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Theatre (or theater, see spelling differences) (from French "théâtre", from Greek "theatron", θέατρον, meaning "place of seeing") is the branch of the performing arts defined as simply 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. Modern Western theatre is dominated by realism, although many other forms, including classical and experimental forms, as well as Eastern forms, are frequently performed.


The earliest recorded theatrical event dates back to 2000 BC with the passion plays of 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 were the first to begin to formalize theatre as an art, developing strict definitions of tragedy and comedy as well as other forms, including satyr plays. Like the passion plays of Ancient Egypt, Greek plays made use of mythological characters. The Greeks were also the first to develop 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 forms in Spain, Italy, France, and Russia in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. 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 India. Japanese forms of Kabuki, Noh, and Kyogen date back to the 17th centuries. Other Eastern forms were developed throughout China, Korea, and Southeast Asia.


Modern Western theatre is dominated by realism, including drama and comedy. Another popular Western form is musical theater. Classical forms of theatre, including Greek and Roman drama, classic English drama including Shakespeare and Marlowe, French theater including Molière and commedia dell'arte, are still performed today. In addition, performances of classic Eastern forms such as Noh and Kabuki can be found in the West, although with less frequency.


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. One of the earliest known forms of theatre, the Theatre of ancient Greece, created the definition of a theatre: an audience in a half-circle watching an elevated stage where actors use props staging plays. Musical theatre is a form of theatre combining music, songs, dance routines, and spoken dialogue. However, theatre is more than just what one sees on stage. Theatre involves an entire world behind the scenes that creates the costumes, sets, and lighting to make the overall effect interesting.


Coming from the Greek word komos which means celebration, revel, or merrymaking, comedy often focuses on a problem that leads to some form of catastrophe which in the end has a happy and joyful outcome. Designed to make the audience laugh, comedy often includes archetypal characters and precisely timed banter.

Musical theatre

Since the beginning of known theatre, music and theatre have always had a close, intertwined relationship. 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.

