The Greek theater consisted essentially of the orchestra, the flat dancing floor of the chorus, and the theatron, the actual structure of the theater building. Since theaters in antiquity were frequently modified and rebuilt, the surviving remains offer little clear evidence of the nature of the theatrical space available to the Classical dramatists in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. There is no physical evidence for a circular orchestra earlier than that of the great theater at Epidauros dated to around 330 B.C. Most likely,the audience in fifth-century B.C. Athens was seated close to the stage in a rectilinear arrangement, such as appears at the well-preserved theater at Thorikos in Attica. During this early period in Greek drama, the stage and most probably the skene (stage building) were made of wood. Vase paintings depicting Greek comedy from the late fifth and early fourth centuries B.C. suggest that the stage stood about a meter high with a flight of steps in the center. The actors entered from either side and from a central door in the skene, which also housed the ekkyklema, a wheeled platform with sets of scenes. A mechane, or crane, located at the right end of the stage, was used to hoist gods and heroes   through the air onto the stage. Greek dramatists surely made the most of the extreme contrasts between the gods up high and the actors on stage, and between the dark interior of the stage building and the bright daylight.

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Little is known about the origins of Greek tragedy before Aeschylus (525/24–456/55 B.C.), the most innovative of the Greek dramatists. His earliest surviving work is Persians, which was produced in 472 B.C. The roots of Greek tragedy, however, most likely are embedded in the Athenian spring festival of Dionysos Eleuthereios, which included processions, sacrifices in the theater, parades, and competitions between tragedians. Of the few surviving Greek tragedies, all but Aeschylus’ Persians draw from heroic myths. The protagonist and the chorus portrayed the heroes who were the object of  cult  in Attica in the fifth century B.C. Often, the dialogue between the actor and chorus served a didactic function, linking it as a form of public discourse with debates in the assembly. To this day, drama in all its forms still functions as a powerful medium of communication of ideas.Unlike the Greek tragedy, the comic performances produced in Athens during the fifth century B.C., the so-called Old Comedy, ridiculed mythology and prominent members of Athenian society. There seems to have been no limit to speech or action in the comic exploitation of sex and other bodily functions. Teracotta figurines and vase paintings dated around and after the time of Aristophanes (?460/50–ca. 387 B.C.) show comic actors wearing grotesque masks and tights with padding on the rump and belly, as well as a leather phallus.

In the second half of the fourth century B.C., the so-called New Comedy of Menander (?344/43–292/91 B.C.) and his contemporaries gave fresh interpretations to familiar material. In many ways comedy became simpler and tamer, with very little obscenity. The grotesque padding and phallus of Old Comedy were abandoned in favor of more naturalistic costumes  that reflected the playwrights’ new style. Subtle differentiation of masks worn by the actors paralleled the finer delineation of character in the texts of New Comedy, which dealt with private and family life, social tensions, and the triumph of love in a variety of contexts.

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Greek tragedies and comedies were always performed in outdoor theaters. Early Greek theaters were probably little more than open areas in city centers or next to hillsides where the audience, standing or sitting, could watch and listen to the chorus singing about the exploits of a god or hero. From the late 6th century BC to the 4th and 3rd centuries BC there was a gradual evolution towards more elaborate theater structures, but the basic layout of the Greek theater remained the same. The major components of Greek theater are labled on the diagram above.

Orchestra: The orchestra (literally, “dancing space”) was normally circular. It was a level space where the chorus would dance, sing, and interact with the actors who were on the stage near the skene. The earliest orchestras were simply made of hard earth, but in the Classical period some orchestras began to be paved with marble and other materials. In the center of the orchestra there was often a thymele, or altar. The orchestra of the theater of Dionysus in Athens was about 60 feet in diameter.

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Theatron: The theatron (literally, “viewing-place”) is where the spectators sat. The theatron was usually part of hillside overlooking the orchestra, and often wrapped around a large portion of the orchestra (see the diagram above). Spectators in the fifth century BC probably sat on cushions or boards, but by the fourth century the theatron of many Greek theaters had marble seats.

Skene: The skene (literally, “tent”) was the building directly behind the stage. During the 5th century, the stage of the theater of Dionysus in Athens was probably raised only two or three steps above the level of the orchestra, and was perhaps 25 feet wide and 10 feet deep. The skene was directly in back of the stage, and was usually decorated as a palace, temple, or other building, depending on the needs of the play. It had at least one set of doors, and actors could make entrances and exits through them. There was also access to the roof of the skene from behind, so that actors playing gods and other characters (such as the Watchman at the beginning of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon) could appear on the roof, if needed.

