History of Western Theatre: Greeks to Elizabethans/Scenery

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The skene was the main form of scenery in ancient Greek theatre.

The skene was a large rectangular building behind the orchestra actors could use for costume changes, like a backstage. However, it could also represent the play's location such as a palace or a house. The building was sometimes painted, as well, like a backdrop. Also, there was roof access behind the skene so characters playing gods or watchmen could enter there. In the beginning, the skene was a tent or hut, put up only for religious festivals and then taken down. It was not until later on that it became a permanent structure.

With the creation of the stage, there was a large movable facade that could be painted as a backdrop. It was always painted the same according to the genre of the play. Tragedy: an official building, comedy: rural buildings, satyric drama: a cave entrance.

Depending on where the actors entered from could have implied scenery offstage. These places for entrances and exits were side doors beside the retaining walls of the auditorium called paradoi. The right hand door meant the character was arriving from the city and the left hand door meant he was arriving from a far away place.

Decorative scenery was not built as substantial architecture until Lycurgus in the fifth century B.C. Before then, wooden structures served as skeleton framework while there was movable scenery in front. At first, the screens that functioned as scenery were skins that were basically backdrops without pictures rather than actual backdrops that we would think of today. The modern idea of backdrops, or skenographia, started around the time of Sophocles (and is often credited with their invention). Scaena ductilis, or proskenion, is similar to the modern idea of a set. The entire set wasting was painted on screens that were put on the wooden skeleton structures mentioned above.


To be edited: “No two Ancient Greek theatres were exactly alike, and when the history of each is considered one discovers that the various forms, which reduced to simplest terms constitute for us the normal type, were the result of gradual changes and repeated adjustments.” Priene, Turkey has best preserved logeion (“speaking place”)

Orchestra: 2 approaches (“hardened earth”)

    -      eisoidi: entrance
    -   parados : side entrance

episkenion: 2nd story of stage thyromata: folding doors (typically on episkenion)