Theatre

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Theatre, spelled with the French spelling in British English and by a majority of American theatre professionals, is that branch of the performing arts concerned with acting out stories in front of an audience using combinations of speech, gesture, music, sound and spectacle - indeed any one or more elements of the other performing arts. In addition to the standard narrative dialog style, theater takes such forms as opera, ballet, mime, and pantomime. Here is a list of acting terms.

"Drama" is that branch of theater in which speech, either from written text (plays or "dramatic literature") or improvised, is paramount. "Musical theater" is a form of theater combining music, songs, dance routines, and spoken dialogue. There is a particularly long tradition of political theater, intended to educate audiences on contemporary issues and encourage social change. Various creeds, Catholicism for instance, have built upon the entertainment value of theater and created (for example) mystery plays and morality plays.

20th Century American Playwrights

Edward Albee
Horton Foote
Lorraine Hansberry
George S Kaufmann
Neil LaBute (The Shape of Things)
David Mamet
Arthur Miller
Eugene O'Neill
Neil Simon
Stephen Sondheim
Tennessee Williams
Thorton Wilder
August Wilson

20th Century British Playwrights

Alan Ayckbourn
Peter Barnes
Michael Frayn (Noises Off)
John Galsworthy
John Osborne
Harold Pinter
J.B. Priestley
Tom Stoppard

20th Century German Language Playwrights

Heiner Mueller
Bertolt Brecht
Thomas Bernhardt
Elfriede Jelinek
Friederich Durrenmatt
Wolfgang Hildesheimer

20th Century Irish Playwrights

George Bernard Shaw
Samuel Beckett

Other 20th Century English-language playwrights

Athol Fugard

This gives a brief listing of some of the better-known playwrights; but theater is a highly collaborative, multi-person, multi-media craft. Plays are usually produced by a production team: artistic staff combined with various technical, support, and design staff. Among these are the director, scenic designer, the lighting designer, the costume designer, the dramaturge, and the stage manager and production manager. This is not an all inclusive list, and may include other personnel from the world of technical theater.

20th Century English Language Theater Directors

Julie Taymor
Harold Prince
Kelly Johnston
Peter Sellars
Tyrone Guthrie
Peter Brook
Mike Nichols
Peter Hall

20th Century Russian and French Theater Directors

Stanislavski
Gretovski
Artaud

20th Century German Language Theater Directors

Fritz Kortner
Claus Peymann
Peter Stein
Peter Zadek
Frank Castorf
August Everding
Max Reinhardt

See also: Repertory theater, dramatist, list of dramatists, history of theater, improvisational theater, radio and television drama, summer stock, cinematic drama, suspension of disbelief


A Theater is also the building in which works and plays are performed. There are as many styles of performance space as there are styles of performance, but most theaters include a designated "stage" or playing space, a designated audience area or "house," and some sort of off-stage area for preparation and storage, called "backstage," which is typically concealed from the audience. Theaters range from ornate, cathedral-like structures to simple undecorated rooms or black box theaters.

Some of these buildings are masterpieces of architecture. Others, often those known for opera, have become major cultural references and symbols.

The original Greek theater was semicircular in form and was normally built on a hillside, often overlooking the sea. These theaters also typically included a "raked" or sloped stage, with the back of the stage being higher than the front. Such theaters were often constructed with excellent acoustics, so that a player standing centre stage could be clearly heard throughout the auditorium. The Romans copied this style of building, but tended not to be so concerned about the location, being prepared to build walls and terraces instead of looking for a naturally-occurring site.

During the Elizabethan era in England, theaters were constructed of wood and were circular in form, like the Globe Theatre in London, home to William Shakespeare's troupe of actors. The Globe has now been rebuilt as a fully working and producing theater near its original site (largely thanks to the efforts of film director Sam Wanamaker) to give modern audiences an idea of the environment for which Shakespeare and other playwrights of the period were writing.

Contemporary theaters are often non-traditional, such as very adaptable spaces, or theaters where audience and performers are not separated. A major example of this is the modular theater, (see for example the Walt Disney Modular Theatre). This large theater has floors and walls divided into small movable sections, with the floor sections on adjustable hydraulic pylons, so that the space may be adjusted into any configuration for each individual play. As new styles of theater performance have evolved, so has the desire to improve or recreate performance venues. This applies equally to artistic and presentation techniques, such as stage lighting.

Specific designs of contemporary live theaters include proscenium, thrust, black box theater, theater in the round, amphitheater, and arena. See also movie theater and puppet theater.

See also: Technical theater, Theater Techniques, Opera house, Home Theater

Richard Hatch (magician)

References