Monthly Archives: July 2011

Community theatre

Community theatre

community theatreCommunity theatre refers to theatrical performance made in relation to particular communities—its usage includes theatre made by, with, and for a community. It may refer to theatre that is made entirely by a community with no outside help, or to a collaboration between community members and professional theatre artists, or to performance made entirely by professionals that is addressed to a particular community. Community theatres range in size from small groups led by single individuals that perform in borrowed spaces to large permanent companies with well-equipped facilities of their own. Many community theatres are successful, non-profit businesses with a large active membership and, often, a full-time professional staff. Community theatre is often devised and may draw on popular theatrical forms, such as carnival, circus, and parades, as well as performance modes from commercial theatre. Community theatre is understood to contribute to the social capital of a community, insofar as it develops the skills, community spirit, and artistic sensibilities of those who participate, whether as producers or audience-members.

 

Community theatre in Latin America

Partly inspired by Antonio Gramsci’s interpretation of culture, the seminal theatre practitioner Augusto Boal developed a series of techniques known as the Theatre of the Oppressed from his work developing Read the rest of this entry

Epic theatre

Epic theatre

chalkEpic theatre  was a theatrical movement arising in the early to mid-20th century from the theories and practice of a number of theatre practitioners, including Erwin Piscator, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Vsevolod Meyerhold and, most famously, Bertolt Brecht. Although many of the concepts and practices involved in Brechtian epic theatre had been around for years, even centuries, Brecht unified them, developed the style, and popularized it. Epic theatre incorporates a mode of acting that utilises what he calls gestus. The epic form describes both a type of written drama and a methodological approach to the production of plays: “Its qualities of clear description and reporting and its use of choruses and projections as a means of commentary earned it the name ‘epic’.” Brecht later preferred the term “dialectical theatre.”

One of the goals of epic theatre is for the audience to always be aware that it is watching a play: “It is most important that one of the main features of the ordinary theatre should be excluded from [epic theatre]: the engendering of illusion.”

Epic theatre was a reaction against other popular forms of theatre, particularly the naturalistic approach pioneered by Constantin Stanislavski. Like Stanislavski, Brecht disliked the shallow spectacle, manipulative plots, and heightened emotion of melodrama; but where Stanislavski attempted to engender real human behavior in acting through the techniques of Stanislavski’s system and to absorb the audience completely in the fictional world of the play, Brecht saw Stanislavski’s methodology as producing escapism. Brecht’s own social and political focus departed also from surrealism and the Theatre of Cruelty, as developed in the writings and dramaturgy of Antonin Artaud, who sought to affect audiences viscerally, psychologically, physically, and irrationally.

As with the principle of dramatic construction involved in the epic form of written drama (or what Brecht calls “non-Aristotelian drama”), the epic approach to play production utilizes a montage technique of fragmentation, contrast and contradiction, and interruptions. While the French playwright Jean Genet articulates a very different world view in his dramas to that found in Brecht’s, in a letter to the director Roger Blin on the most appropriate approach to staging his The Screens in 1966, he advises an epic approach to its production:

Each scene, and each section within a scene, must be perfected and played as rigorously and with as much discipline as if it were a short play, complete in itself. Without any smudges. And without there being the slightest suggestion that another scene, or section within a scene, is to follow those that have gone before.

Brecht, too, advised treating each element of a play independently, like a music hall turn that is able to stand on its own. Read the rest of this entry

Theatre of ancient Greece

Theatre of ancient Greece

Ancient theatre

The Theatre of Ancient Greece, or ancient Greek drama, is a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political and military power during this period, was its centre, where it was institutionalized as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honored the god Dionysus. Tragedy (late 6th century BC), comedy (486 BC), and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies and allies in order to promote a common cultural identity. Western theatre originated in Athens and its drama has had a significant and sustained impact on Western culture as a whole.

The word τραγῳδία (tragoidia), from which the word “tragedy” is derived, is a portmanteau of two Greek words:  (tragos) or “goat” and  (ode) meaning “song”, from  (aeidein), “to sing”. This etymology indicates a link with the practices of the ancient Dionysian cults. It is impossible, however, to know with certainty how these fertility rituals became the basis for tragedy and comedy.

Martin Litchfield West speculates that early Greek religion and theatre, which are inter-related, especially the Orphic Mysteries, was heavily influenced by CentralAsian shamanistic practices. A large number of Orphic graffiti unearthed inOlbia seems to testify that the colony was one major point of contact. Eli Rozik points out that the shaman, as such, is seen as a prototypical actor influencing the rituals of early Greek theatre.

Greek tragedy as we know it was made in Athens some years before 532 BC, when Thespis was the earliest recorded actor. Being a winner of the first theatrical contest held at Athens, he was the exarchon, or leader, of the dithyrambsperformed in and around Attica, especially at the rural Dionysia. By Thespis’ time the dithyramb had evolved far away from its cult roots. Under the influence of heroic epic, Doric choral lyric and the innovations of the poet Arion, it had become a narrative, ballad-like genre. Because of these, Thespis is often called the “Father of Tragedy”; however, his importance is disputed, and Thespis is sometimes listed as late as 16th in the chronological order of Greek tragedians; the statesman Solon, for example, is credited with creating poems in which characters speak with their own voice, and spoken recitations, known as rhapsodes, of Homer’s epics were popular in festivals prior to 534 BC. Thus, Thespis’s true contribution to drama is unclear at best, but his name has been immortalized as a common term for performer—a “thespian.”

The dramatic performances were important to the Athenians – this is made clear by the creation of a tragedy competition and festival in the City Dionysia. This was organized possibly to foster loyalty among the tribes of Attica (recently created by Cleisthenes). The festival was created roughly around 508 BC. While no drama texts exist from the sixth century BC, we do know the names of three competitors besides Thespis: Choerilus, Pratinas, and Phrynichus. Each is credited with different innovations in the field. Read the rest of this entry

Theatre of ancient Rome

Theatre of ancient Rome

Roman theatreThe theatre of ancient Rome was a thriving and diverse art form, ranging from festival performances of street theatre, nude dancing, and acrobatics, to the staging of Plautus’s broadly appealing situation comedies, to the high-style, verbally elaborate tragedies of Seneca. Although Rome had a native tradition of performance, the Hellenization of Roman culture in the 3rd century BCE had a profound and energizing effect on Roman theatre and encouraged the development of Latin literature of the highest quality for the stage.

The Roman historian Livy wrote that the Romans first experienced theatre in the 4th century BCE, with a performance by Etruscan actors. Beacham argues that they had been familiar with “pre-theatrical practices” for some time before that recorded contact. Roman drama began in 240 BCE with the plays of Livius Andronicus.

 

Roman drama

Following the expansion of the Roman Republic (509–27 BCE) into several Greek territories between 270–240 BCE, Rome encountered Greek drama. From the later years of the republic and by means of the Roman Empire (27 BCE-476 CE), theatre spread west across Europe, around the Mediterranean and reached England; Roman theatre was more varied, extensive and sophisticated than that of any culture before it. While Greek drama continued to be performed throughout the Roman period, the year 240 BCE marks the beginning of regular Roman drama. From the beginning of the empire, however, interest in full-length drama declined in favour of a broader variety of theatrical entertainments. Read the rest of this entry