2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Literature types; Theatre

Serge Sudeikin's poster for the Bat Theatre (1922).
Serge Sudeikin's poster for the Bat Theatre (1922).

Theatre or theatre (from French "théâtre", from Greek "theatron", θέατρον, meaning "place of seeing") is the branch of the performing arts concerned with acting out stories in front of an audience using combinations of speech, gesture, mime, puppets, music, dance, sound and spectacle — indeed any one or more elements of the other performing arts. Bernard Beckerman, head of Hofstra University's department of drama, in his book, Dynamics of Drama, defines theatre as what "occurs when one or more human beings, isolated in time and/or space, present themselves to another or others." In addition to the standard narrative dialogue style, theatre takes such forms as opera, ballet, mime, kabuki, puppetry, classical Indian dance, Chinese opera, mummers' plays, and pantomime.

Overview of theatre

"Drama" (literally translated, Action, from a verbal root meaning "I do") is that branch of theatre in which speech, either from written text ( plays), or improvised is paramount. The first theatre, the Theatre of ancient Greece, created the definition of a theatre: an audience in a half-circle watching an elevated stage where actors use props staging plays. " 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, sets and lighting to make the overall effect interesting. 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 variety of philosophy, artistic process, and theatrical approach to creating plays and drama. Some are connected to political or spiritual ideologies, and some based on purely "artistic" concerns. Some processes focus on a story, some on theatre as event, some on theatre as catalyst for social change. According to Aristotle's seminal theatrical critique Poetics, there are six elements necessary for theatre: 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 directors, playwrights and actors, but theatre is a highly collaborative endeavour. Plays are usually produced by a production team that commonly includes a 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 creation and execution of the production.

Some believe it is important for actors to study all commonly taught acting methods to perfect their craft. Methods include: Meisner, Stanislavsky, Strasberg, and Hagen.

Genres of theatre

Konstantin Somov's illustration for The Theatre by Alexander Blok (1909).
Konstantin Somov's illustration for The Theatre by Alexander Blok (1909).

There are a variety of genres that writers, producers and directors can employ in theatre to suit a variety of tastes:

  • Musical theatre: A theatrical genre in which a story is told through the performance of singing (with instrumental music), spoken dialogue and often dance.
  • Natya Sacred classical Indian musical theatre that includes natya proper (mime) and nritta (pure dance).
  • Rock opera: Same style as opera, except that the musical form is rock music.
  • Theatre for social change: Theatre that addresses a social issue and uses performance as a way of illustrating injustice to the audience.
  • 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.
  • Farce: A comic dramatic piece that uses highly improbable situations, stereotyped characters, extravagant exaggeration, fast pacing and violent horseplay.
  • Pantomime: A form of musical drama in which elements of dance, mime, puppetry, slapstick, and melodrama are combined to produce an entertaining and comic theatrical experience, often designed for children. These are often presented around the holidays.
  • 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.
  • Commedia dell'arte: Very physical form of comedy which was created and originally performed in Italy. Commedia uses a series of stock characters and a list of events to improvise an entire play.
  • Black comedy: Comedy that tests the boundaries of good taste and moral acceptability by juxtaposing morbid or ghastly elements with comical ones.
  • Melodrama: Originally, a sentimental drama with musical underscoring. Often 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. The word "Tragedy" comes from the Greek word "Tragos" which is translated to "Goat".
  • Tragicomedy: A drama that has a bitter/sweet quality, containing elements of tragedy and comedy.
  • 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.
  • Fantasy: The creation of a unique landscape on which a hero goes on a quest to find something that will 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.
  • Opera: A theatrical genre in which a story is told and emotion is conveyed primarily through singing (with instrumental music).
  • 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.
  • Theatre of the Absurd: Term coined by Martin Esslin, theatre in which characters are engaged in an absurd, that is meaningless, activity or life. Related to existentialism.
  • Meta-Theatre: A genre of theatre made popular with mostly modern audiences, although it did start back in the Elizabethan Era. Meta-Theatre is when a play often completely demolishes the so called " fourth wall" and completely engages the audience. Oftentimes about a group of actors, a director, writer and so on. It usually blurs the line between what is scripted and what goes on by accident.
  • Grand Guignol: Now broadly used to refer to any play with on-stage violence, the term originally referred to the bloody and gruesome melodramas produced at the Theatre du Grand Guignol in Paris, France.
  • Total Theatre: The creation of Steven Berkoff, a style where the actors become both characters and set, often using just one prop throughout the entire play. The style uses features of greek theatre (eg. a chorus or didactic message), exageration and surrealism.

This list is somewhat incomplete and some regard it as eurocentric. None of the genres 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.

Theatre venues and styles

  • Art Deco style theatre
  • Broadway and the West End
  • Community theatre
  • Dinner theatre
  • Fringe festival
  • Improvisational theatre
  • In-yer-face theatre
  • National Tours
  • Off-Broadway and the London fringe
  • Off-Off-Broadway
  • Opera houses
  • Physical theatre
  • Post style theatre
  • Postmodern theatre
  • Proletcult Theatre
  • Reader's Theatre
  • Regional theatre
  • Repertory theatre
  • Street theatre
  • Summer stock theatre
  • Temple dance
  • UK Theatre Network
  • Vanguard style theatre
  • School and church theatres and town halls community theatre

Notable theatre festivals

  • Edinburgh International Festival.
  • Golden Mask Festival (Russia).
  • Galway Arts Festival (Galway Ireland).
  • Project06 (Galway Ireland).
  • Natyanjali Classical Indian musical theatre festival in the Hindu temples of South India.
  • Bogotá's Iberoamerican International Festival.
  • Pacific Playwrights Festival at South Coast Repertory ( Costa Mesa, California).
  • Festival Internacional de Artistas de Rua da Bahia - Brazil. (Street artists).
  • Curitiba Theatre Festival - Brazil.

Theatre conventions

Technical theatre

  • LDI (USA)
  • United States Institute for Theatre Technology

Awards in theatre

  • Manchester Evening News Annual Drama Awards (United Kingdom)
  • Elliot Norton Awards ( Boston, MA USA)
  • European Theatre Award
  • Evening Standard Awards (United Kingdom)
  • Laurence Olivier Awards (United Kingdom)
  • London Critics' Circle Theatre Awards (United Kingdom)
  • Tony Award (USA)
  • Golden Mask Award (Russia)
  • Molière Award (France)
  • Hans-Reinhart-Ring (Switzerland)
  • Lucille Lortel Award (USA)
  • Drama Desk Award (USA)
  • Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (India)
  • Joseph Jefferson Award (USA)
  • Sangeet Natak Academy Award (India)

Masks (Quebec, Canada)

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