Friday, February 21, 2014

Ancient Roman Theatre

Ancient Roman Theatre

Ancient Roman Theatre can’t easily be categorized as one style or period of theatre. One reason for this is that it starts as a performing art around the 300 BC and ends around 400 AD included a great diversity of forms from street theatre to circus to the comedies of Livius Andronicus and Plautus to the Roman adaptation of Greek stories evident in the comedies of Terence to the ‘comedy of manners’ of Gaius Maecenas Melissus. 
Ancient Rome probably had its own native storytelling and rituals from very early times, but the Hellenic or Ancient Greek traditions seemed to start to influence Ancient Roman culture from about the late fourth century BC and developed into what we know of as Ancient Roman Theatre.
We have early records from the historian and philosopher Livy who describes Etruscan actors. Sometimes these performances are described as pre-Roman theatre performances. The first record we have of what we have come to know of as Roman Theatre are the plays and theatre of Livius Andronicus in about 240BC.

Ancient Romans were fond of spectacles and theatre like gladiatorial combat were popular. Thus most people associate melodramatic performances, mime, circus and physical comedy with Ancient Roman theatre. Often these performances would be crude and rude. Much early Ancient Roman Theatre would have used the plots and characters of Ancient Roman Theatre and many of the same techniques of satyrs would have been adapted and changed to an Ancient Roman context. Even the domestic comedies of Plautus (a carpenter turned actor turned playwright) and Terence (a slave turned playwright) use many of the forms and conventions of Ancient Roman Comedy. Archetypal characters, stereotypes and clowns were common in these comedies.

Plautus was prolific and wrote around 50 plays. Some of the most famous plays which have survived are Amphitryon, Bacchides, The Casket Comedy, Mercator and Persa. A good sense of his comedy is probably evident in the modern play and film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Terence produced at six plays in his short life including The Andrian Girl (166BC), The Mother-in-Law (165BC), The Self-Tormentor (163BC), The Eunuch (161BC), Phormio (161BC), Adelphi: The Brothers (160BC).

The most famous Ancient Roman playwright for tragedy was Seneca (4BC-65AD). He adapted plays from Ancient Greek playwrights. His plays pushed the boundaries of Ancient Rome and in 65AD he was forced by Nero to commit suicide due to offensive political and social commentary in one of his plays. Seneca agreed to this and slashed his wrists but this proved too slow and painful so Seneca called for poison. This also didn’t kill him, so his servants placed him in a hot copper bath and the steam suffocated him to death.
Ancient Roman Theatres

Ancient Roman theatres drew on the influence of Ancient Greek theatres and have much in common but there are many differences such as how they each constructed theatres and the shape of the Orchestra (see video Technology and Revolution in Roman Architecture). Probably the first permanent Ancient Roman theatre was the Theatre of Pompey and most Ancient Roman theatres based their structures and design on this theatre.Roman theatres were normally built on their own foundations, not into a hillside although there are exceptions (such as the Ancient Roman theatre in Petra in Jordan). In arena was quite high to avoid the noises of city life to enclose the performance so that the audience could not see the city or outside life however the audience were seldom quiet like modern audiences and many devices such as masks were used to make it easier for an unfocused audience to easily understand the performance.

Use of Masks and Costumes in Ancient Roman Theatre
Masks were one of the central conventions used in Ancient Roman Plays and the Roman Theatre. The masks were full head masks and an actor's entire head was covered by his mask. The designs of the mask was quite simple and they were made from were made cheap materials such as linen or cork. They had big holes for the mouth and the eyes. The masks were large and portrayed exaggerated expressions which could be seen from the back of the theatre so the audience could tell how the character was feeling and the mask conveyed simple emotions in its expression such as happiness, sadness, regret or fear. The masks were color coded, brown for men and white for women. Later Ancient Roman Comedy used half masks for certain characters.

The costumes were simple and colour was the major feature used to distinguish between characters and character types. Purple was used for rich male and female characters (women were mostly forbidden from acting so men played female parts). A red toga was used to represent a poor character and a striped tunic was used for a boy (sort tunics normally showed a character was a slave).

