In the Theatre Unit, we learned what goes into the creation of this live performance art. We learned about the different genres of theatrical performances. We discovered information about the structure of the physical theatre space and the design components on stage. We also learned how viewing live performances can move us and how to analyze theatrical works.
What Is It?
Theatrical works are categorized by the topics and themes of the performance into major genres. The main genres of theatre are:
How Is It Put Together?
A play cannot be produced without the words that form the backbone of the production. A playwright is a person who writes a script. A script is a written document that contains two parts, dialogue, and stage directions. Dialogue is the words that characters speak. Stage directions are the written directions that tell performers how to move or speak on stage. Stage directions may also contain information about the visual elements of the set if the playwright wants to include them.
Typically, a script follows the pyramid story structure of exposition, rising action, climax, denouement, and conclusion. Playwrights often utilize plot devices to help the audience understand characters and the situations in the story better, these can include foreshadowing, flashback, setting information, discovery, and reversals. Within a play, there are both major and minor characters. A protagonist is a character whom the story revolves around and the antagonist is the character that opposes the protagonist. A foil is a character that contrasts the qualities of another character. In theatre, stereotypes are often used as a way to quickly convey information to the audience.
Themes make up the intellectual context of plays. Plays can have many layers of themes that can be interpreted differently in different productions based on the way the production is presented. The different audience members also bring their own life experiences to each performance to interpret the work in their own way and may see themes others would not.
The physical space of the theatre was invented in Ancient Greece. The word theatre, theatron, comes from a Greek word, meaning “a place for seeing.” Aristotle described the concept of aesthetic distance as the physical and emotional distance audience members have during a performance. This distance changes based on the physical design of the theatre. There are four types of theatres:
Black Box or Flexible Space
The design of the set greatly affects the way the actor interacts with the physical space and also has tremendous importance for how the audience interprets the work. A scenic designer works with the director to interpret the script, create a storyboard, then a scale model of the set, and finally works with the technical workers to build their designs.
Lighting designers and sound designers work with the director to help craft the world of the play as well. Both light and sound help to bring to life important moments in the story, heighten emotion, and make the story more realistic.
Moveable pieces on set also aid in the story-telling of a production. Props, both hand props, and set props are used to convey information to the audience and help make up the world of the play. Costume design is essential in reflecting time and place, accenting important characters, and revealing information about each character. Make-up is also used to define a characters’ personality, both through facial makeup and the use of wigs to help tell the story.
The actor is the main channel of communication with the audience, they convey the words of the playwright. Actors must be able to handle the emotional weight of their character by understanding the objective and super-objective in the play. The actor must also be able to meet the technical demands of the work through being articulate, projecting their voice, having the physical and voice requirements the character needs, and being able to deal with technical glitches that occur at the moment.
The director is the creative leader of the production. The director works to bring the script to life by collaborating with the design teams and actors. It is the director who unites all the pieces of the production into a unified whole.
How Does It Stimulate The Senses?
Live theatrical performance is an odd thing, as we know that we are witnessing people pretending to be other people, pretending they are not being watched by people while they are doing this. In order to overcome this strangeness, we must apply what is known as suspension of disbelief, being willing to believe in the performance despite any doubts about the performance. This can only be done if the actors do a good job and inspire empathy in the audience. Empathy is the ability to feel the emotions of someone else.
What Does It Mean?
Live theatrical performance means that there is only one chance to see that performance unless it is recorded. In order to fully appreciate a production, it is important to pay attention to what you can do before, during, and after a performance when attempting to analyze that production. Before the performance, read the play to have a better idea of what to expect. During the performance, take notice of as much as you can of any changes to the original work and how the production was done as you can. After the performance, be objective and support your argument with specific examples from the performance.