Of the many types of entertainment and past times

we have today, theatre is still oneof the most loved. For this we have to thank the very earliest forms of ancient Greek
and Roman theatre. These ancient time plays were staged often in honor of a god and
have paved the way for theatre as we know today. A particular aspect that has had a
remarkable effect on the way theatre has evolved is the architecture of ancient
theatres. The architecture of ancient Greek and Roman theatres have had a
remarkable effect on future theatre designs including the architecture of the great
Elizabethan theatres.


The Elizabethan time period in England was ever so popular and well accepted that
specialised theatres were having to be built to cope with the large audiences. Before
this plays were being held in grape cellars and old farm houses, and so were not able
to provide a large enough venue or provide the larger than life atmosphere play
houses needed. By the time Elizabethan theatre was in the British mainstream the
plays were being held in two types of theatre, the public and private.

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The public Elizabethan theatres were much larger than the private ones and were the
preferred 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 the
theatre. Soon after other public theatres were built, including Shakespeares own The
Globe which was built in 1599. They could appear round, square or many sided and
where built surrounding a central courtyard. Performances were only during daylight
because there was no artificial lighting, even though many plays had night scenes. In
most theatres it consisted of three levels of viewing galleries and stood about 10
metres high. As well as being viewer platforms the part of the upper two galleries
that went behind the stage were used as a balcony to give the play vertical action as
well as horizontal. The courtyard, called the pit, measured about 17 metres in
diameter. Those wishing to watch the show from the pit could do so for a minimal
amount of money. People viewing a play in the pit surrounded the stage from three
sides, thus giving the audience a sense of being right in the action. For those that
were willing to pay a bit more there were the galleries with seats. But although these
galleries provided a seat to sit on they also stank of urine and sweat since there were
no toilets and people those days didnt bath much. These rather large theatres could
hold as much as 5600 people and were generally the choice of theatre for poorer
people, but built around an attractive courtyard with an open roof these theatres were
far from something shabby intended for lower class citizens. Proof that the public
theatre was not a cheap alternative for poorer people is the fact that Shakespeare and
other well known play writers wrote almost all their plays specifically for the public
theatres and often despised performing a play in the smaller rich persons private
theatre.


The Private Elizabethan theatres charged higher admission prices and were designed
to attract upper class citizens. Although these theatres were often owned by royalty
and attracted rather rich people to view plays they quickly went out of fashion and
eventually ceased to excist because Shakespeare wrote all his plays for public
theatres. Because of the unpopularity of these theatres not much is known about their
architecture except that they were small, had little equipment or basic machinery to
assist 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 the
architecture of ancient Greek theatres truly were traditional, in that they were huge
and grand. During the time that drama competitions were beginning to take place in
ancient Greece large ampitheatres were needed to be built in order to keep up with
the massive popularity of such drama competitions. Three major theatres were
constructed, notably 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 and during their heyday, the competitions drew as
many as 30,000 spectators. It was common for these large audiences to be noisy,
lively, emotional and unrestrained. They hissed, applauded, cheered and sometimes
broke out into a riot if they were unhappy with a play. These huge open air theatres
were always built where a steep hill met flat ground so that the tiers of seating could
be on the hill and the stage on the flat. The stage and stage wall were elaborate
structures made of wood and sandstone that provided a large set for actors to move
and dance in. Although scenic sets werent created and no props were used to
indicate a particular setting there was one permanent structure on the stage that
represented 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 scene
divisions.


Dionysus the wine god of which Greek tragedy originated to worship was at the
centre of every play around the time of the great tragedy era and so was included in
the architecture of ancient Greek theatres. At every theatre in ancient Greece there
was a statue of Dionysus the god of wine and tragedy at the centre of the stage. It was
common for a temple of Dionysus to be adjoined to the theatre and a procession
would occur from the temple to the stage of the theatre in honor of the god. This god
of Greek tragedy and wine was paid homage to during plays by actors acting out a
human sacrifice at the altar on stage.


The architecture of ancient Roman theatres were typically Italian in that they were
large, elaborately decorated and extremely tasteful to an artistic eye. The theatres of
the Roman world were quite different from those in Greece. They were built on flat
ground, not a hillside, with a large round surrounding wall of masonry that was well
decorated with pictures of gods and battle scenes. The focal point of the Roman
theatre 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 people
could stand and watch for free. It can be concluded from the many paintings on walls
and stage curtains that many plays of the time were based on the adventures of Zeus
and Hercules.


As the popularity of Roman theatre began to rise so did the number of Roman
theatres being built around Italy and the World. Roman theatres had been built all
over Italy, in Spain, France and North Africa. The overly garnished theatres included
a curtain which disappeared into a trough at the front of the stage, vividly painted
inner walls and a amazingly decorated stage wall. Spectators could indulge under the
shade of an awning while eating fruit that was sold at the theatre and if hot enough go
for a shower in perfumed water. The plays witnessed in these truly majestic
playhouses could not be compared with those seen in the simpler less visually
appealing 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 more
bareable. There isnt anything on this earth that has remained unaffected by it. And
no exception is the modern theatre as we know it today which has undergone changes
through various technology advances since ancient Greek and Roman times. In
particular the architecture of ancient Greek, Roman and Elizabethan theatres have
paved the way for the modern theatre buildings we have become to enjoy today.