Use of Stock Characters in Ancient Roman Comedy
Like commedia del arte (which is derived from Ancient Roman Comedy), the comedy of Ancient Rome often used recognizable stereotypes or stock characters. Here are some of the most common from Ancient Roman plays:

Adulescens – the young, love-struck and not too brave lover.

Senex – normally the overly strict father or the miser. He sometimes has a stick or staff.

Leno – the amoral deviant. Sometimes owns a brothel or house of disrepute.

Miles gloriosus – the braggart soldier (the precursor to Il Capitano in the commedia del arte) is a character that is especially familiar today.

Virgo - (young maiden) is the love interest of the adulescens, but does not get much stage time. She is beautiful and virtuous but sometimes a little dim.
Ancient Roman Theatre Exercises and Discussion
1.    Why did Ancient Roman Theatre borrow so much from Ancient Greek Theatre?
2.    Why did Comedy become more dominant and popular in Ancient Roman society and cultural identity?
3.    Below is a translation of a speech from Plautus’ play The Casket Comedy. Try different ways of doing this speech using a variety of techniques from direct audience address through to acting styles based more on gestural acting.

ALCESIMARCHUS: I do believe it was Love that first devised the torturer's profession here on earth. It's my own experience--no need to look further--that makes me think so, for in torment of soul no man rivals me, comes near me. I'm tossed around, bandied about, goaded, whirled on the wheel of love, done to death, poor wretch that I am! I'm torn, torn asunder, disrupted, dismembered--yes, all my mental faculties are befogged! Where I am, there I am not; where I am not, there my soul is--yes, I am in a thousand moods! The thing that pleases me ceases to please a moment later; yes, Love mocks me in my weariness of soul--it drives me off, hounds me, seeks me, lays hands on me, holds me back, lures, lavishes! It gives without giving! beguiles me! It leads me on, then warns me off; it warns me off, then tempts me on. It deals with me like the waves of the sea--yes, batters my loving heart to bits; and except that I do not go to the bottom, poor devil, my wreck's complete in every kind of wretchedness! Yes, my father has kept me at the villa on the farm the last six successive days and I was not allowed to come and see my darling during all that time! Isn't it a terrible thing to tell of?

4.    Here is a translation of a speech from the character of Cassandra in Seneca’s play Agamemnon. Try acting this in a number of different styles from representational to declamatory.
Where am I? Fled is the kindly light, deep darkness blinds my eyes,
and the sky, buried in gloom, is hidden away.
But see! with double sun the day gleams forth,
and double Argos lifts up twin palaces! Ida's groves I see;
there sits the shepherd, fateful judge midst mighty goddesses.
Fear him, ye kings, I warn you, fear the child of stolen love;
that rustic foundling shall overturn your house.
What means that mad woman with drawn sword in hand?
What hero seeks she with her right hand,
a Spartan in her garb, but carrying an Amazonian axe?
What sight is that other which now employs mine eyes?
The king of beasts with his proud neck, by a base fang lies low,
an Afric lion, suffering the bloody bites of his bold lioness.
Why do ye summon me, saved only of my house, my kindred shades? Thee, father, do I follow, eye-witness of Troy's burial;
thee, brother, help of the Phrygians, terror of the Greeks,
I see not in thine old-time splendour, or with thine hands hot from the burning of the ships,
but mangled of limb, with those arms wounded by the deep-sunk thongs; thee, Troilus, I follow, too early with Achilles met; unrecognizable the face thou wearest, Deiphobus, the gift of thy new wife.
'Tis sweet to fare along the very Stygian pools; sweet to behold Tartarus savage dog and the realms of greedy Dis!
To-day this skiff of murky Phlegethon shall bear royal souls, vanquished and vanquisher.
Ye shades, I pray; thou stream on which the gods make oath, thee no less I pray: for a little withdrawn the covering of that dark world, that on Mycenae the shadowy throng of Phrygians may look forth.
Behold, poor souls; the fates turn backward on themselves.
They press on, the squalid sisters, their bloody lashes brandishing;
their left hands half-burned torches bear; bloated are their pallid cheeks, and dusky robes of death their hollow loins encircle;
the fearsome cries of night resound, and a huge body's bones,
rotting with long decay, lie in a slimy marsh.
And see! that spent old man, forgetting thirst,
no longer catches at the mocking waters,
grieving at death to come;
but father Dardanus exults and walks along with stately tread.

