As a people we have evolved tenfold from early civilization. We have broken boundaries in almost every aspect of living. From the modifications of cars, to the effortless use of technology, we have created what seems to be a legacy of great achievement and we can only move forward from here on out. In the same token, the dramatic arts field has far surpassed the conventional techniques of learning; we have created new and exciting methods and skills to better aid us as an institution and as individuals. However, this all would not have been possible without the early findings of the Roman and Greek Theatre. Try to imagine if you will a society completely oblivious to technology or what the future will hold? Imagine society that was forced to work on the basis of innovation and create a pathway for the future to follow in. These are the societies to whom we as drama students owe all credit to. Without their crucial implementations to the world of theatre, we would not have made it thus far.
There are many theories as to how the world of theatre began, but the most commonly and widely agreed upon would be through rituals. In the beginning people saw the natural forces of the world as unpredictable and sought to control the unknown feared powers. As humans progressed, so did rituals, although those involving human sacrifices were done away with but the stories (myths) continued and provided material for arts and drama. When involved with ritual, drama was seen as an effective means of influencing man’s welfare. When all those within the tribe did not take part in the ritual, there was a clear division made between the auditorium and the acting space. After such dramatic displays it is said that theatre had evolved and man thereafter become extremely sophisticated to separate dramatic displays from religious activities. The Greeks, as a people, are knows for the creation of many different things, and theatre is undoubtedly one of them. They were the first society to build an Amphitheatre (a stage) outdoors.
This stage/platform had no roof and had the capacity to seat at least 18 000 people. The Greeks used this space to present plays which dealt with issues regarding politics, government and the ideals of the gods. The plays and performances were a culmination of the festival of Dionysus. A major part of the Greek civilization was the honoring of their Gods, which they believed helped their society live in harmony and unison. The Greeks divided their performances into Tragedy and Comedy, which led to the implementation of masks (for those who were seated far away from the stage and could not see the actors face properly) which simply acted as an exaggeration of emotion that the character was portraying. This has led to many productions using masks as a tool in performance. In the case of mistaken identities, masks could play a vital role. In Commedia Dell’Atre, a character or character type was defined by the mask the actor wore.
The acoustics from the Greek theatre period was astounding and carried all the way to the top end of the Amphitheatre. The last person seated in the theatre could hear the actor talking perfectly, without having to shout. Therefore today we find that acoustics are an extremely vital part of theatre, from the way it’s built to the way it’s designed. It is because of the Greeks I feel, that we as actors have to learn to play with our voices in an exciting way, to learn to how compliment the acoustic in the room or how to use it to our advantage. It is a fundamental part of learning Dramatic Arts. The Greeks also implemented the use of a chorus in most of their tragic pieces. The chorus served many different functions: •It was an actor within the production
•It advises, expresses opinions and oftentimes threatened interference in the play. •It was associated with the protagonist, as a rule.
•The chorus also served as an ideal spectator, which would react to the events of the play and help stimulate the response of the audience. This vital addition to Greek theatre has carried all the way through to modern day. We now have the freedom to use a chorus in many different forms and it helps the director shape the overall figure of the piece. Although the chorus was originally made up of 15 members (during the time of Sophocles), over the years and now in modern theatre the number has fluctuated and is now left in the hands of the director or author.
A chorus could be a group of people speaking about the events during the play or merely a company of singers giving an extra panache to the piece, or otherwise be used as a spectator from backstage who helps the audience fit pieces of the puzzle together. Another important factor to consider when looking at Greek theatre and modern day theatre is that we primarily use the Greek plot structures in the plays we write and stage today.
A Chorus in Greek Theatre
The idea that theatre originated in Greece and then found its way to Rome through Roman Imperialism is adapted by many scholars. However, the Romans adapted theatre to their own unique specifications and purposes. The use of violence and spectacle was meant to entertain the Roman audiences. “The Naumachiae” were elaborate portrayals of sea battles which involved actual water-filled arenas and massive scale fights where the actors were likely to die in the action. The Romans were very smart in adopting theatre to suit them and fashioned many interesting and innovative ideas. One of these being the ability for audiences to recognize certain stock types or characters by the colours they would be wearing on stage.
This, alongside the use of masks, enabled the audience eye to help them identify who was involved in the scene, what was going on and the ability not to lose sight of the plot amidst all the action going on during the performance. Once again we find that masks and the use of a chorus were essential in Roman Theatre, as was the case with the Greeks. However, the Romans steered more toward spectacular entertainment and felt it needed to leave the audience with a great amount of satisfaction. One could say this was the underlining factor that separated the Greeks and Romans. One of the greatest impacts Roman Theatre made on modern theatre, was paving the way for Opera. It offered the platform for Opera to grow on a larger scale and was thereafter reinvented by the Italians. Opera is one of the world’s leading art forms which include the use of music and dance to display a dramatic piece of art.
The stage of Roman Theatres somewhat differed from that of the Greeks. The wall at the back, known as the frons scenae, was a departure from Greek theatre design which had open land behind the players. The frons scenae would be decorated columns, niches, porticoes, and statues and provided a backdrop to the action. In modern times we find ourselves using the same effect but within a theatre complex. This innovation is called a Cyclorama. The Romans were also different from the Greeks as they concentrated mainly on Comedy, as opposed to both comedy and tragedy simultaneously.
The issues they dealt with focused mainly on mistaken identities, misunderstood motives, deliberate deception or even the problems faced by lovers or parents with their children. Roman comedy dealt mainly with everyday situations and was not largely interested in political or social snags. In the same light, many modern movies or plays draw their inspiration from similar concepts with regard to comedy.
Most of what we find today, in almost all areas of our lives, is simply a small idea, discussed with unsurpassed faith and implemented with absolute hope. In other words, what we find around us today is here because of an idea someone once had. The Greeks have altered the lives of so many individuals by their creation of the arts. Without them, so much of what we love today would cease to exist. Not forgetting the Romans of course who have taken the basic concept of the Greeks and have added a few rich and colorful ideas.
All in all, Greek theatre was born of religion, artistry, and necessity; Roman theatre however was more for spectacular entertainment. The two styles simply served different purposes. It is important to remember that while Greek theatre provided artistic and scholastic foundations for the modern theatre, Roman theatre paved the way for a wide range of entertainment. It is fair to establish that both the Romans and Greeks are forefathers to modern theatre. All basic and essential methods and ideals were passed down from them to us. Who are we then, if not the next generation or runners carrying the baton?