The Greek Theatre Essay
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The amphitheatres of Ancient Greece were located on hillsides. A bowl shape was dug into a north facing slope for maximum sunlight. The amphitheatre complex contained the koilon, orchestra, proscenium, skene and parados. The koilon was the semi-circular, stacked seating area for the audience and was split into two sections; upper and lower diazoma. The area closest to the stage of the lower diazoma was reserved for priests, members of the council and officials. The upper diazoma operated under a free seating scheme.
This communicated to the audience that official people should be respected and have certain perks.
This might have made ordinary people work harder and aspire to hold a position of power. In front of the koilon was the orchestra: a circular piece of land approximately 60m in diameter. The orchestra was used by the chorus for their choral odes and stasimons. The chorus were a group of fifteen amateur performers who acted as a united group. The chorus entered at the beginning of a play chanting a song and marching at a slow pace.
The acting then commenced from professional actors. After a section of acting had taken place the chorus performed a stasimon; commenting on what has just been seen.
Stasimons included singing and dancing which added movement and spectacle to the play. For example in the first stasimon “ode to man” the language is mostly in the verb form indicating Sophocles was indicating movement should be included. Music was added to stasimons by musical instruments such as reed flutes and harps and would have kept the chorus in tempo as well as in tune with the music. As the chorus were trying to be a unified group the way they dressed would have been identical. The typical costume was a chiton and a hemateon. The chiton was made from two pieces of silk which were draped over the body and worn long.
A belt helped keep the pieces of material in place. The hemateon was a type of jacket and was made of wool. As the chorus were quite regal I believe that they would have worn plain white chiton on their bodies and loose fitting leather boots. To add to the image of unity and stature, identical masks would have also been worn. Masks were made from materials of the time: wood, feathers, ceramic or material. As the chorus had to have fifteen masks I believe they would have opted for a durable yet easily workable material such as wood with little or no decoration. In front of the orchestra was the proscenium which was followed by the skene.
The proscenium was an elevated stage upon which the main actors would act. The actors differed from the chorus as they represented one character instead of a group meaning they did not have to sing their lines but speak them. Music was therefore not needed for songs but was used to set the mood of an act. As “Antigone” is a tragedy, the music would have indicated sadness so the music would be slow in tempo and played in a low key. An example of where music might have set a sad mood could be when Creon finds out he is responsible for the deaths of three people.
The costumes of an actor were the same as the chorus’ chiton and hemateon but they were decorated more elaborately. This was done to help the audience distinguish different characters from each other and the chorus. Whilst the chorus’ costumes were plain white, actor’s costumes integrated colour and accessories. I think that a character such as Creon would have worn a boldly coloured chiton, red or blue, to show that he was a royal. He would have also been adorned in brooches and accessories most likely to be made of gold.
However, a character that was poorer, such as the Watchman, would have worn a light neutral colour such as a grey or beige and would have had fewer accessories, possibly only a few medals to show he was part of the army. Colour differentiation allowed the audience to identify the stature and wealth of a character. Actors had to play several characters so they had to be able to change costumes easily and costumes had to be durable. I therefore think that the chitons of the actors would have been made of linen which was more durable than the chorus’ silk.
All the actors of an Ancient Greek play were male; therefore special adjustments to costume had to be made when portraying a female such as Ismene. “Prosternada” were worn by men to give the appearance of female breasts and “Progastreda” were worn to give the appearance of a bigger belly (most women were larger than men or pregnant). For the very same reason masks were also worn. Male masks, such as Haemon’s, would have had bigger heads but no decoration around the face whilst female masks, such as Antigone’s, were more petite in size yet had the appearance of make up.
Actors’ masks were a lot more decorated than the chorus’ masks. Creon’s mask would have been highly ornate and contained gold leaf, feathers, jewels or crystals whereas the Watchman’s mask would have been plainer. Behind the proscenium was the skene: a building made to look like a castle or palace. The buildings had doors built into it so that it gave the appearance that characters were entering from different areas. There were two other entrances called “Paradoi” located between the skene and koilon.
If a character entered from the left parados then it meant he was coming from the fields or abroad whilst if it was the right parados signified the city or port. The Watchman enters from the left parados as he comes from the hill/field where Antigone is buried. The skene building was also used for costume changes and makeup as well as storing props. Props were made of material or wood. Material props were draped over the skene to give the appearance of a different building. Props such as Aeorema cranes were used to lift actors above the stage to give them the appearance of a god.
Such props needed to be strong so were made of wood. A modern performance of “Antigone” would have to be a careful mixture of old theatrical conventions with modern acting techniques and equipment. First of all the setting would be different. There are no Ancient Greek amphitheatres in my area so the play would be staged in our creative arts room. The room is a lot smaller than an amphitheatre but I foresee this to be an advantage. The audience would be able to sit a lot closer to the stage, feel the action of the play and be able to make a better relationship with the actor.
Modern audiences attend the theatre to watch action whereas ancient Greeks listened to the story. Audiences now-a-days bore easily unless there is some action on stage. Therefore, during a monologue, such as Antigone’s death speech, I would have some members of the chorus animating what Antigone is saying. The actors would create tableaus of what Antigone is saying. A good example of this would be when she says: “My tomb, my marriage my hollow scraped in dirt”. The list of three is especially effective aurally and if this was coupled with three different tableaus I believe maximum impact could be achieved.
Physical theatre would be used to create such tableaus and needs quite a few actors which is why the chorus will be used. Costumes would be radically different from the traditional Greek attire. A modern twist would be added to the costumes. Instead of chiton and hemateon, the actors would wear pants or skirts with a shirt depending on their gender. Male/female actors would wear trousers/skirts with a dress shirt in a colour dependant on their character type. In keeping with the traditional Greek play bold colours would be used for characters of a high status whilst neutral colours would be used for characters of a lower status.
Also, high status characters would have clothes made from expensive materials such as cashmere, satin or silk whilst low status characters would wear cotton or wool. Costumes will be so different because costume changes would be too long if a chiton was worn whereas changing a shirt is a lot quicker. Masks would also be taken out and replaced with made up faces. Masks make it very hard for the audience to understand what is being said as the voice is muffled whilst it is projected through the mouth piece. By abolishing the mask the actor is more able to clearly annunciate words.
As previously mentioned, monologues are hard for audiences to find interesting. By losing the mask, the actor is able to use their face more expressively to convey the story in a more visually interesting way and to help aid understanding of the plot. Make up would be very simple for a man, foundation and eyeliner, whilst females would have heavy eye makeup and red lips. This would allow the audience to distinguish between males and females easily as in ancient Greek, and even today, women wear make up whilst men do not. However, it would also make sure that the actors faces looked natural under the strong lighting used in modern plays.
Without make up actors often look pale which might communicate to an audience as a sick actor. As for staging, a solitary rostra block would stand in the middle of the stage and would be used by high status characters and the dead. High status characters would be able to stand on the block to gain height and to show the audience that they are greater than the other characters in terms of status. The block would be mainly dominated by Creon who is of highest status, being the king, but Tiresias would also use the block as he is the fountain of knowledge.
Death was never shown on stage but the bodies of the dead character were presented on stage to convince the audience that the person had died. Once the death has occurred offstage, two chorus members will carry on the dead character and place them on the rostra block for thirty seconds. All acting would cease whilst the dead person was presented to mimic a mourning period. The body would then be taken offstage. Spatially, there movement would be kept to a minimum on stage as this would make it hard for audiences to concentrate. As the acting space isn’t very large the chorus would have to stand up stage with their backs to the audience.