Other types of theatre

Contemporary Western Forms
  • Black comedy: Comedy that tests the boundaries of good taste and moral acceptability by juxtaposing morbid or ghastly elements with comical ones.
  • Dance theater: marked by hightened movement, often having no text.
  • Devised theatre, also called 'collaborative creation': Where the piece is originally created not by a writer or writers, but by the performers themselves.
  • Digital theatre
  • Domestic drama: Drama that focuses on the everyday domestic lives of people and their relationships in the community where they live.
  • Durational theatre: theatre which goes on for an unusual amount of time, such as Peter Brook's production of the Mahabarata (which lasted 9 hours).
  • Farce: A comic dramatic piece that uses highly improbable situations, stereotyped characters, extravagant exaggeration, fast pacing, and violent horseplay.
  • Improvisational theatre: A form of theatre where some or all of the action is created by the performers during the performance.
  • In-yer-face theatre
  • Installational theatre: when performances are done as an installation and the audience is free to come and go as they wish. Often done as durational theatre.
  • Meta-theatre: A genre of theatre made popular with mostly modern audiences, although it did start back in the Elizabethan Era. Meta-Theatre is when a play often completely demolishes the so called "fourth wall" and completely engages the audience. Often about a group of actors, a director, writer and so on. It usually blurs the line between what is scripted and what goes on by accident.
  • Performance art
  • Physical theatre: Theatrical performance in which the primary means of communication is the body, through dance, mime, puppetry and movement, rather than the spoken word.
  • Poor theatre: Jerzy Grotowski coined the phrase "poor theatre" in reference to the work he was doing with his theatre troupe in Poland. Grotowski's style of poor theatre consisted of many important fine points. For one, there was not a separate stage and place for the audience; instead the actors and the audience shared the same space. There were no sets, props, lighting, music, or any other technical features. The actors were paramount, although their costumes were simple. Grotowski had his actors go through physical training, and even would spend many months rehearsing a play. Some of these poor theatre plays would only be performed once, to a small audience. This theatre style was very popular during the 1960s and 70s, and later on, was used by many acting troupes around the world.
  • Postmodern theatre
  • Promenade theatre: Theatre in which the audience moves about the space themselves, whether freely or as directed by the performers. Often used in Site Specific production (e.g. Periplum or Punchdrunk).
  • Rock opera: Concept albums and stage works performed in a dramatic context reminiscent of opera, except that the musical form is rock music.
  • Romantic comedy: A medley of clever scheming, calculated coincidence, and wondrous discovery, all of which contribute ultimately to making the events answer precisely to the hero's or heroine's wishes, with the focus on love.
  • Satire: Plays of comedy/drama where the use of wit (mainly via humour), especially irony, sarcasm, and ridicule, to attack the vices and follies of humankind drives the story. Also: mocking, ironic, spoof, sardonic, humorous, tongue-in-cheek, and sarcastic themes, sayings, quips and tones of speech support the style.
  • Site specific theatre
  • Spex theatre
  • Theatre for social change: Theatre that addresses a social issue and uses performance as a way of illustrating injustice to the audience.
  • Theatre of the Absurd: Term coined by Martin Esslin to refer to playwrights in Europe and the United States after World War II whose work reflected a sense of being adrift in a world where known values had been shattered. No playwrights ever dubbed themselves "Absurdists," although it has become commonplace to refer to Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Harold Pinter, and Jean Genet, among others, by this term. It can be seen as related to the philosophy of existentialism.
  • Total theatre: Most frequently invoked in reference to Richard Wagner's concept of a Gesamtkuntswerk, or "Total Art Work," in which music, drama, and dance operate together. It has also been used by artists such as Steven Berkoff, who created a style where the actors become both characters and set, often using just one prop throughout the entire play. The style uses features of Greek theatre (eg. a chorus or didactic message), exaggeration and surrealism.
  • Tragedy: A drama that treats in a serious and dignified style the sorrowful or terrible events encountered or caused by a heroic individual. The word "Tragedy" comes from the Greek word "Tragos" which is translated to "Goat". The original meaning may come from the mystery plays of the cult of Dionysos, which centered on the god being killed and his body ripped to pieces, and with a goat or other animal as a proxy for the bloodshed.
  • Tragicomedy: A drama that has a bitter/sweet quality, containing elements of tragedy and comedy.
Classic Western forms
  • Comedy of manners: Witty, cerebral form of dramatic comedy that depicts and often satirises the manners and affectations of a contemporary society. A comedy of manners is concerned with social usage and the question of whether or not characters meet certain social standards.
  • Commedia dell'Arte: A very physical form of comedy which was created and originally performed in Italy. Commedia uses a series of stock characters and a list of events to improvise an entire play.
  • Epic theatre - The theatre of Brecht
  • Grand Guignol: Now broadly used to refer to any play with on-stage violence, the term originally referred to the bloody and gruesome melodramas produced at the Theatre du Grand Guignol in Paris, France.
  • Light opera
  • Melodrama: Originally, a sentimental drama with musical underscoring. Often with an unlikely plot that concerns the suffering of the good at the hands of the villains but ends happily with good triumphant. Featuring stock characters such as the noble hero, the long-suffering heroine, and the cold-blooded villain.
  • Morality play: A morality play is an allegory in which the characters are abstractions of moral ideas.
  • Opera: A theatrical genre in which a story is told and emotion is conveyed primarily through singing (with instrumental music).
  • Pantomime: A form of musical drama in which elements of dance, mime, puppetry, slapstick, and melodrama are combined to produce an entertaining and comic theatrical experience, often designed for children.
  • Proletcult Theatre
  • Son et lumière - Using sound and lights to convey atmosphere, rather necessarily having a narrative or plot.
  • Theatre of cruelty - the theatre of Antonin Artaud
  • Theatre of the Oppressed
Eastern Forms
  • Khaymeshab Bazi: Persian puppet plays
  • Kutiyattam
  • Natya: Sacred classical Indian musical theatre that includes natya proper (mime) and nritta (pure dance).
  • Nautanki: A diverse Indian form of street plays consisting of folklore and mythological dramas with interludes of folk songs and dances.
  • Noh theatre - A form of Japanese theatre
  • Saye-bazi Persian shadow plays
  • Rouhozi- Persian comedy
  • Ta'zieh- A funeral-like performance from Persia
  • Temple dance

Theatrical Philosophy

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. Theatre, overall, encompasses people, ideas, and the works of art that result from their collaboration.

Theatre Organization and Administration

There are many modern theater movements which go about producing theater in a variety of ways.

Amateur v. Professional

Theaters run the gamut from amateur to professional. In community theaters, as well as in educational theater, 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:

Repertory Companies

While most modern theater companies rehearse one piece of theater 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.

Producing v. Presenting

In order to put on a piece of theater, both a theater company and a theater venue are needed. When a theater company is the sole company in residence at a theater venue, this theater (and it's corresponding theater company) are called a resident theater or a producing theater, because the venue produces it's own work. Other theater companies, as well as dance companies, do not have their own theater venue. These companies will therefore either perform at rental theaters or at presenting theaters. Both rental and presenting theaters 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 theater allows the independent companies to seek out the space, while a presenting theater seeks out the independent companies to support their work by presenting them on their stage.
Found theater is an exception to this rule, putting on pieces of theater without a theater venue. These performances can take place outside or inside, in a non-traditional performance space, and include street theater.
A touring company is an independent theater or dance company that travels, often internationally, being presented at a different theater is each city.

