One of the favorite forms of entertainment for the Ancient Greeks was the theater. It began as part of a festival to the Greek god Dionysus, but eventually became a major part of the Greek culture.
How big were the theaters?
Some of the theaters were quite large and could seat over 10,000 people. They were open-air theaters with tiered seating built in a semi-circle around the main stage. The bowl shape of the seating allowed the actors' voices to carry throughout the entire theater. Actors performed in the open area at the center of the theater, which was called the orchestra.
Types of Plays:
There were two main types of plays that the Greeks performed: tragedies and comedies.
Tragedy - Greek tragedies were very serious plays with a moral lesson. They usually told the story of a mythical hero who would eventually meet his doom because of his pride.
Comedy - Comedies were more light-hearted than tragedies. They told stories of everyday life and often made fun of Greek celebrities and politicians.
Did they have music?
Many plays were accompanied by music. Common instruments were the lyre (a stringed instrument) and the aulos (like a flute). There was also a group of performers near the front of the stage called the chorus that would chant or sing together during the play.
Actors, Costumes, and Masks
The actors wore costumes and masks to play different characters. The masks had different expressions on them to help the audience understand the character. Masks with large frowns were common for tragedies, while masks with big grins were used for comedies. The costumes were usually padded and exaggerated so they could be seen from the back seats. All of the actors were men. They dressed up as women when playing female characters.
Did they have any special effects?
The Greeks used a variety of special effects to enhance their plays. They had ways of creating sounds such as rain, thunder, and horses hooves. They used cranes to lift actors up so they appeared to be flying. They often used a wheeled platform called an "ekkyklema" to roll out dead heroes onto the stage.
Famous Greek Playwrights
The best playwrights of the day were famous celebrities in Ancient Greece. There were often competitions during festivals and the playwright with the best play was presented an award. The most famous Greek playwrights were Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes.
Interesting Facts About Greek Drama and Theater
The word "theater" comes from the Greek word "theatron", which means "seeing place."
The masks allowed for one actor to play different roles in the same play.
A building behind the orchestra was called the skene. Actors would change costumes in the skene. Pictures were sometimes hung from the skene to create the background. This is where the word "scene" comes from.
Sometimes the chorus would comment on the characters in the play or warn the hero about potential danger.
The first actor was a man named Thespis. Today, actors are sometimes referred to as "Thespians."