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Sometimes referred to as breaking the proscenium or breaking the fourth wall, the term refers to a speech or comment made by an actor directly to the audience about the action of the play or another character. The audience is to understand that this comment is not heard or noticed by the other characters in the play.
The process of determining the placement or location of actors on stage and planning their relative movement in a scene.
American usage refers to a sex and comedy variety show originally intended for male audiences only. In England, the burlesque refers to a satirical play or parody on some contemporary theme.
Itinerant open-air street players such as jugglers, conjurers or acrobats. May have derived from the term "buskin", which referred to the long boot worn by actors in Greek tragedy, and gradually came to mean any itinerant performer.
In the traditional dramatic sense, the most powerful moment in a play, following which the denouement occurs.
From the Greek, "revel-song", it originally referred to satiric plays of Aristophanes and Menander, as distinguished from the more pastoral "satyr plays" that may have pre-dated Dionysian tragedies. Often deriving their satirical or humorous nature from topical subjects, comedy is not as "ageless" as tragedies. In the more modern sense, the term applies to any play with a happy ending.
The words or actions at which an actor is expected to deliver a line or a crew member is expected to perform some task.
Passages of speech between characters in a play.
A literary work, such as a play, that tells a story through dialogue intended to be performed by actors. In theatre, the quality of being dramatic. In modern usage, the term drama has come to denote mean the opposite of comedy.
Movement that began about 1910 and that has application in painting, music and literature as well as drama. The term was first used in 1901 by Auguste Herve to works he'd painted in reaction against impressionism. The heyday of expressionist theatre in America was in the 1920's and 30's and was often a theatre of political and social protest.
Popular comedy in which horseplay and bodily assualt figure largely in contrived and often improbable situations. Farce has its antecedents in Greek satyr plays, the Roman fabula atellanae, and in other native, pastoral drama. It is, however, a higher form of theatre than burlesque, retaining elements of insight into the human situation.
The imaginary fourth wall that is removed from box set to enable the audience to see the action on stage. The term now applies to the "wall" separating audience and performers on any type of stage or even film and television. Thus, the term "breaking the fourth wall" refers to an actor speaking directly to the audience.
In 19th century theatre, the highest and cheapest seats in the house; often consisting of simple benches without backs. Those who occupied the gallery were sometimes referred to as "the gods", and were often among the more perceptive members of the audience. Ultimately the term "the gods" came to refer to the gallery itself
From the Latin interludium (between the play), the term refers to a short dramatic sketch in early English drama. The short, light pieces would be performed between the acts of more serious plays.
In Elizabethan theatre, members of a company who both acted and held an ownership interest in the company. Journeymen worked under a master in much the same manner as they had in medieval guilds.
Head-dress used to cover the face and enable the wearer to portray a particular character or animal. In theater, the term often refers to the masks worn by actors in Greek tragedy. Some accounts, perhaps apocryphal, state that these masks, in conjunction with devices contained in them, were necessitated by the vast size of Greek ampitheatres (the largest of which could hold between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators). It is more likely, however, that they were used for traditional reasons of permitting one actor to play more than one role and to lend dignity and mystery to the portrayal of the character.
Term applied to the last two plays of Aristophanes in ancient Greek theatre, and to those of his immediate successors in the early and middle 4th Century B.C. Plays of the Middle Comedy emphasized plot more and contained less revelry and broad satire than the plays of Old Comedy.
Long speech by a single actor. Similar to soliloquy. The speech is generally made by the actor as if speaking to himself and is revealing of his or her thoughts or feelings.
Playing obviously to the audience.
There were nine muses in Greek mythology -- the daughters of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. Three of these were particularly connected with theater: Melpomene, the muse of tragedy; Terpischore, the muse of dancing; and Thalia, the muse of comedy.
A platform stage surrounded on three sides by the audience. Derives from the thrust stage of the Elizabethan theatre.
Any work written to be acted, and entirely or mainly spoken. Derives from the Latin word ludus meaning, literally, "play" or recreation. A play may contain elements of musical performance, but if the music becomes the paramount means of telling the story, the it is referred to as Opera.
