The ancient Greeks loved live theatre.
Every town had at least one open air theatre. These theatres attracted
crowds of 15,000 people. Each town bragged about how wonderful their
plays were and how marvelous their actors were.
The Greeks were very competitive. They
had drama contests between towns. Winners were treated with great
respect, nearly as much respect as the Olympic winners.
Many Greeks tried to become famous
playwrights. One of the most successful and famous was a Greek named Sophocles.
Sophocles wrote 120 plays! His plays were a popular draw.
The Greek architects built theatres on
hillsides. That let them position long benches in rows, one above the
other, so that everyone could see what was happening on the stage. The
stage was located at the bottom of the hill. They could also hear.
Greek theatres had great acoustics by design.
The ancient Greeks invented three types
of plays. Tragedies always had a sad ending. Comedies always had a
happy ending. And satires poked fun at real people and events. (In
ancient Greece, it was illegal to poke fun at the gods. Punishment for
mocking the gods was death.) Comedies and tragedies entertained, but a
well written satire could sway public opinion.
Each play was told in two different
ways at the same time. The story was told out loud by a Greek
chorus. The story was acted out by performers who did not speak.
These performers, or actors, told story using masks and gestures.
The same actor might play several different roles. All he had to
do was switch masks. Still, it took talent to be a great actor,
just as it does today. Thespis was one of the most famous and
successful actors in all of ancient Greece. In his honor, actors
today are called thespians.
Theatre (British Museum)