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Encyclopedia > Theater
For other usages see Theatre (disambiguation)

Theater (American English) or Theatre (British English and widespread usage among theatre professionals in the US) is that branch of the performing arts concerned with acting out stories in front of an audience using combinations of speech, gesture, music, dance, sound and spectacle — indeed any one or more elements of the other performing arts. In addition to the standard narrative dialog style, theatre takes such forms as opera, ballet, mime, kabuki, classical Indian dance, Chinese opera, mummers' plays and pantomime.


Overview of theatre

"Drama" is that branch of theatre in which speech, either from written text (plays or "dramatic literature") or improvised, is paramount. "Musical theatre" is a form of theatre combining music, songs, dance routines, and spoken dialogue. However theatre is more than just what one sees on stage. Theatre involves an entire world behind the scenes that creates the costumes and sets and ligting to make the overall effect intresting. There is a particularly long tradition of political theatre, intended to educate audiences on contemporary issues and encourage social change. Various creeds, Catholicism for instance, have built upon the entertainment value of theatre and created (for example) passion plays, mystery plays and morality plays.

There is an enormous variety of philosophies, artistic processes, and theatrical approaches to creating plays and drama. Some are connected to political or spiritual ideologies, and some are based on purely "artistic" concerns. Some processes focus on story, some on theatre as an event, some on theatre as a catalyst for social change. According to Aristotle's seminal theatrical critique Poetics, there are six elements necessary for theatre. They are Plot, Character, Idea, Language, Song, and Spectacle. The 17th-century Spanish writer Lope de Vega wrote that for theatre one needs "three boards, two actors, and one passion". Others notable for their contribution to theatrical philosophy are Konstantin Stanislavski, Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Orson Welles, Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski.

The most recognizable figures in theatre are the playwrights and actors, but theatre is a highly collaborative endeavor. Plays are usually produced by a production team that commonly includes a director, scenic or set designer, lighting designer, costume designer, sound designer, dramaturg, stage manager, and production manager. The artistic staff are assisted by technical theatre personnel who handle the creation and execution of the production.

Genre of theatre

There are a variety of genre that writers, producers and directors can employ in theatre to suit a variety of tastes. This is an incomplete and exclusively eurocentric list:

"Musical" A theatrical genre in which the primary means of performance is through singing and music.

"Musical drama" A theatrical genre in which the primary means of performance is spoken text, complemented by singing and music.

"Domestic drama" Drama in which the focus is on the everyday domestic lives of people and their relationships in the community that they live in.

"Pantomime" A form of musical drama in which elements of dance, puppetry, slapstick and melodrama are combined to produce an entertaining and comic theatrical experience, often designed for children.

"Farce" A comic dramatic piece that uses highly improbable situations, stereotyped characters, extravagant exaggeration, and violent horseplay.

"Comedy" Comes from the Greek word komos which means celebration, revel or merrymaking. It does not necessarily mean funny, but more focuses on a problem that leads to some form of catastrophe which in the end has a happy and joyful outcome.

"Romantic comedy" A medley of clever scheming, calculated coincidence, and wondrous discovery, all of which contribute ultimately to making the events answer precisely to the hero's or heroine's wishes, with the focus on love.

"Comedy of situation" A comedy that grows out of a character's attempt to solve a problem created by a situation. The attempt is often bumbling but ends up happily.

"Comedy of manners" Witty, cerebral form of dramatic comedy that depicts and often satirises the manners and affectations of a contemporary society. A comedy of manners is concerned with social usage and the question of whether or not characters meet certain social standards.

"Musical comedy" Comedy enacted through music, singing and dance, as well as acting

"Black comedy" Comedy that tests the boundaries of good taste and moral acceptability by juxtaposing morbid or ghastly elements with comical ones

"Melodrama" Sentimental drama with an unlikely plot that concerns the suffering of the good at the hands of the villains but ends happily with good triumphant. Featuring stock characters such as the noble hero, the long-suffering heroine, and the cold-blooded villain

"Tragedy" A drama that treats in a serious and dignified style the sorrowful or terrible events encountered or caused by a heroic individual.

"Tragi-comedy" A drama that has a bitter/sweet quality, containing elements of tragedy and comedy.