Further Reading and Resources
Banham, M. ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
Beacham, R.C. 1996. The Roman Theatre and Its Audience. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA.
Brockett, O.G. and Franklin J. H.. 2003. History of the Theatre. Ninth edition, International edition. Allyn and Bacon. Boston.

Roman Theatre. 2010. (YouTube Video).

2002. History of Theatre 3 – From Satyr Play to Comedy. USU.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ancient Greek Theatre

Ancient Greek Theatre

Origins of Ancient Greek Theatre

Ancient Greek Theatre had its origins in the dances, stories and rituals which worshiped Gods. Around 1200 BC religious rituals started to evolve in Thrace in Northern Greece which worshipped the god of fertility and procreation, Dionysus. The rituals surrounding the ‘Cult of Dionysus’ included sacrifices, wearing of masks, group dances and emotional altered states of release called ‘ecstasis’. Often the rituals involved the offering up of a tragic hero in stories or incantations to the God Dionysus. Soon after this time, the rites of Dionysus became mainstream and more formalised and symbolic. The death of a tragic hero was offered up to the gods rather than the sacrifice of animals like goats. By 600 BC these ceremonies were practised in spring throughout much of Greece and had evolved  (at least in Arion in Corinth) into ritual dithyrambic choruses.
Around 540 BC Pisistratus, tyrant of Athens, started the festival of the Greater Dionysia. This festival involved the telling of heroic stories and ritual dances being performed in a more formal and secular way, An essential part of the rites of Dionysus was the dithyramb. The word means 'choric hymn'. This chant or hymn was probably introduced into Greece and early accompanied of these chants probably were done by mimic gestures and, music. In its earliest form it was lead off by the leader of a group of dancers, who were probably dressed as satyrs (mythological half-human, half- goat servants of Dionysus) dancing around an altar. The choric rhythm was probably performed by a chorus of about fifty men.

The Development of Ancient Greek Dramatic Form
By 500 BC, the dithyramb was central to competitive performances at festivals. The dithyramb and the writing of dithyramb was popular with poets and with this popularity the subject matter of dithyramb started to include stories from all periods of Greek history, mythology and folk tales.
Around 534 BC, the poet and chorus leader, Thespis of Attica added an actor who interacted with the chorus but stepped out from the Chorus to tell, narrate or act out the story. This actor was called the protagonist, meaning the main character of a drama. This is where we get the modern term 'Thespians' meaning actor. In 534 BC, the ruler of Athens, Pisistratus, changed the Dionysian Festivals and instituted drama competitions. Thespis is said to have won the first competition in 534 BC. In the ensuing 50 years, the competitions became popular annual events. A government authority called the archon would choose and organise the competitors and the staging and arrange for the choregos or wealthy patrons to put money behind the production of certain plays and paying for the chorus. In this sense archons were the first directors in theatre. You may ask yourself why would rich patrons put money into these productions. Well, even in ancient Greece, backing productions attracted huge tax concessions so the funding of the arts was a way of tax avoidance. In return for funding a production, the choregos would pay no taxes that year.
The Development of Ancient Greek Theatre Amphitheatres
By 500BC, theatre spaces had started to evolve into specialist amphitheatre spaces and were constructed and many of these were constructed in a style similar to those seen today in the ruins of the theatre at Delphi, the Attic Theatre and the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens. The Theatre of Dionysus, built at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, could seat 17,000 people but some evidence suggests some venues could hold 30,000 people. The words amphitheatre and theatre come from the Ancient Greek word theatron, which referred to the seating or auditorium or wooden audience stands which were normally assembled on a hillside. Later stone seats were cut into some hillsides. The word orchestra comes from the Ancient Greek word for a platform where the chorus stood which was situated between the stage and the audience.
Plays and Performances
Ancient Greek plays were performed during the daytime and in Athens, annual drama competitions would be performed over four to seven days. Plays would go for about 90 minutes for each play. Actors probably wore little or no makeup. Instead, they carried masks with exaggerated facial expressions which indicated the gender, age, character and morals of the character being played. These were often made of wood covered in linen cloth. We learn much of what we know about Ancient Greek masks from Julius Plydeukes (2nd c. AD) who wrote about them but drew on many books from previous authors. Actors also wore cothornos, or buskins, which were platformed or elevated leather boots laced up to the knees. There was little or no scenery but later Ancient Greek drama used some elaborate stage devices like cranes. Initially, most of the action took place in the orchestra. Later, as the importance shifted from the chorus to the characters, the action moved to the stage.

