Theatre History or the History of Theatres.

VR simulations of landmark historical theatres.

To understand theatre history one really should be familiar with theatre architecture. Why do plays of different historical periods have different structures? What is the relationship of the actor to the audience throughout history?

Plays by the ancient greeks have a definite declamatory style. Characters frequently come to center and deliver lines as though making a pronouncement to a large audience. The great size of theatres, a lack of sophisticated stagecraft, combined with open-air acoustics may explain that style. Which inspired which, architecture or acting style?

In Shakespeares's works, scenes often include lines that describe the locale. The physical set-up of theatres like The Globe restricted the use of elaborate scenery. Studying the problem and various solutions can inspire better scenography in many situations.

The Theater of Pompey was a theater in Ancient Rome built by one of Caesar's generals, Pompey the Great, in the waning years of the Roman Republican period. It first opened in 55 BCE and was the first permanent theatre in Rome and the largest ever built, 150-meters in diameter and 35-meters tall. It was also the first stone theatre in Rome. Pompey dedicated the Temple of Venus at the top of the cavea a few years later, in 52 BCE The cavea is thought to have seated at least 20,000 people. Because permanent seating was traditionally prohibited in the ancient city, Pompey legitimized his theatre, by dedicating it as a Temple of Venus Victrix3, with the seating in the Cavea described as the steps leading up to the temple. Pompey drew inspiration for his theater from that of Mytilene in Greece, according to Plutarch, and asked for detailed drawings of its plan. The theatre was the only permanent theatre in Rome for forty years, until it was joined by the Theatre of Balbus in 13 BC on the Campus Martius. Even so, the Theatre of Pompey continued to be the main venue for plays, both because of its magnificence and its size. All throughout its lifetime, the site was considered the premiere theatre. Aside from the temple, the pulpitum and the scanae frons were the focal points of the theatre. The pulpitum was the main stage where many theatrical performances would have taken place. The scaenae frons served as a backdrop. One luxurious feature was the uela. These awnings stretched over the auditorium to shade the spectators. This immense awning was purple according to Pliny. Behind the theatre was a large quadriporticus. The porticos of this 4-sided complex enclosed a garden with fountains and statues. Along the covered arcade were rooms where Pompey exhibited works of art he collected during his campaigns. At the opposite end of the complex was the Curia of Pompey. On 15 March 44 BC, Brutus and Cassius assassinated Julius Caesar in the curia during a Senate session.

Around 15 BCE, a large concert hall or odeion was given to the Athenians by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, the son-in-law and general of Caesar Augustus. It was a huge two-story structure (169 by 142 feet ) that dominated the square. The auditorium, with its raised stage and marble-paved orchestra, seated about 1,000 spectators. It was surrounded on three sides by a cryptoporticus (subterranean colonnaded hall) at the lower level, with stoas (hallways) above. The exterior of the building was elaborated with Corinthian pilasters. Entry to the Odeion was either from the upper level of the Middle Stoa on the south or through a modest porch at ground level on the north. Apart from the theatrical performances, music events were also very popular in ancient Greece. These were mainly music contests, that is, competitions of music, singing, poetry, and dancing, which take place in the framework of great religious celebrations. In Athens in the time of Pericles, the 5th century B.C., a building suitable for music competitions was constructed for the first time on the south slope of the Acropolis. It was named odeion, from the word “ode” which means a lyric poem, or one meant to be sung. But it is during the Roman period that the odeia -the spaces for the music spectacles- flourish and very often they are built right next to the theatres. The great open span of the auditorium (25 meters) eventually proved too great and the roof collapsed in the years around A.D. 150. The structure was rebuilt as a lecture hall, with the seating capacity reduced to about 500, and a far more elaborate facade was built at the north, using massive pillars carved in the form of giants (snaky tales) and tritons (fishy tails).

Tapestry Hall, in Antwerp, was constructed in the sixteenth century as a vast storehouse and showroom for tapestry merchants. Part of the hall had been unoccupied after the fall of Antwerp in 1585 and the consequential flight of numerous merchants. The municipal almoners were then allotted a portion of the structure for their theatre. The new theatre was the largest theatre Antwerp had ever seen, with a length of 39.50 meters (129 ft. - 6 in.), a width of 13 meters (42 ft. - 8in.), and a house floor to ceiling height of 11 meters (36 ft.). Several artists, largely from the area but also from elsewhere, contributed to the design and construction of the theatre. The majority of these soldiers were paid, while others volunteered their services. A number of designs were proposed, but it appears that the designs were finished by Abraham Genoels, an Antwerp-born painter. Genoels was also in charge of some of the interior design as well as the scenic designs. Michael Moens, a colleague, created the ceiling painting, while others handled the wood carving, gilding, statuary, and other details. A French engineer was hired to develop the stage machinery. The audience was quite appreciative of the stage equipment. The illusion of perspective was formed by seven rows of wings and borders with backdrops. Wings were shifted by means of the “chariot and pole” mechanism that furnished fluid, simultaneous scene changes. The stage floor contained a series of trap doors and miniature elevator. The flys featured several small flying chariots and a "gloire" (a large chariot with its own perspective scenery). Backstage, the performers and management had access to eight rooms.

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