Theaters for Specific Genres

Because there is such a range of genres within theater, there is a wide range of needs for different types of performances. For this reason, theater venues often specialize in a particular genre. This includes dance theaters and opera houses. Concert halls are venues designed specifically for music performances, although they often hold dance performances, as well, and are only labeled "theaters" by a broad definition of the word.

For Profit v. Not for Profit

The majority of theater venues and companies are non-profit organizations. However, some large theaters, especially on Broadway operate for profit.

Union v. Non-Union

There are many theater unions including Actors Equity Association (for actors and stage managers), the Society for Directors and Choreographers (SSDC), and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE, for designers and technicians). Many theaters require that their staff be members of these organizations.

Technical theatre

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, dramaturg, stage manager, and production manager. The artistic staff is assisted by technical theatre personnel who handle creation and execution of the production.


External links

Further reading

theatrics in Min Nan Chinese: Hì-kio̍k
theatrics in Arabic: مسرح
theatrics in Aragonese: Tiatro
theatrics in Asturian: Teatru
theatrics in Guarani: Ñoha'ãnga
theatrics in Min Nan: Hì-kio̍k
theatrics in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Тэатар
theatrics in Bavarian: Theata
theatrics in Bosnian: Teatar
theatrics in Breton: C'hoariva
theatrics in Bulgarian: Театър
theatrics in Catalan: Teatre
theatrics in Chuvash: Театр
theatrics in Czech: Divadlo
theatrics in Danish: Teater
theatrics in German: Theater
theatrics in Estonian: Teater
theatrics in Modern Greek (1453-): Θέατρο
theatrics in Spanish: Teatro
theatrics in Esperanto: Teatro
theatrics in Persian: تئاتر
theatrics in French: Théâtre
theatrics in Western Frisian: Teater
theatrics in Friulian: Teatri
theatrics in Galician: Teatro
theatrics in Korean: 연극
theatrics in Croatian: Kazalište
theatrics in Indonesian: Teater
theatrics in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Theatro
theatrics in Ossetian: Театр
theatrics in Icelandic: Leiklist
theatrics in Italian: Teatro
theatrics in Hebrew: תיאטרון
theatrics in Georgian: თეატრი
theatrics in Kirghiz: Театр
theatrics in Kurdish: Şano
theatrics in Latvian: Teātris
theatrics in Luxembourgish: Theater
theatrics in Lithuanian: Teatras
theatrics in Hungarian: Színház
theatrics in Macedonian: Театар
theatrics in Maltese: Teatru
theatrics in Malay (macrolanguage): Teater
theatrics in Dutch: Theater (kunstvorm)
theatrics in Dutch Low Saxon: Theater (keunstvorm)
theatrics in Japanese: 演劇
theatrics in Neapolitan: Tiatro
theatrics in Norwegian: Teater
theatrics in Narom: Thiâtre
theatrics in Uzbek: Teatr
theatrics in Low German: Theater
theatrics in Polish: Teatr
theatrics in Portuguese: Teatro
theatrics in Romanian: Teatru
theatrics in Quechua: Aranwa
theatrics in Russian: Театр
theatrics in Albanian: Teatri
theatrics in Sicilian: Tiatru
theatrics in Simple English: Theatre
theatrics in Slovak: Divadlo (umenie)
theatrics in Slovenian: Gledališče
theatrics in Serbian: Сценска уметност
theatrics in Finnish: Teatteri
theatrics in Swedish: Teater
theatrics in Thai: ละคร
theatrics in Turkish: Tiyatro
theatrics in Ukrainian: Театр
theatrics in Venetian: Teatro
theatrics in Võro: Tiatri
theatrics in Yiddish: טעאטער
theatrics in Yoruba: Theatre
theatrics in Samogitian: Tētros
theatrics in Chinese: 劇場 (藝術)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Thespian art, amateur theatricals, blazon, blood and thunder, bravura, brilliancy, daring, dash, demonstration, demonstrativeness, display, dramatic art, dramatic form, dramatic irony, dramatic stroke, dramatic structure, dramaticism, dramatics, dramatism, dramaturgy, eclat, emotional appeal, emotionalism, emotionality, emotionalization, emotionalizing, emotiveness, emotivity, etalage, exhibition, exhibitionism, false front, fanfaronade, figure, flair, flaunt, flaunting, flourish, histrionics, histrionism, human interest, love interest, making scenes, manifestation, melodrama, melodramatics, nonrationalness, pageant, pageantry, parade, play construction, sensationalism, sham, show, showing-off, spectacle, splash, splurge, staginess, theatricalism, theatricality, theatricals, theatricism, unreasoningness, vaunt, visceralness, yellow journalism
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