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Ancient Greek Theater Background on Ancient Greek Theater Entrance to the Roman Theater of Dionysos According to legend, late in the sixth century BCE a man named Thespis first had the idea to add speaking actors to the performances of choral song and dance that occurred on many occasions throughout Greece. (That is why actors are sometimes called 'thespians' .) Masked actors performed outdoors, in daylight, before audiences of 12,000 or more at festivals in honor of Dionysus , the god of festivals. The comedy and tragedy that developed in Athens and flourished in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE (Before Common Era) have influenced nearly all subsequent Western drama, starting with that of the Romans. When the Romans conquered Greece, they took Greek literature back to Italy and set about making it their own. Most of the remains of the theater of Dionysus which we can see in Athens today date to Roman times and not the fifth century BCE. Ancient Greek theater normally means Greek Theater in Athens during the 5 th Century BCE. These early dramas did more that act a story. These were stylized dramas with meanings behind the obvious. Understanding a Greek play is only possible if the symbolic significance of the actions, actors, and stage is revealed. Many words associated with theater have roots in Greek. Our word theater is derived from the Greek word theatron , which contains the stem of the verb theasthai 'to view as spectators.’ Drama is a Greek word meaning 'action', related to the verb dran 'to do'. Many dramas were presented in the theater in Athens, yet only 43 plays have been found intact. There were, however, many plays, comedies, and commentaries left in fragments. The theater of Dionysus that survives today holds the remains of an elaborate stone skene; its paved orchestra and marble seats were built in the last part of the fourth century BC. This stone theater had a capacity of approximately 15,000 spectators; the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were held in the earlier wooden theaters and viewed by audiences of comparable numbers. Start of Ancient Greek Theater Ancient Greek theater was a "... mixture of myth, legend, philosophy, social commentary, poetry, dance, music, public participation, and visual splendor." It began as a religious ceremony. The theater of Dionysus was, like all ancient Greek theaters, an open-air auditorium and, due to the lack of adequate artificial lighting, performances took place during the day. Scenes set at night had to be identified as such by the actors or the chorus; the audience, upon receiving these verbal cues, had to use its imagination. The action of a tragedy normally takes place in front of palaces, temples and other outdoor settings. This seemed natural to the ancient audience because Greek public affairs, whether civic or religious, were conducted out of doors as was much of Greek private life due to the relatively mild climate of the Aegean area.
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