The development of the Tragedy

Between 600 and 500 BC, the dithyramb had evolved into new forms, most notably the tragedy and the ‘satyr’ play. Tragedy, derived from the Greek words tragos (goat) and ode (song), told a story that was intended to teach religious lessons. Much like Biblical parables, tragedies were designed to show the right and wrong paths in life. Tragedies were not simply plays with bad endings, nor were they simply spectacles devised to ‘make 'em laugh and make 'em cry.’ Tragedy was viewed as a form of ritual purification, Aristotle's catharsis, which gives rise to pathos, another Greek word, meaning 'instructive suffering'. They depicted the life voyages of people who steered themselves or who were steered by fate on collision courses with society, life's rules, orsimply fate. The tragic protagonist is one who refuses out of either weakness or strength to acquiesce to fate: what for us now might better be described as the objective realities of life. Most often, the protagonist's main fault is hubris, a Greek, and English word meaning false or overweening arrogance. It could be the arrogance of not accepting ones destiny (i.e. as in Oedipus Rex), the arrogance of assuming the right to kill (Agamemnon), or the arrogance of assuming the right to seek vengeance (Orestes). Whatever the root cause, the protagonist's ultimate collision with fate, reality, or society is inevitable and irrevocable.

The Form of Tragedy

The traditional tragedy in Aeschylus' time (circa 475 BC) consisted of the following parts:

1. Prologue, which described the situation and set the scene

2. Parados, an ode sung by the chorus as it made its entrance

3. Five dramatic scenes, each followed by a Komos, an exchange of laments by the chorus and the protagonist

4. Exodus, the climax and conclusion

For Aristotle, what was important to Ancient Greek Tragedy was the arousing of fear and emotion, purging (catharsis) - the unities: unity of time place and character - Pathos (Greek for instructive suffering) which has come to mean the quality in something that arouses sympathy. Often used today to describe something sad but not necessarily tragic. Satyrs, trilogies of tragedies were interrupted by satyr plays (which made fun of characters in the tragedies around them). Hence the word tragedy. Comedy from Komodos which means 'merrymaking,' and 'singer.'

The Process of Production of an Ancient Greek Play for a Festival
The following timeline and account is intended to give a fair indication of the processes involved in putting on plays for a festival in Ancient Greece. 

