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Serge Sudeikin's poster for the Bat Theatre (1922).
Serge Sudeikin's poster for the Bat Theatre (1922).
For other usages see Theatre (disambiguation)

Theatre is that branch of the performing arts concerned with acting out stories in front of an audience using combinations of speech, gesture, music, dance, sound and spectacle — indeed any one or more elements of the other performing arts. In addition to the standard narrative dialogue style, theatre takes such forms as opera, ballet, mime, kabuki, classical Indian dance, Chinese opera, mummers' plays, and pantomime.


Overview of theatre

"Drama" (literally translated, is defined as: Action) is that branch of theatre in which speech, either from written text (plays), or improvised is paramount. "Musical theatre" is a form of theatre combining music, songs, dance routines, and spoken dialogue. However, theatre is more than just what one sees on stage. Theatre involves an entire world behind the scenes that creates the costumes, sets and lighting to make the overall effect interesting. There is a particularly long tradition of political theatre, intended to educate audiences on contemporary issues and encourage social change. Various creeds, Catholicism for instance, have built upon the entertainment value of theatre and created (for example) passion plays, mystery plays and morality plays.

There is an enormous variety of philosophies, artistic processes, and theatrical approaches to creating plays and drama. Some are connected to political or spiritual ideologies, and some are based on purely "artistic" concerns. Some processes focus on a story, some on theatre as an event, some on theatre as a catalyst for social change. According to Aristotle's seminal theatrical critique Poetics, there are six elements necessary for theatre. They are Plot, Character, Idea, Language, Song, and Spectacle. The 17th-century Spanish writer Lope de Vega wrote that for theatre one needs "three boards, two actors, and one passion". Others notable for their contribution to theatrical philosophy are Konstantin Stanislavski, Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Orson Welles, Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski.

The most recognisable figures in theatre are the playwrights and actors, but theatre is a highly collaborative endeavour. Plays are usually produced by a production team that commonly includes a director, scenic or set designer, lighting designer, costume designer, sound designer, dramaturg, stage manager, and production manager. The artistic staff are assisted by technical theatre personnel who handle the creation and execution of the production.

Why Live Theatre?

"Live" theatre is the opposite to a fixed performance that has been captured on film or tape. The fixed performance is set in concrete -- but who says that is the best portrayal of the role or the best performance of that story that will ever be done?

The actors’ delivery will be made to relate significance to the audience at that performance. The show might have a flavor that has been crafted to strike something in the audience that relates to present current events.

In a live performance the audience is entranced -- their disbelief suspended. This requires the audience to further utilize their imagination and their creative abilities. The reactions to the work can have an even greater impact.

The actors can modify their performance to respond to the audience’s reactions. There is an energy that flows both ways. With reference to audiences, there are sometimes "dead" houses though the performance material is good and consistent night-after-night. When feeling the presence of the "dead" audience, some gifted actors can actually raise the bar, turn up or modify the energy of the performance and even turn the house completely around!

You witness a specialized form of theatre and artistry: the story is being portrayed from beginning to end –- the actor living this full arc of life in sequence over a period of perhaps two hours. The maintaining of the created role provides the audience with a unique opportunity to see the actor undergoing a sustained three dimensional experience. Some actors cannot or will not do stage plays due to the subjective emotional and physical intensity of this form of stagecraft.

The audience experiences a "Human-to-Human" event, an intimacy that is created only with this medium. Finally, when you see live theatre you will experience something that is unique . . . an interpretation or even a once-only performance that results in a brilliant act of serendipity that may never be seen again!


Genres of theatre

Konstantin Somov's illustration for The Theatre by Alexander Blok (1909).
Konstantin Somov's illustration for The Theatre by Alexander Blok (1909).

