A theatre is a place where ceremonies and performances can be watched by a large audience. At first designed for public meetings and religious ceremonies, they gave birth to, and were later built for, dramatic performances and musical recitals of a secular nature. The population growth and flourishing of dance and drama in the period covered by this encyclopædia necessitates the continual construction of extra theatres.

At first the functions of the theatre were served by the primitive agora, but the function of the theatre specialised to other sites very early. The ideal site for an early theatre was a small coomb or bowl-shaped hollow. The first works on such sites were the construction of a temple and the flattening and smoothing of an orchestra, a place for dancing. This simple form is the dominant type in the Archaic Period, and survives for lesser shrines in rural areas and for small communities through the Classical Period and the Decadent Period.

Later, and in richer communities, the theatre is improved and extended by earthworks: extending, improving, and regularising the slope the audience sit on. A platform behind the orchestra is constructed for musicians and for the officiating priests at some ceremonies. In the Archaic Period there is already seating (usually wooden) at most major theatres.

Later still, beginning after the close of the Archaic Period, a ramp is added on each end of the stage, and a wall or building is erected behind the stage to improve acoustics. The whole assembly behind the orchestra is called the skenion, recalling the erection of temporary scenery painted on canvas (Elusian: skenion= “tent”).

By the Decadent Period many theatres have been extensively improved. The orchestra has been moved toward the hill somewhat, the slope of the auditorium being made steeper, and stone benches have been provided. Some theatres, particularly those associated with shrines at some distance from cities, have had nothing further done. Theatres in the cities, now used mostly for dramatic performances, and new theatres have a [new] skenion built according to a rigid plan, often of stone. The decadent skenion provides five separate areas for performing in, which can be used to represent different places or parts of a scene: a room in a house and the street outside, for example, or the battlements of a city wall, the space outside the gate, and the defending general’s council-chamber.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.