Parodos: The parodoi (literally, “passageways”) are the paths by which the chorus and some actors (such as those representing messengers or people returning from abroad) made their entrances and exits. The audience also used them to enter and exit the theater before and after the performance.

COSTUME DETAILS.

Actors who played tragic roles wore boots called cothurneses that elevated them above other actors.

When playing female roles, the male actors donned a ‘ prosterneda’ which is a wooden structure infront of the chest to imitate breasts.

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There are little information on theatrical costumes. This is due to the perishable materials they have been made of. Still we have some information drawn from depictions on ancient pottery (see some pictures below).

Costumes have been a very important factor of the production, because they could determine the characters by gender or social status. In the early productions actors have been using body painting. Little by little they started using animal skins, ears, even feathers (see Aristophanes’ Birds).

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Sophokles

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Evripides

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Aeschylus

When the poets introduced real costumes, they imitated the contemporary dressing : the “chiton” and the “hemateon”. The chiton was made of linen or silk and it was worn long. The hemateon was an exterior cloth, worn over the shoulders. It was usually made of wool. Both chiton and hemateon were decorated depending on the occasion. For theatrical use the clothes have been more decorated than usually.

In order to play female roles, since the actors were always men, they were wearing a “prosterneda” (in front of the chest, to imitate female breasts) and “progastreda” in front of the belly.

The actors used to put on ordinary shoes, such us loose fitting boots and laced boots. Is some scholars’ opinion, the actors used shoes with high heels (“kothornoi”). We cannot be sure about that, because we do not have a clear evidence from the pottery. In the later years (2nd century BC), it is sure that these shoes with high heels (“kothornoi”) have been introduced.

Use of costume in Athenian tragedy.

Some authors have argued that use of costume in Athenian tragedy was standardized for the genre. This is said to have consisted of a full-length or short tunic, a cloak and soft leather boots, and may have been derived from the robes of Dionysian priests or invented by Aeschylus. Brockett, however, disputes this, arguing that the evidence we have is based on archaeological remains, some few references in the texts, and the writings of later authors. As far as the vase paintings are concerned, most of these are dated later than the 5th Century BCE and their relationship with theatrical practice is unclear. One of the earliest examples is a red-figure vase painting c. 500-490 BCE that shows a tragic chorus invoking a ghost, on a crater (bowl) in the Antikenmuseum in Basle.

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The tragic actors were certainly heavily disguised. This had a religious purpose, for the actor was supposed to give up his identity in order to let another speak and act through him. Indeed, the dramas were performed in honour of Dionysus, the God of Ecstasy, which means “standing outside oneself”. Actors therefore had to renounce their individuality. The actors thought that the mask itself contained the character and are said to have prayed before putting on their masks. The costume was probably an elaborately-decorated version of everyday clothing worn in the 5th Century BCE. The garments included:

– chiton (robe or tunic)

– chlaina (overgarment)

– chlamys (short cloak)

–  kothurnus (short lace-up boots)

– himation (overgarment)

– peplos (cloak)

The chiton worn by the actors differed from that worn in everyday life because it incorporated sleeves, which were coloured and patterned. The sleeves may in fact have been part of an undergarment. Long white sleeves were worn by the (male) actors for female roles, and indeed, in vase paintings females are usually painted with lighter skin.

The costumes worn for the performances of Alcestis, for example, were iconographic, and symbolised the opposition of light and dark.In the play, life is evoked as the act of seeing the sun. Death – the son of Night in Greek mythology – wears a black peplos and terrifying black wings. Apollo wears white, representing the sun. Admetus contrasts the black of the funeral procession with the white of the funeral procession. The corpse of Alcestis is dressed as a bride, in accordance with Greek tradition and Herakles wears a bearskin and carries a club.

The costumes worn gave the audience an immediate sense of character-type, gender, age, social status and class.[5]

Around the time of Aeschylus, the boots or buskins worn by the actors were flat. The actors had the same “status” as the chorus. In the 3rd Century BCE, the actors were raised to the status of heroes and “platform” soles began to be used, together with a head-dress called an onkos. The raised soles may have induced a stylised way of walking, suited to the rhythm of tragic verse, and the onkos made the actors taller, enhancing visibility. Their bodies were padded so that they did not look too slim. However, some authors believe that this happened later than the 3rd Century BCE. It is also thought that the “teetering gait” is a misapprehension.

The masks were the most striking feature of the costume worn by the Athenian actors. Facial expression was lost anyway due to the huge size of the Greek theatres, but the masks were also a means of blotting out expression, so visual meaning was expressed by the entire body. The actors were seen as silhouettes, or integral bodies, rather than faces. The masks themselves were made of stiffened linen, thin clay, cork or wood, and covered the whole head and had hair.

 

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