All physical items on stage with the exception of the scenery. This would include lamps, chairs, pens, paper, books and all manner of such things. Heavier items such as sofas, desks, etc., are really more a part of the scenery.
The opening in a "picture frame" stage. Came into use in Restoration theatre, replacing the thrust stage of Elizabethan theatre and was a standard feature of stages from the 17th Century until open or thrust stages, as well as theatres in the round came into extensive use again in the 20th Century. The proscenium stage was much influenced by the design of theatre houses designed Italy from the 16th Century forward. The proscenium helped to hide the machinery and equipment used to change settings in a production.
In modern theatre, the leading actor of a play, who is often set in conflict with an antagonist. The term derives from ancient Greek theatre in which it described the first actor to speak. Originally, Greek theatre consisted of one principal actor and a chorus. As two and then three actors were added, they were referred to as the Protagonist, Deuteragonist, and Tritagonist.
A large circular platform set onto the permanent stage, which can be turned. It has a separate stage on each half, divided by a wall, usually of scenic flats. This permits the actors to play a scene on the half facing the audience, while the the set is changed on the upstage half of the revolving stage.
Play in which sarcasm, irony and ridicule are used expose or attack folly or pretension in government or society.
Also known as Satyr Drama. In ancient Greece, farcical plays which followed, and served as ribald commentary on, the statutory three tragedies performed in the Dionysian contests in Athens. This type of play actually pre-dated the formal tragedies for which the contests were held and always included a chorus of Sileni or satyrs. These half man, half-horse creatures were the mythical companions of Dionysus. The plays were characterized by vigorous dancing, boisterous fun and indecent speech and gesture.
From the Greek skene, which was set up on the circumference of the acting area and provided a place for the actors to change masks, etc. The skene is actually the precursor of scenery in modern drama, because it came to be used to represent locations in later Greek comedy. The word scene, as used in modern theatre, denotes a unit of dramatic action in which conflict occurs.
See, Monologue. Soliloquy is passage of narrative spoken by a single actor in which his or her thoughts are revealed to the audience.
The area in a theatre upon which the play is performed. Traditionally a raised platform, but stages can also be at a level below a surrounding audience, as in theatres in the round.
No definition of theatre is broad enough, elastic enough, to encompass the entire scope of the dramatic arts in all their diversity -- dance, opera, ballet, worship, pageants, dialogue, acrobatics, circuses . . . the list could be almost endless; for theatre is the art where all arts meet. This having been said, the term as we will define it here means: (1) the building or buildings in which plays are produced and offered for viewing by an audience; and (2) the dramatic arts and the people who work in or study them. From the Roman theatrum.
Theatre in the Round:
Form of play presentation in which the stage is surrounded on all sides by the audience. One of the earliest forms of theatrical presentation, Theatre in the Round enjoyed a revival in interest as a consequence of the realism movement. A form of theatre arising out of this concept is that of the "promenade" production in which the actors move out from the stage and bring their performance amongst the members of the audience.
Greek poet from Icaria in Attica, usually considered the founder of drama, since he was the first to use an actor in his works, in addition to the chorus and its leader. He won the first Dionysian contest in Athens in the c. 534 B.C.
Thrust Stage :
See, also, Open Stage. Type of stage dating from the Elizabethan era. The stage has a backwall and is surrounded on the other three sides by the audience.
Play dealing in an elevated poetic style with events which depict man as the victim of destiny, yet superior to it. In the modern sense, fate or destiny has come to be replaced by character flaw, moral weakness or social pressure.
Stage direction referring to the back of the stage, or that part furthest from the audience. Originated from the fact that stages were originally raked at an upward angle from the front to the back of the stage.
Originally a term used to describe a play that was well-plotted in the early 19th Century, the term evolved by the end of the century to mean a play in which the plot was artificially logical.