  1. Around July-September, poets decided what four stories they would use for their four plays. Three had to be tragedy and one a satyr (a comedy based on a myth). Some poets decided to make their three tragic plays into a sequence or trilogy based on the same characters or stories. The poet then writes up a synopsis of these plays and may write a couple of versed speeches.
  2. Around October, poets would submit their play outlines for entry in competition in festivals to be held in late March for festival competitions such as the City Dionysia. These outlines were submitted to the archon eponymos. The archon eponymos then makes a decision on which three poets will get funding and thus what twelve plays will be performed at the next festival.
  3. Around December, the archon would contact successful poets and tell them what choregos (a wealthy Athenian citizen who would finance the production) he had paired them with. The choregos would pay for the chorus, the three actors and the set and costumes. The poet would also find out at this point, the three actors who had been chosen for their production.
  4. By January, the three poets have finished writing four plays each. The poets sometimes had access to public or private collections of scrolls of ancient history and myths. The plays were sent off so that about six copies could be made. This was all done by scribes who hand copied each play with great accuracy.
  5. The poet then wrote the music for chorus and then the poet would start working with the chorus on the dance and gestural movements for the plays. In this sense the poet was playwright, composer director and choreographer.
  6. By February, the poet has started to work with the actors as well as the chorus. Sometimes the choregos took a more central role in production but mostly directorial and choreographic decision were left up to the poet. Costumes and masks are ordered and made. Sometimes costumes and masks were not bought new but adjusted and remade. The poet continues rehearsals.
  7. Around late February, the Boule (the greater city council made up of 500 citizens) drew up a list of the ten kritai (judges) representing the ten Athenian tribes.
  8. Soon after the new moon appears on the 6th or 7th day of Elaphebolion, the Proagon starts. This is was the preparation ceremony where the poets, the archon, the choregos, the chorus and the actors all met together. The poets would probably have one day where they would have the amphitheatre to rehearse.
  9. On the 9th day of Elaphebolion when the moon had moved into its first quarter (around March 23 to March 28th), the City Dionysia would begin. On the first night of the festival, a statue of Dionysus would be paraded through Athens by flaming torchlight and would be placed at the theatre of Dionysus. The parade would include dignitaries and the choregoi. A contest of dithyramb usually happened on the first day and then on the second or third day, the play competition began in earnest with the tragedies.
  10. Soon after dawn, a piglet or goat was normally sacrificed at the altar. The yearly tribute or taxes would then be laid out before the altar. The honourable citizens and war heroes of the previous year would then be named. Then the 10,000 to 17,000 people would enter the theatron (theatre or auditorium). This was mostly made up of Athenian men, but female citizens, some children, metics (non-citizens) and foreigners were allowed to see tragedies. Women were not allowed to attend performances of satyr or comedy. The tragedies were normally performed first and the satyr in the late afternoon.
  11. In the afternoon of the last day of the City Dionysia (just before the full moon), the prizes would be awarded. First, second and third (last) place in the tragedy play competition would be announced. The winning poet/playwright of tragedy was given a wreath of ivy.
Aeschylus, the First Playwright
Until 484 BC the Athenian drama competitions consisted of a trilogy of dithyrambs and a satyr play. Their style of presentation was choral rather than dramatic. However, around 484 BC there appeared on the Athenian theatre scene a playwright named Aeschylus. Aeschylus turned the dithyramb into drama. He added a second actor (the antagonist) to interact with the first. He introduced props and scenery and reduced the chorus from 50 to 12. Aeschylus' Persians, written in 472 BC, is the earliest play in existence. Aeschylus' crowning work was The Oresteia, a trilogy of tragedies first performed in 458 BC. They tell the legend of Agamemnon, the Greek war hero who was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra, and the pursuit of justice by his children, Orestes and Electra. Thematically, the trilogy is about the tragedy of excessive human pride, arrogance or hubris. This hubris is required to murder a person for personal gain, as Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus do, as well as the hubris to in turn hunt down and kill them, as Orestes and Electra do. In the end, the Furies, vengeful emissaries of the gods, themselves bring Orestes and Electra to trial. Aeschylus makes a point that has been echoed by historians and dramatists, psychologists and crime writers for centuries since: that the root of evil and suffering is usually human arrogance. On a dramatic level, the plays convey the suffering of a family torn apart by patricide and matricide. Look at the video version translated into English by Paul Harrison.

