A particular aspect that has had aremarkable effect on the way theatre has evolved is the architecture of ancienttheatres. The architecture of ancient Greek and Roman theatres have had aremarkable effect on future theatre designs including the architecture of the greatElizabethan theatres. The Elizabethan time period in England was ever so popular and well accepted thatspecialised theatres were having to be built to cope with the large audiences. Beforethis plays were being held in grape cellars and old farm houses, and so were not ableto provide a large enough venue or provide the larger than life atmosphere playhouses needed. By the time Elizabethan theatre was in the British mainstream theplays were being held in two types of theatre, the public and private.
The public Elizabethan theatres were much larger than the private ones and were thepreferred theatre of Shakespeare and other great playwrites to stage a production. The first such theatre was built by James Burbage in 1576 and was called simply thetheatre. Soon after other public theatres were built, including Shakespeares own TheGlobe which was built in 1599. They could appear round, square or many sided andwhere built surrounding a central courtyard.
Performances were only during daylightbecause there was no artificial lighting, even though many plays had night scenes. Inmost theatres it consisted of three levels of viewing galleries and stood about 10metres high. As well as being viewer platforms the part of the upper two galleriesthat went behind the stage were used as a balcony to give the play vertical action aswell as horizontal. The courtyard, called the pit, measured about 17 metres indiameter. Those wishing to watch the show from the pit could do so for a minimalamount of money.
People viewing a play in the pit surrounded the stage from threesides, thus giving the audience a sense of being right in the action. For those thatwere willing to pay a bit more there were the galleries with seats. But although thesegalleries provided a seat to sit on they also stank of urine and sweat since there wereno toilets and people those days didnt bath much. These rather large theatres couldhold as much as 5600 people and were generally the choice of theatre for poorerpeople, but built around an attractive courtyard with an open roof these theatres werefar from something shabby intended for lower class citizens.
Proof that the publictheatre was not a cheap alternative for poorer people is the fact that Shakespeare andother well known play writers wrote almost all their plays specifically for the publictheatres and often despised performing a play in the smaller rich persons privatetheatre. The Private Elizabethan theatres charged higher admission prices and were designedto attract upper class citizens. Although these theatres were often owned by royaltyand attracted rather rich people to view plays they quickly went out of fashion andeventually ceased to excist because Shakespeare wrote all his plays for publictheatres. Because of the unpopularity of these theatres not much is known about theirarchitecture except that they were small, had little equipment or basic machinery toassist behind the scenes work and had artificial lighting in the form of petrol lanterns. In typical Ancient Greek tradition, where grander and bigger was better thearchitecture of ancient Greek theatres truly were traditional, in that they were hugeand grand.
During the time that drama competitions were beginning to take place inancient Greece large ampitheatres were needed to be built in order to keep up withthe massive popularity of such drama competitions. Three major theatres wereconstructed, notably the theatre at Delphi, the Attic Theatre and the Theatre ofDionysus in Athens. The Theatre of Dionysus, built at the foot of the Acropolis inAthens, could seat 17,000 people and during their heyday, the competitions drew asmany as 30,000 spectators. It was common for these large audiences to be noisy,lively, emotional and unrestrained. They hissed, applauded, cheered and sometimesbroke out into a riot if they were unhappy with a play. These huge open air theatreswere always built where a steep hill met flat ground so that the tiers of seating couldbe on the hill and the stage on the flat.
The stage and stage wall were elaboratestructures made of wood and sandstone that provided a large set for actors to moveand dance in. Although scenic sets werent created and no props were used toindicate a particular setting there was one permanent structure on the stage thatrepresented a temple and served as the door through which actors entered the stage. There was no curtain and the play was presented as a whole with no act or scenedivisions. Dionysus the wine god of which Greek tragedy originated to worship was at thecentre of every play around the time of the great tragedy era and so was included inthe architecture of ancient Greek theatres.
At every theatre in ancient Greece therewas a statue of Dionysus the god of wine and tragedy at the centre of the stage. It wascommon for a temple of Dionysus to be adjoined to the theatre and a processionwould occur from the temple to the stage of the theatre in honor of the god. This godof Greek tragedy and wine was paid homage to during plays by actors acting out ahuman sacrifice at the altar on stage. The architecture of ancient Roman theatres were typically Italian in that they werelarge, elaborately decorated and extremely tasteful to an artistic eye. The theatres ofthe Roman world were quite different from those in Greece. They were built on flatground, not a hillside, with a large round surrounding wall of masonry that was welldecorated with pictures of gods and battle scenes.
The focal point of the Romantheatre was the high stage, with an elaborately decorated stage wall two stories high. Seating started at the front of the stage and went back to a standing area were peoplecould stand and watch for free. It can be concluded from the many paintings on wallsand stage curtains that many plays of the time were based on the adventures of Zeusand Hercules. As the popularity of Roman theatre began to rise so did the number of Romantheatres being built around Italy and the World.
Roman theatres had been built allover Italy, in Spain, France and North Africa. The overly garnished theatres includeda curtain which disappeared into a trough at the front of the stage, vividly paintedinner walls and a amazingly decorated stage wall. Spectators could indulge under theshade of an awning while eating fruit that was sold at the theatre and if hot enough gofor a shower in perfumed water. The plays witnessed in these truly majesticplayhouses could not be compared with those seen in the simpler less visuallyappealing theatres of the ancient Greek kind. Technology has become one of mans best friends and for all the reasons in the world.
It has affected us in ways that make our life easier, more enjoyable and morebareable. There isnt anything on this earth that has remained unaffected by it. Andno exception is the modern theatre as we know it today which has undergone changesthrough various technology advances since ancient Greek and Roman times. Inparticular the architecture of ancient Greek, Roman and Elizabethan theatres havepaved the way for the modern theatre buildings we have become to enjoy today.