Theatre arts may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they have an interesting history. While some may be comfortable watching a movie in the comfort of their couch, others may love the magic that comes with watching a live theatrical performance.
Theatre arts encompass music, dance, drama, and comedy.
Theatre arts have been part of humans since time immemorial. Think of the cultural dances, religious rituals, and tribal dances. But, if you are looking at theatre art like we know it today, then its history can be traced as far back as 600 B.C. What started as a religious festival grew to encompass the beautiful theatre arts we love today.
In the 6th century BC, the ruler of the city, tyrant Pisistratus, established public festivals. Participants were watched closely, and the winner was chosen.
Legend has it that during one of these festivals, the god Dionysus was the honored guest. At this particular festival, they crowned a wandering bard known as Thespis the winner. Thespis enjoyed acting and would animatedly recite poetry as he showcased the different characters whose lines he read. He became the first actor and the word thespian is in his honor.
By 486 BC, the Greek tragedies paved way for Greek comedy in a three-day festival. The comic actor to thank was known as Arisophanes. He is said to have written over 40 plays although only eleven survived.
The 4th century BC brought with it the erection of the stunning stone auditorium. Spectators were moved from the bare hillside to the massive stone structure! The structure, the theatre of Dionysus is still in existence. It may have been reconstructed, but we can still trace the original theatre.
Between the 3rd and 2nd centuries, the Romans embraced the theatre. However, instead of the Greek tragedies, they went down the comic path.
In the 1st century, the Indian theatre also opened its doors with the Sanskrit drama.
The Chinese theatre also threw its doors open during the Tang dynasty. The focus was on the musical side of theatre arts and actors commonly attended the acting school known as “The Pearl Garden”.
In the 1500s, England joined the party and shaped the theatre as we know it today. This can through Shakespeare.
Although the church did try to influence the arts, with time, the secular drama was introduced. Perhaps the most exciting turn in history was the “Feast of Fools”, a medieval festival that was warmly embraced in France.
Around the 12th century, the secular drama was in full gear, with even ordinary citizens taking part in the drama!
Between the 15th and 19th centuries, especially following the industrial revolution, theatre arts like we know them today began taking shape. It was not strange to find women on theatre stages around the 17th century as well.
Although it was on shaky grounds in the 20th century with the entrance of film, the theatre has managed to stand its ground to produce lively shows.
Today, we still enjoy a glimpse of the Greek influence in theatre. This can be through the masks worn to show different emotions.