Theatre (or theater, see spelling differences) is the branch of the performing arts defined by Bernard Beckerman as what "occurs when one or more persons, isolated in time and/or space, present themselves to another or others." By this broad definition, theatre has existed since the dawn of man, as a result of human tendency for story telling. Since its inception, theatre has come to take on many forms, often utilizing elements such as speech, gesture, music, dance, and spectacle, combining the other performing arts, often as well as the visual arts, into a single artistic form.
The word derives from the Ancient Greek theatron (θέατρον), meaning "the seeing place".
See main article: History of theatre.
The earliest recorded theatrical event dates back to 2500 BC with the sacred plays of the myth of Osiris and Isis performed in Ancient Egypt. This story of the god Osiris was performed annually at festivals throughout the civilization, marking the known beginning of a long relationship between theatre and religion.
The ancient Greeks began formalizing theatre as an art, developing strict definitions of tragedy and comedy as well as other forms, including satyr plays. Like the religious plays of ancient Egypt, Greek plays made use of mythological characters. The Greeks also developed the concepts of dramatic criticism, acting as a career, and theatre architecture.
Western theatre continued to develop under the Roman Empire, in medieval England, and continued to thrive, taking on many alternate forms in Spain, Italy, France, and Russia in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The general trend over the centuries was away from the poetic drama of the Greeks and the Renaissance and toward a more realistic style, especially following the Industrial Revolution. A uniquely American theatre developed along with the colonization of North America.
The history of Eastern theatre is traced back to 1000 BC with the Sanskrit drama of ancient Indian theatre. Chinese theatre also dates back to around the same time. Japanese forms of Kabuki, Noh, and Kyogen date back to the 17th century. Other Eastern forms were developed throughout China, Korea, and Southeast Asia.
The most popular forms of theater in the medieval Islamic world were puppet theatre (which included hand puppets, shadow plays and marionette productions) and live passion plays known as ta'ziya, where actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. In particular, Shia Islamic plays revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. Live secular plays were known as akhraja, recorded in medieval adab literature, though they were less common than puppetry and ta'ziya theater.
See main article: Stagecraft.
The most recognisable figures in theatre are the directors, playwrights, and actors, but theatre is a highly collaborative endeavour. Plays are usually produced by a production team that commonly includes a scenic or set designer, lighting designer, costume designer, sound designer, stage manager, props mistress or props master and production manager. Depending on the production, this team may also include a dramaturg, video designer or fight director. The artistic staff is assisted by technical theatre personnel who handle creation and execution of the production.
Drama (literally translated as action, from a verbal root meaning "To do") is the branch of theatre in which speech, either from written text (plays), or improvised is paramount. And the companion word drama is also Greek, dran meaning to do. Classical forms of drama, including Greek and Roman drama, classic English drama including William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe and French drama including Molière is still performed today.
See main article: Musical theatre. Music and theatre have always had a close relationship. Musical theatre is a form of theatre combining music, songs, dance routines, and spoken dialogue. Modern musical theatre emerged from the variety shows and "follies" of the early 20th century and includes a combination of dialogue, song and dance, and spectacle. Broadway musicals of the 21st century include lavish costumes and sets supported by million dollar budgets.
There are a 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 event, and some on theatre as catalyst for social change. According to Aristotle's seminal theatrical critique Poetics, there are six elements necessary for theatre: Plot, Character, Idea, Language, Music, 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, and Jerzy Grotowski.
Some theatre theorists argue that actors should study all of the commonly-taught acting methods to perfect their craft (though many others disagree), such as the Meisner, Stanislavsky, Strasberg, and Hagen acting methods. However, the majority of modern western theatre is derived from Stanislavski's "system" in one form or another.
There are many modern theatre movements which go about producing theatre in a variety of ways.
Theatres run the gamut from amateur to professional. In community theatres, as well as in educational theatre, actors are typically not paid. Fringe theatre productions are typically paid, but minimally so. Broadway productions are known for their large budgets. The spectrum of amateur to professional is as follows:
While most modern theatre companies rehearse one piece of theatre at a time, perform that piece for a set "run", retire the piece, and begin rehearsing a new show, repertory companies rehearse multiple shows at one time. These companies are able to perform these various pieces upon request and often perform works for years before retiring them. Most dance companies operate on this repertory system.
In order to put on a piece of theatre, both a theatre company and a theatre venue are needed. When a theatre company is the sole company in residence at a theatre venue, this theatre (and its corresponding theatre company) are called a resident theatre or a producing theatre, because the venue produces its own work. Other theatre companies, as well as dance companies, do not have their own theatre venue. These companies will therefore either perform at rental theatres or at presenting theatres. Both rental and presenting theatres have no full time resident companies. They do, however, sometimes have one (or multiple) part time resident companies, in addition to other independent partner companies who arrange to use the space when available. A rental theatre allows the independent companies to seek out the space, while a presenting theatre seeks out the independent companies to support their work by presenting them on their stage.
However, many performance groups have challenged the theatre-space and since have been putting on work in non-theatrical spaces. These performances can take place outside or inside, in a non-traditional performance space, and include street theatre, and site specific theatre.
A touring company is an independent theatre or dance company that travels, often internationally, being presented at a different theatre in each city.
There are many theatre unions including Actors Equity Association (for actors and stage managers), the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC), and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE, for designers and technicians). Many theatres require that their staff be members of these organizations.