History of Theatre

1. Theatre History

The history of theatre can be divided into three broad categories namely ancient theatre, rebirth of theatre and development of theatre in 18th, 19th and 20th century.

1.1. Ancient Theatre

a) Greek Theatre

Greek theatre took place in large (the largest ultimately held twenty thousand people) hillside amphitheatres. The players included a chorus and their leader, and the “lines” were more chanted than spoken. The chorus performed in the “orchestra”, not on a raised stage. The use of masks to represent characters and high-soled boots worn to add height to the players limited the movement of the actors. Indeed, the concept of “actors” themselves was not originally a part of Greek theatre, but was developed as a consequence of certain playwrights of particular genius. 1

b) Roman Theatre

The decline of Greek government and society coincided with the rise of the Roman Republic and subsequent empire. The Romans borrowed extensively from Greek theatre. The Roman theatre may not be held in the same high esteem as that of the Greeks. Roman theatre took two forms: Fabula Palliata and Fabula Togata. Fabula Palliata was primarily translations of Greek plays into Latin. Fabula Togata was of native origin, and was based on more broadly farcical situations and humor of a physical nature. 2

c) Medieval Theatre

Some people say that theatre died following the fall of the Roman Empire, and its memory was kept alive only in the performances of roving bands of jongleurs: street players, jugglers, acrobats and animal trainers.

However, while such troupes did help to maintain certain aspects of theatrical art, particularly that involving stock characters, the Church itself contributed to the preservation of theatre. It is ironic that the Church, which caused theatres to be outlawed as the Roman Empire declined and then fell, was one of the primary means of keeping theatre alive through the Middle Ages.

At first the plays were simple religious re-enactments played by priests in the sanctuary of the church. The dramas continued to grow, moving out of the sanctuary and into the open air in front of the Church. Ultimately, the members of town began to contribute to these dramas, which continued to grow more elaborate with time.

1.2. Rebirth of Theatre

a) Renaissance and Reformation

During the 15th and 16th Centuries, European Society was influenced by the Renaissance — a “rebirth” or rediscovery of the classical worlds of Rome and Greece –and by a movement toward nationalism.
The Renaissance, while have a major impact on the other arts, had less influence on theatre in England than in Italy, where classic Roman plays were revived for performance. It was in Italy that the first steps were taken toward the development of the proscenium, or “picture frame”, stage with which we are so familiar today.In the England of the 15th and 16th Centuries, however, the proscenium stage was still in the future. The stages on which the works of a growing body of “play-makers” were performed evolved from the use of the enclosed courtyards of inns to stage performances. These “[apron stages]”were surrounded by galleries and were therefore “open” stages. Indeed, they were so “open” that members of the audience not only sat in the galleries surrounding the stage on three sides, and in the ground spacearound the elevated stage, but on the stage itself. The emphasis was on dialogue as opposed to blocking or action, and the plays still had a moralistic tone. The themes of religious virtue were replaced by those of loyalty to government or to a stable society.

b) Elizabethan Theatre and Shakespeare

It was in this world that William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote and acted in his plays in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre produced a number of notable playwrights, including Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson; but Shakespeare towers above them.At this time, the plays written and performed in England were still presented in open-air theatres.

Shakespeare and his contemporaries encouraged a more natural style of speaking, as opposed to the declamatory demagogue then practiced by some, but was not likely an advocate of the type of realism and natural character portrayal that we see in today’s theatres.


c) The Republic and the Restoration

In 1642, six years before the execution of Charles I, Parliament closed the theatres in England and, until the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, there was a little theatre in England. However, it was during this time that the influence of French theatre, and through it, Italian notions of theatre architecture, was experienced by English actors and royalists in exile.Theatre in France, and subsequently in England, was beginning to focus more on the mechanics of scenery and spectacle. The plays themselves were often masques in which costume, dance and clever scenery and scene changes were more emphasized than acting and plot. It was also during this time, when theatre was designed specifically for the royal pleasure that theatres began to be roofed in. 5

1.3. Development of Theatre in 18th, 19th, and 20th Century

a) The Eighteenth Century

During this time theatre emphasized a more natural form of speaking and acting that mimicked life. This had a tremendous impact on the art of acting, from which ultimately grew movements such as realism and naturalism. Audiences were finally banished from the stage, which shrunk to behind the proscenium where the actors now performed among the furnishings, scenery and stage settings. Plays dealt with ordinary people as characters. It was also in the 18th Century that commercial theatre began to make its appearance. 6

b) The Nineteenth Century

During the 19th Century, the Industrial Revolution changed the way people lived and worked — and it changed the face of theatre as well.Lighting was introduced in theatre. Emphasis was less on content and acting, and more on action and spectacle. Elaborate mechanisms for the changing and flying of scenery were developed, including fly-lofts, elevators, and revolving stages. Playwrights, due to the tastes of the public and copyright laws of the times, were poorly paid, and the result was the ascendancy of the actor and the action over the author. 7

c) The Twentieth Century

The 20th Century has witnessed the two greatest wars in history and social upheaval without parallel. The political movements of the “proletariat” were manifested in theatre by such movements as realism, naturalism, symbolism, impressionism and, ultimately, highly stylized anti-realism — particularly in the early 20th Century — as society battled to determine the ultimate goals and meaning of political philosophy in the life of the average person.At the same time, commercial theatre advanced full force, manifesting itself in the development of vastly popular forms of drama such as major musicals beginning and developing into full-blown musical plays. Advance technology was used in theatre and cost of production increased. 8

1.4. Theatre in Pakistan

a) Indrasabha

Urdu theatre grew out of the successful enactment of a play entitled Indrasabha (the Heavenly Court of Indra] written by Agha Hasan Amanat Ali in 1885. It was performed in the courtyard of the last Nawab of Oudh, Wahid Ali Shah. The operatic drama dealt with the love story between a fairy and Prince Gulfam. The fairy takes her lover to heaven where the vicious Indra dispels him back to Earth. The fairy tries effortlessly to win the heart of Indra by her dancing and her singing finally she succeeds and Indra reunites the two lovers. 9

b) Commercial Theatre

The arrival of commercial theatre in Lahore was in the early 1980s. The joint efforts of Naheed Khanum, Amanullah, Mastana and Baboo Baral ushered in the art the lively dialogues and innovative style was like a breath of fresh air for the citizens.

Unfortunately, commercial theatre is now in decline even though the number of theatergoers is steadily increasing. The general complaint in conservative circles is that commercial theatre is lowbrow and thrives on obscene dialogue and dances.

c) Alternative Theatre Groups

In Pakistan institutions such as Punjab Lok Rahs, Rafi Peer, Ajoka, and Interactive Resource Centre are promoting theatre art. The plays are focused on social issues and finding solution through art based development.

[1] For details see http://www.tctwebstage.com/oftheatre.htm

[2] For details see http://www.tctwebstage.com/shakspere.htm

[3] For details see http://www.tctwebstage.com/sincewill.htm

[4] For detail see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_in_Pakistan

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