the sadness and fear of the characters they are watching. At the end of the play, the audience feels emotionally purified and uplifted by the release of tension. This process is called catharsis.

ARE THERE MODERN TRAGEDIES?

There are modern tragedies, but not many are similar to Greek plays. Today, tragedy is often the unhappy story of an ordinary person with many faults. The tragedy occurs not because a hero has a tragic flaw, but because beliefs or illusions are destroyed.

COMEDY

Comedy is a play that makes us laugh. It deals with people and their relationships to each other. By laughing at the actors on stage and through wit (jokes), we reach an understanding of the characters’ foolishness.

IS SATIRE A TYPE OF COMEDY?

Satire is a cruel form of comedy that criticizes society by showing the weaknesses of public figures. Satire uses caricature (exaggeration of a person’s character) and mockery (making fun of someone). The first great writers of satire were the ancient Romans.

STAGE

In the theater, a stage is a platform where plays are performed. The ancient Greeks watched drama in round, open-air theaters. The Romans built roofed theaters, which had permanent stage scenes and complex machinery for sound and lighting effects.

ARE ALL STAGES THE SAME?

The most common type is the proscenium stage, where the audience is separated from the framed, raised stage by a curtain. It was invented in Italy in the 18th century. Other stage designs try to bring the audience and actors closer by locating the stage within the audience, or having the audience surround the stage entirely.

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