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Ancient Greek Theater
The Theater of Dionysus in Athens
the orchestra, or "dancing-place."
It was in this circular area that the chorus, a group of 12-15 actors in a single unit, sang and danced
In the center of the orchestra there was an altar to the god Dionysus where a flute player was stationed.
A theatron, or "viewing area."
Everyone in the Greek theater was assured a clear view of the orchestra and the stage (there were no support pillars that could block one's view) and since the theater is built into an already existing hill, the seats are naturally arranged on an upward slope, assuring that each tier of seats is above the next.
Some people, of course, were given preferential treatment: most theaters (like Delos, below left, and Athens, below right) have a row of specially designed seats nearest the orchestra for dignitaries, judges and priests.
One of the first modifications to the basic performance area of archaic theaters was the addition of a portable wooden stage area, which was later replaced with a more permanent design.
By the time of Aeschylus, the skene came complete with a painted (probably) facade representing the power source of the play, usually a palace or temple.
The backdrop also included a door, through which actors could enter and exit the performance area.
Masks in Ancient Greek Theater
The two masks at the top of the page are the symbols for theater. They represent the comedy and tragedy masks that were worn in ancient Greece - during the golden age, around 500 - 300 BC. They also represent duality.
Thespis of Icaria (6th century BCE) is claimed to be the first person ever to appear on stage as an actor in a play, although the reality is undoubtedly more complex. In other sources, he is said to have introduced the first actor in addition to the chorus
Thespis supposedly innovated a new style in which one singer or actor performed the words of individual characters in the stories, distinguishing between the characters with the aid of different masks.
Ancient Greek Actors
Actors performed plays as a form of worship to the god Dionysus. Early in Greek theater only one actor would perform with a chorus which sang a dialogue.
Later, three actors would perform in plays. The actors took on multiple roles using masks so the audience could tell the characters apart. Actors were always males, although they did play female parts.
A tragic actor contemplates his mask; from a vase-painting of the late fourth century B.C. The eyes, mouth, and hair styles of the actor's mask are clearly realistic, not at all stylized; the exaggerated masks and costumes often associated with ancient Greek theater clearly belong to a later period.
Ivory statuette from the second century A.D.showing a tragic actor.The actor wears a distorted mask, high headdress, and boots (cothurni).
Tragedy and Comedy
Three types of drama were composed in Athens: tragedy, comedy, and satyr plays.
Comedy concerned average, or below average, people (people like you and me) who enjoyed a transition from bad circumstances to good (but not too good) and who spoke everyday language.
Comedy was a fiction which, though not true, was at least believable (that is, realistic).
tragedy was a drama which concerned better than average people (heroes, kings, gods) who suffered a transition from good fortune to bad fortune, and who spoke in an elevated language.
tragedy is a fiction which is neither true nor believable.
Satyr plays derive their name from the fact that the chorus is always made up of satyrs, the mythical half goat-half man creatures that accompanied Dionysus.
Half man, Half goat. Bearded, sometimes with horns or goat's ears.
Prone to drinking, partying, and lusting after women. In Greek mythology, the god of the woods, Pan, is a satyr.