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Esslin regarded the term "Theatre of the Absurd" merely as a "device" by which he meant to bring attention to certain fundamental traits discernible in the works of a range of playwrights. The playwrights loosely grouped under the label of the absurd attempt to convey their sense of bewilderment, anxiety, and wonder in the face of an inexplicable universe. According to Esslin, the five defining playwrights of the movement are Eugne Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, and Harold Pinter, although these writers were not always comfortable with the label and sometimes preferred to use terms such as "Anti-Theater" or "New Theater". Other playwrights associated with this type of theatre include Tom Stoppard, Arthur Kopit, Friedrich Drrenmatt, Fernando Arrabal, Edward Albee, N.F. Simpson, Boris Vian, Peter Weiss, Vaclav Havel, and Jean Tardieu.
Although the Theatre of the Absurd is often traced back to avant-garde experiments of the 1920s and 1930s, its roots, in actuality, date back much further. Absurd elements first made their appearance shortly after the rise of Greek drama, in the wild humor and buffoonery of Old Comedy and the plays of Aristophanes in particular. They were further developed in the late classical period by Lucian, Petronius and Apuleius, in Menippean satire, a tradition of carnivalistic literature, depicting "a world upside down." The morality plays of the Middle Ages may be considered a precursor to the Theatre of the Absurd, depicting everyman-type characters dealing with allegorical and sometimes existential problems. This tradition would carry over into the Baroque allegorical drama of Elizabethan times, when dramatists such as John Webster, Cyril Tourneur, Jakob Biederman and Calderon would depict the world in mythological archetypes. During the nineteenth century, absurd elements may be noted in certain plays by Ibsen and, more obviously, Strindberg, but the acknowledged predecessor of what would come to be called the Theatre of the Absurd is Alfred Jarry's "monstrous puppet-play" Ubu Roi (1896) which presents a mythical, grotesque figure, set amidst a world of archetypal images. Ubu Roi is a caricature, a terrifying image of the animal nature of man and his cruelty. In the 1920s and 1930s, the surrealists expanded on Jarry's experiments, basing much of their artistic theory on the teachings of Freud and his emphasis on the role of the subconscious mind which they acknowledged as a great, positive healing force. Their intention was to do away with art as a mere imitation of surface reality, instead demanding that it should be more real than reality and deal with essences rather than appearances. The Theatre of the Absurd was also anticipated in the dream novels of James Joyce and Franz Kafka who created archetypes by delving into their own subconscious and exploring the universal, collective significance of their own private obsessions. Silent film and comedy, as well as the tradition of verbal nonsense in the early sound films of Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, and the Marx Brothers would also contribute to the development of the Theatre of the Absurd, as did the verbal "nonsense" of Franois Rabelais, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, and Christian Morgernstern. But it would take a catastrophic world event to actually bring about the birth of the new movement.
World War II was the catalyst that finally brought the Theatre of the Absurd to life. The global nature of this conflict and the resulting trauma of living under threat of nuclear annihilation put into stark perspective the essential precariousness of human life. Suddenly, one did not need to be an abstract thinker in order to be able to reflect upon absurdity: the experience of absurdity became part of the average person's daily existence. During this period, a "prophet" of the absurd appeared. Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) rejected realism in the theatre, calling for a return to myth and magic and to the exposure of the deepest conflicts within the human mind. He demanded a theatre that would produce collective archetypes and create a modern mythology. It was no longer possible, he insisted, to keep using traditional art forms and standards that had ceased being convincing and lost their validity. Although he would not live to see its development, The Theatre of the Absurd is precisely the new theatre that Artaud was dreaming of. It openly rebelled against conventional theatre. It was, as Ionesco called it "anti-theatre". It was surreal, illogical, conflictless and plotless. The dialogue often seemed to be complete gibberish. And, not surprisingly, the public's first reaction to this new theatre was incomprehension and rejection.