The Periclean Age
Aeschylus' death in 456 BC coincided with the beginning of the Periclean Age, a period during which Athens' population grew to 150,000, its government embraced democracy (although two-thirds of its population were slaves), and the arts flourished. In a span of 60 years, Thucydides and Herodotus wrote their histories, the sophists, Socrates and Plato expounded their philosophies, and Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes wrote some of the world's best plays.
In 468 BC, Aeschylus was defeated in the tragedy competition by Sophocles. Sophocles' contribution to drama was the addition of a third actor and an emphasis on drama between humans rather than between humans and gods. Sophocles was a fine craftsman. Aristotle used Sophocles' play, Oedipus Rex for his classic analysis of drama, The Poetics. Sophocles' plays are suffused with irony. In The Oedipus Trilogy, Oedipus seeks the truth about his father's murder. The truth that awaits him, however, is that he is the murderer. The following short video gives a short introduction to Ancient Greek Theatre, Sopholces and Oedipus Rex.(Fate, Family and Oedipus Rex)

In all, Sophocles won 20 competitions. Although far behind Sophocles in the medal count with a mere five, Euripides has since eclipsed both Sophocles and Aeschylus in popularity. The modern attraction to him stems largely from his point of view, which finds a strong echo in modern attitudes. His plays were not about Gods or royalty but real people. He placed peasants alongside princes and gave their feelings equal weight. He showed the reality of war, criticised religion, and portrayed the forgotten of society: women, slaves, and the old. Euripides is credited with adding to the dramatic form the prologue, which "set the stage" at the beginning of the play, and the deus ex machina, which wrapped up loose ends at the close. Aside from those devices, there is less contrivance, fate or philosophy in Euripides than in either Aeschylus or Sophocles. There is instead a poignant realism, such as in this scene from the anti-war Trojan Women, in which a grandmother grieves over the daughter and grandson she has outlived. During his life, Euripides was viewed as a heretic and was often lampooned in Aristophanes' comedies. Extremely cynical of human nature, he became a bookish recluse and died in 406 BC, two years before Sophocles.
Tragedy was not the only product of Athens' flourishing theatre culture; comedy also thrived. Not only did the Greeks produce many lasting comedies; they also cast the moulds for many Roman, Elizabethan and modern comedies. The historical development of comedy was not as well recorded as that of tragedy. Aristotle notes in The Poetics that before his own time comedy was considered trivial and common -- though when it was finally recognised as an art form, the orphan suddenly had many fathers: Aristophanes and Old Comedy
Greek comedy had two periods: Old Comedy, represented by Cratinus and Aristophanes; and New Comedy, whose main exponent was Menander. Aristophanes theatrical works were presented at the Athenian festivals. Aristophanes and Cratinus used three actors, a chorus that sung, danced, and sometimes participated in the dialogue. The Chorus's address to the audience reveals the author's opinion. In these speeches, he ridicules the Gods, Athenian institutions, popular and powerful individuals, including Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Given the cultivated and scholarly culture of its ruling elite, Athens invited satire. Aristophanes assumed the task with zeal, aiming his lampoonery at those who stuck their heads above the crowd:
New Comedy
Comedy developed along similar lines as tragedy did, becoming more aimed at the common people and less concerned with its religious origins. By 317 BC, a new form had evolved that resembled modern farces. The use of overt satire, topicality and the pointed lampooning of celebrated characters to be found in Aristophanes' style were replaced by mistaken identities, ironic situations, ordinary characters and wit. This period is called New Comedy, and its two main practitioners were Menander and Phlyates. Menander is the more significant of the two. Most of his plays are now lost, but parts found their way into plays by the Roman playwrights Plautus and Terence (whom Julius Caesar called "a half-Menander"). From these works they were incorporated into Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, even the writings of St. Paul: "Bad messages belie good manners". In 1905 a manuscript was discovered in Cairo that contained pieces of five Menander plays, and in 1957 a complete play, Diskolos (The Grouch, 317 BC), was unearthed in Egypt. Menander's main contribution was to create a comedy model that greatly influenced later comedy. Unlike Aristophanes, his characters were not celebrities but ordinary people. The chorus in Menander's plays resembled a modern chorus -- singers and dancers who provided filler between acts; Menander sometimes portrayed them as drunken audience members. His characters were classic comedy archetypes, such as the curmudgeonly old man in The Grouch, who would become staples of comedy. Most of all, the style of comedy that Menander created, with its emphasis on mistaken identity, romance and situational humour, became the model for subsequent comedy.