There are a variety of genres that writers, producers and directors can employ in theatre to suit a variety of tastes:

  • Musical theatre: A theatrical genre in which the primary means of performance is through singing and music.
  • Opera: Theatre in which the emotional content is conveyed primarily by music, and most or all of the dialogue is sung rather than spoken.
  • Rock opera: Same style as opera, except that the musical form is rock music.
  • Comedy: Comes from the Greek word komos which means celebration, revel or merrymaking. It does not necessarily mean funny, but more focuses on a problem that leads to some form of catastrophe which in the end has a happy and joyful outcome.
  • Farce: A comic dramatic piece that uses highly improbable situations, stereotyped characters, extravagant exaggeration, and violent horseplay.
  • Pantomime: A form of musical drama in which elements of dance, puppetry, slapstick and melodrama are combined to produce an entertaining and comic theatrical experience, often designed for children.
  • Romantic comedy: A medley of clever scheming, calculated coincidence, and wondrous discovery, all of which contribute ultimately to making the events answer precisely to the hero's or heroine's wishes, with the focus on love.
  • Comedy of situation: A comedy that grows out of a character's attempt to solve a problem created by a situation. The attempt is often bumbling but ends up happily.
  • Comedy of manners: Witty, cerebral form of dramatic comedy that depicts and often satirises the manners and affectations of a contemporary society. A comedy of manners is concerned with social usage and the question of whether or not characters meet certain social standards.
  • Commedia dell'arte: Very physical form of comedy which was created and originally performed in Italy. Commedia uses a series of stock characters and a list of events to improvise an entire play.
  • Black comedy: Comedy that tests the boundaries of good taste and moral acceptability by juxtaposing morbid or ghastly elements with comical ones.
  • Melodrama: Originally, a sentimental drama with musical underscoring. Often with an unlikely plot that concerns the suffering of the good at the hands of the villains but ends happily with good triumphant. Featuring stock characters such as the noble hero, the long-suffering heroine, and the cold-blooded villain.
  • Tragedy: A drama that treats in a serious and dignified style the sorrowful or terrible events encountered or caused by a heroic individual.
  • Tragicomedy: A drama that has a bitter/sweet quality, containing elements of tragedy and comedy.
  • Domestic drama: Drama in which the focus is on the everyday domestic lives of people and their relationships in the community that they live in.
  • Fantasy: The creation of a unique landscape on a which a hero goes on a quest to find something that will defeat the powers of evil. Along the way, this hero meets a variety of weird and fantastic characters.
  • Morality play: A morality play is an allegory in which the characters are abstractions of moral ideas.
  • Monologue: A dramatic monologue is any speech of some duration addressed by a character to a second person. A soliloquy is a type of monologue in which a character directly addresses an audience or speaks his thoughts aloud while alone or while the other actors keep silent.
  • Physical theatre: Theatrical performance in which the primary means of communication is the body, through dance, mime, puppetry and movement, rather than the spoken word.
  • Meta-Theater: A genre of theater made popular with mostly modern audiences, although it did start back in the Elizabethan Era. Meta-Theater is when a play often completely demolishes the so called "fourth wall" and completely engages the audience. Often times about a group of actors, a director, writer and so on. It usually blurs the line between what is scripted and what goes on by accident.

This list is not only somewhat incomplete and eurocentric, but none of the genre listed are actually mutually exclusive. The richness of live theatre today is such that its practitioners can borrow from all of these elements and more, and present something that is a multi-disciplinary melange of pretty much everything.

Theatre or Theater?

The traditional spelling of this word is "theatre", which is used in Britain and Commonwealth Countries.

In the United States "theater" has become more common, however both spellings are in wide use. The general consensus of most American style guides is to use "theater", unless the word is part of the proper name of a performing arts facility or company [1][2][3]. However, both "theater" and "theatre" are widely accepted when referring to the branch of the arts.

For some people in the U.S., "theatre" denotes a branch of the performing arts, whereas "theater" refers to the building in which performances or other entertainment is presented. Among theatre professionals in the U.S., "theatre" is common for both the art and the building, and some venues are branded with "theatre".

Theatre venues and styles

Awards in theatre

See also

External links

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