Essay on 21st-Century Theatre and What Has Shaped It

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Imagine yourself sitting in a fairly dark and crowded room. There are hundreds of seats occupied by people around you. A stage lies in front of you, filled with actors, lights, music, and different sound effects to set the mood of the play. A combination of these accommodations has let viewers grasp the performance actors have been portraying. However, it hasn’t always been easy to enjoy these theatrical performances. Times have changed since ancient Athenian theater, however, that’s not to say modern-day conventions weren’t greatly influenced by their predecessors.

Taking a step back in time, the ancient Athenian theatre’s history began around the 6th century BCE with the Festival of Dionysus. Ancient Athenians held many of their performances at the Great Dionysia theater, in honor of their god Dionysia, the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, and pleasure. The plays generally fell into one of these categories: comedy, tragedy, or satire. Comedy included base, and vulgar humor, while tragic plays were about more serious matters than their comedic counterparts. Satirical plays existed as a compromise between the two and dealt with the same theme of tragic plays, but presented them in a comical manner. The plays back then often dealt with the interference of the gods in human life and society. 21st-century theatre is secular to appeal to all people as we live in a multicultural society with different beliefs. There are dramas that don’t conform to any ideas, such as political, social dramas, and absurdist dramas. The variety in plays and dramas is much more wide range with themes and conflicts involving human issues much more often. Humans often cause their own struggles and resolve the issues compared to the old-style dramatizations, with divine beings that would commonly create and/or settle the contention. Modern theatre, however, still draws many elements from the past, we still have comedy, tragedy, and satire, although often combined, in present movies, television shows, and dramatic performances. In addition, the modern symbol of drama, a smiling comedic mask and a weeping tragic mask, stems from comedies and tragedies.

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Theatres in Ancient Greece were known to be large open-air structures built on hill slopes. The theatre comprised three main elements: orchestra, skene, and audience. The orchestra, known as the ‘dancing place’, was the stage for plays, dancing, religious rites, and acting. The scene was backstage for performers and actors to change masks and costumes. At first, it started as a tent/hut before being converted into a permanent stone structure behind the orchestra. Tickets were also used to enter the theatre and were made of ivory. 21st-century theaters are modeled after Greek amphitheaters and still employ the same elements (orchestra, skene, audience, ticket system) to achieve their nearly flawless acoustics. However, theaters tend to be much smaller than their ancient Greek counterparts and are usually enclosed and indoors. The Dionysus, for example, could hold over 14000 people, a sharp contrast to today where the average theatre holds approximately one thousand people. This most likely stems from the fact that there are many more theatres today than in Ancient Greece, therefore, there is a greater amount of choice and variety.

Producers in ancient Greece often faced many limitations they had to deal with. Lighting effects were impossible unless perhaps the play was shown at a specific time of day. Changes in scenery were extremely scarce, and there were usually at most four scenes. The size of the theatre also posed a problem, the distance from the front of the stage to the back rows was about 300 feet. This meant an actor who measured 6 feet would have looked about half the size to the spectators in the back rows (they compensated with exaggerated acting and voice production). Today, many of us take special effects for granted, a luxury the ancient Athenians could not enjoy. Advancements in technology have allowed many of the limitations the producers often faced back in the day to be non-existent. Stage lighting and special effects such as dimmers, lasers, and fog machines help create the atmosphere of scenes and day/night cycles. Directors and production teams can now simply look up sound effects to download and use, whereas previously sound effects could take days to produce. Sound capturing devices like microphones allow sound production to be refined and broadcast throughout the theatre, whereas before they had to rely on the theatre’s design alone. Technology has helped define what theatre is today, in the 21st century, and now makes up a significant portion of the performance.

In conclusion, there are many similarities and differences between modern and ancient theatre. While today’s plays often serve different reasoning and purpose, common types such as comedies, tragedies, and satires are prevalent to this day. Design-wise, theatres remain mostly unchanged, with the only difference being indoors and much smaller. Finally, technology has helped reshaped theatre and let us bypass the many limitations that plagued ancient theatre. In the end, ancient Athenians have helped shaped 21st-century theatre and its different aspects in numerous ways.

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Essay on 21st-Century Theatre and What Has Shaped It. (2023, November 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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