"Fantasy" The creation of a unique landscape on a which a hero goes on a quest to find something that we defeat the powers of evil. Along the way, this hero meets a variety of weird and fantastic characters.

"Morality play" A morality play is an allegory in which the characters are abstractions of moral ideas.

"Monologue" A dramatic monologue is any speech of some duration addressed by a character to a second person. A soliloquy is a type of monologue in which a character directly addresses an audience or speaks his thoughts aloud while alone or while the other actors keep silent.

"Physical theatre" Theatrical performance in which the primary means of communication is the body, through dance, mime, puppetry and movement, rather than the spoken word.

"Opera" Theatre which may include small amounts of dialogue but is almost always completely sung.

"Rock opera" Same style as opera, except that the musical form is rock music

It is important to note that not only is this list incomplete, but none of the genre listed are actually mutually exclusive. The richness of live theatre today is such that its practitioners can borrow from all of these elements and more, and present something that is a multi-disciplinary melange of pretty much everything.

Theater building

A theater is also the building in which works and plays are performed. There are as many styles of performance space as there are styles of performance. Theaters range from ornate, cathedral-like structures to simple undecorated rooms or black box theatres. Theatre may also occur in uncontrolled outdoor environments, in the form of Street theatre or Environmental theater.Some of these buildings are masterpieces of architecture. Others, often those known for opera, have become major cultural references and symbols.

Parts of a theater

While there are many different types of theater, common terminology has been developed to identify the different areas of a theater building:

  • The actual playing area is called the stage
  • The area hidden from the audience where sets, furniture and properties are stored and where the performers await their entrances is referred to as offstage or backstage
  • The audience area is often referred to as the "house"
  • Consequently, the entrance to the theater, with its box office and lobby areas, is called the front of house.

Stage directions

The stage itself has been given named areas to facilitate blocking:

  • The rear of the stage is considered up-stage This derives from the raked stage of the Greek Theater (see below).
  • The front of the stage is down-stage.
  • Left and right stage, at least in British and North American Theater, are considered to refer to the actor's left and right facing the audience. Because this is sometimes mis-understood the terms prompt (stage) and opposite prompt are also used.

History of theater construction

The original Greek theatre was semicircular in form and was normally built on a hillside, often overlooking the sea. These theaters also typically included a "raked" or sloped stage, with the back of the stage being higher than the front. Such theatres were often constructed with excellent acoustics, so that a player standing centre stage could be clearly heard throughout the auditorium. The Romans copied this style of building, but tended not to be so concerned about the location, being prepared to build walls and terraces instead of looking for a naturally-occurring site. (See Roman theatre for more.)

During the Elizabethan era in England, theatres were constructed of wood and were circular in form, open to the elements and with a large portion of the audience standing directly below the stage. A typical example was the Globe Theatre in London, where many of the plays of William Shakespeare were first staged. The Globe has now been rebuilt as a fully working and producing theatre near its original site (largely thanks to the efforts of film director Sam Wanamaker) to give modern audiences an idea of the environment for which Shakespeare and other playwrights of the period were writing. Around about this time the green room, a place for actors to wait until required on stage, became common terminology in English theatres.

Contemporary theaters are often non-traditional, such as very adaptable spaces, or theaters where audience and performers are not separated. A major example of this is the modular theater, (see for example the Walt Disney Modular Theater). This large theater has floors and walls divided into small movable sections, with the floor sections on adjustable hydraulic pylons, so that the space may be adjusted into any configuration for each individual play. As new styles of theatre performance have evolved, so has the desire to improve or recreate performance venues. This applies equally to artistic and presentation techniques, such as stage lighting.

Specific designs of contemporary live theaters include proscenium, thrust, black box theater, theater in the round, amphitheater, and arena. In the classical Indian dance, Natya Shastra defines 3 types of stage.

Theatrical performances can also take place in venues adapted from other purposes, such as train carriages. In recent years the Edinburgh Fringe has seen performances in a lift and a taxi.

Other topics

Theatre Venues and Styles

Awards in theatre

See also

External links

  • Theatre or theater? (http://webcdi.com/theater/theatre.php)

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