 Ancient Greek Theatre Practical Exercises and Discussion

Choric Rhythm Exercises
The group stands in a circle. One person starts a chant which they accompany with a simple action or actions i.e. the person may say say "mee, may, mah" as a chant and this may be accompanied by the hands beating the chest then being flung out. The group repeats the chant and action with leader. The chant and action should be repeated many times until someone else (the new leader) begins another chant and action which the group repeats. This exercise builds group unity as well as exploring the chant and mimed action of the origins of Ancient Greek Theatre.

Group storytelling

Small groups of four, five or six are formed. One group volunteers to go first and stands in a line. The group is given a title to their story and a line that they must repeat as a group in a choric fashion i.e. Title - The Day the World Ended and the chorus line they may keep repeating is "This is the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine." The group starts with saying the choric line all together. Then one person (usually starting on the left works) steps out of the line and starts to improvise telling the story speaking a sentence or two or three. The person then steps back into the line and the group repeats the original choric line. Then another person steps out of the line and continues the story and after their line, they step back in line and the Choric bit is repeated. This continues until the story is finished.

How to make a model of an Ancient Greek Amphitheatre


Large piece of white card (for back wall), about 20cm high X 1m long

Large square piece of card (for base)

A4 sized pieces of white card

Rectangular box about shoe box size (for stage)

Paint & brushes (for scenery & other decorations)


Glue or sticky tape

Materials to make trees, people, etc.


Curve long strip of card into horseshoe shape and stick onto base (either glue flaps or use sticky tape)

Cut A4 cards in half lengthways and crimp to make seats

Stick onto wall and base as shown in diagram, all the way round

Use box as stage as shown; attach a flat piece of card as the scenery. Paint this first with trees, hills, buildings etc.

Add figures, trees and other decorations as desired

Further Reading and Resources on Ancient Greek Theatre


Goldhill, S. 1986. Reading Greek Tragedy. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Heath, M. 1987. The Poetics of Greek Tragedy. Duckworth. London.

Rehm, R. 1992. Greek Tragic Theatre. Routledge. London.

Winkler, J. and Zeitlin, F. 1990. Nothing to Do with Dionysus? Athenian Drama in its Social Context. Princeton University Press. Princeton.

Origins of Greek Drama

Burkert, W. "Greek Tragedy and Sacrificial Ritual." Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 7 (1966): 87-121.

Pickard-Cambridge, A.W. Dithyramb, Tragedy, and Comedy (1927) ________, second edition by Webster, T.B.L. (1962)

Winkler, J. "The Ephebes' Song: TragoƮdia and Polis." reprinted in Nothing to Do with Dionysus? (1990)
Taplin, O. The Stagecraft of Aeschylus (1977)

Winnington-Ingram, R.P. Studies in Aeschylus (1983)

Aeschylus (trans. Harrison, T.) The Oresteia. [video of play production]. 

Aeschylus (trans. Harrison, T.) The Oresteia. [video of play production]. 
Gardiner, C.P. The Sophoclean Chorus (1987)

Gellie, G. Sophocles: A Reading (1972)

Winnington-Ingram, R.P. Sophocles: An Interpretation (1980)
Foley, H. Ritual Irony: Poetry and Sacrifice in Euripides (1985)

Halleran, M. Stagecraft in Euripides (1985)

Michelini, A.N. Euripides and the Tragic Tradition (1987)

Segal, C. Dionysiac Poetics and Euripides' Bacchae (1982)

Cartledge, P. Aristophanes and His Theatre of the Absurd (1990)

Konstan, D. Greek Comedy and Ideology (1995)

McLeish, K. The Theatre of Aristophanes. London, 1980.
 Whitman, C.H. Aristophanes and the Comic Hero. Cambridge, MA., 1964.



Austin Theatre. 2012. How to Make a Greek Mask. Austin Theatre Productions. Austin, Texas.

National Theatre Discover. 2013. An Introduction to Greek Theatre. National Theatre. London.

Sophocles.Oedipus Rex. 1957. Tyrone Guthrie Production.(posted 2012).

Williamson, B. 2013. Ancient Greek Theatre Masks. London.