The most famous, and most controversial, absurdist play is probably Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The characters of the play are strange caricatures who have difficulty communicating the simplest of concepts to one another as they bide their time awaiting the arrival of Godot. The language they use is often ludicrous, and following the cyclical patter, the play seems to end in precisely the same condition it began, with no real change having occurred. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as "the play where nothing happens." Its detractors count this a fatal flaw and often turn red in the face fomenting on its inadequacies. It is mere gibberish, they cry, eyes nearly bulging out of their head--a prank on the audience disguised as a play. The plays supporters, on the other hand, describe it is an accurate parable on the human condition in which "the more things change, the more they are the same." Change, they argue, is only an illusion. In 1955, the famous character actor Robert Morley predicted that the success of Waiting for Godot meant "the end of theatre as we know it." His generation may have gloomily accepted this prediction, but the younger generation embraced it. They were ready for something new—something that would move beyond the old stereotypes and reflect their increasingly complex understanding of existence.
Whereas traditional theatre attempts to create a photographic representation of life as we see it, the Theatre of the Absurd aims to create a ritual-like, mythological, archetypal, allegorical vision, closely related to the world of dreams. The focal point of these dreams is often man's fundamental bewilderment and confusion, stemming from the fact that he has no answers to the basic existential questions: why we are alive, why we have to die, why there is injustice and suffering. Ionesco defined the absurdist everyman as "Cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots … lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless." The Theatre of the Absurd, in a sense, attempts to reestablish man's communion with the universe. Dr. Jan Culik writes, "Absurd Theatre can be seen as an attempt to restore the importance of myth and ritual to our age, by making man aware of the ultimate realities of his condition, by instilling in him again the lost sense of cosmic wonder and primeval anguish. The Absurd Theatre hopes to achieve this by shocking man out of an existence that has become trite, mechanical and complacent. It is felt that there is mystical experience in confronting the limits of human condition."
One of the most important aspects of absurd drama is its distrust of language as a means of communication. Language, it seems to say, has become nothing but a vehicle for conventionalized, stereotyped, meaningless exchanges. Dr. Culik explains, "Words failed to express the essence of human experience, not being able to penetrate beyond its surface. The Theatre of the Absurd constituted first and foremost an onslaught on language, showing it as a very unreliable and insufficient tool of communication. Absurd drama uses conventionalised speech, clichs, slogans and technical jargon, which it distorts, parodies and breaks down. By ridiculing conventionalised and stereotyped speech patterns, the Theatre of the Absurd tries to make people aware of the possibility of going beyond everyday speech conventions and communicating more authentically."
Absurd drama subverts logic. It relishes the unexpected and the logically impossible. According to Sigmund Freud, there is a feeling of freedom we can enjoy when we are able to abandon the straitjacket of logic. As Dr. Culik points out, "Rationalist thought, like language, only deals with the superficial aspects of things. Nonsense, on the other hand, opens up a glimpse of the infinite."
What, then, has become of this wonderful new theatre—this movement that produced some of the most exciting and original dramatic works of the twentieth century? Conventional wisdom, perhaps, suggests that the Theatre of the Absurd was a product of a very specific point in time and, because that time has passed, it has gone the way of the dinosaur. In a revised edition of his seminal work, Martin Esslin disagrees: "Every artistic movement or style has at one time or another been the prevailing fashion. It if was no more than that, it disappeared without a trace. If it had a genuine content, if it contributed to an enlargement of human perception, if it created new modes of human expression, if it opened up new areas of experience, however, it was bound to be absorbed into the main stream of development. And this is what happened with the Theatre of the Absurd which, apart from having been in fashion, undoubtedly was a genuine contribution to the permanent vocabulary of dramatic expression…. [it] is being absorbed into the mainstream of the tradition from which … it had never been entirely absent … The playwrights of the post-Absurdist era have at their disposal, then, a uniquely enriched vocabulary of dramatic technique. They can use these devices freely, separately and in infinite variety of combinations with those bequeathed to them by other dramatic conventions of the past." In a New York Times piece entitled "Which Theatre is the Absurd One?", Edward Albee agrees with Esslin's final analysis, writing, "For just as it is true that our response to color and form was forever altered once the impressionist painters put their minds to canvas, it is just as true that the playwrights of The Theatre of the Absurd have forever altered our response to the theatre."
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