Ancient Greece had the first European Theater. The theaters were built outdoors and into hillsides for seating, so that many people could come and hear the play. Some examples of Ancient Greek theatres are the Theatre at Delphi, Attic Theatre, and the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens. The theaters were built on a large scale to provide sufficient space for the large number of people on the stage. The word amphitheatre is derived from the Greek word theatron, which means is a wooden spectator that stands upright on hillsides.
In the early 5th century, Greek theaters had wooden seats for spectators on hillsides. The orchestra was a level earth-floored orchestra. The Scene was used as a changing room for actors, but in the front, it served as a house or palace for the play. This building was a temporary building, and the roof of the building was also used as an acting area.
Greek theatre consisted of 3 main elements: Orchestra, Scene (Skene), and the Theatron
The orchestra was located in the center of the theater. This was where the plays, dance, religious rites, and acting took place. The orchestra was not a raised stage, it was level with the ground. It was also either circular or a rectangular area, facing the audience.
The scene was a large rectangular building that was behind the orchestra. It was mainly used as a backstage. There were one to three entrances for the actors to get in and out on the orchestra. The areas of the building that faced the audience were used as backgrounds or decorated as palace. The parodoi was the area between the scene and the seats, where actors could enter on and off the stage. The Logeion was along the backwall of the scene. It was designed for those who got separated from the chorus. The theologion was the flat roof of the scene.
By the end of the 5th century, the scenes became permanent. This allowed the Greeks to keep the machines that were used in the performances. One machine that they used was called the aeorema. It was a crane that was used for the appearances of the gods onto the stage. Another machine they used was the periactoi, which were two pillars. These two pillars were turned on their axon, which was used for changing the background of the scene. The ekeclema was a wheeled-platform, where the bodies of dead people were rolled onto the stage.
The theatron was a large, open-air structures that was constructed on the slopes of hills, or the auditorium of the theater. This is where the spectators sat. It was built around the orchestra, so it had a semi-circular form. The proedria, or front seats, were reserved for the officials and priests. The seats used to be wooden, but by the end of the 5th century, the seats were made out of stone.
The Theatre of Dionysus was located in Athens. It could seat about 17,000 people. This theater was first built out of wood and also had the first permanent place for watching. This was because the Theatre of Dionysus was located on the south slope of the Athenian Acropolis.
Aeschylus lived from 525-456 BC. He mainly wrote tragedies, thus is often recognized as the father of tragedies. Some of his plays are Prometheus Bound, Seven against Thebes, and The Orestia. One characteristic of his plays were that the characters had a limited number of traits, yet the they were clear and direct. Another characteristic is that his plays emphasized forces beyond human control. He also introduced a chain of private guilt amongst the characters, and also punishment, which were eventually all reconciled at the end of the play.
Sophocles lived from 496-406 BC. He also wrote many tragedies. One of the different things that he did was that he fixed the chorus to be at fifteen, instead of fifty as it had been. Some of his plays are Antigone, Oepidius the King, Oepidius at Colonus, and Philoctetes. One characteristic of his plays is that he emphasized more on the individual characters, also making them more complex and psychologically well motivated. Another characteristic is that his characters were subject to a crisis leading to suffering and self-recognition. His scenes were also climatic and suspenseful.
Euripides lived from 480-406 BC. He also wrote tragedies and is known as the father of melodrama. He used a less poetic language in his plays, but instead used realistic dialogue. Because of his use of simple language, his plays became more popular. His plays dealt with subjects that were considered "unsuited to stage", questioning the traditional values. Because of this, his dramatic method was often unclear. Euripides used minor myths in his plays, and also altered major myths. Some of his plays are Trojan Women, The Bacchae, and Medea.
One famous quote by Euripides is, "There are three classes of citizens. The first are the rich, who are indolent and yet always crave more. The second are the poor, who have nothing, are full of envy, hate the rich, and are easily led by demagogues. Between the two extremes lie those who make the state secure and uphold the laws." This quote is from his play, The Suppliants.
Here is more information about other playwrights, and more about what the playwrights mentioned on this page did to change Greek theatre:
Here is a video that shows pictures of different Greek theatre stages in the different cities, such as Athens and Sparta.
*Credit: dionisosb @ youtube
Think you've mastered Ancient Greek theatre? Well here's a little quiz to test your knowledge!
Hint: All answers can be found throughout this page :]