History of Western Theatre: Greeks to Elizabethans/Architecture
The oldest theatrical area is at the Minoan Palaces at Phaistos. It consisted of stone risers for a standing audience of about 500. It also had a rectangular performing surface. Originally, the patrons of the Theatre of Dionysus had to stand to watch the performance. Around 489 B.C.E., temporary wooden seats were introduced. Permanent stone seats were not completed until some time around 330 B.C.E..
Typical audiences ranged for 17,000 to 21,000 and could seat upwards of 30,000 during festival times in what was called the Theatron. Known as 'the seeing place', it was usually built into the natural slope of a hilly terrain that sloped down into a flt bottomed area that was in or near a city. This shape was known as the Koilon which was a word for the actual flow of the whole of the theatre. The Koilon was split into what were called Diazoma, the upper and the lower, which were the wide horizontal walkways between the upper and lower areas of seating. The theatron was broken up into Kilmakes, the stairways of the theatron, and the Kerkis, the wedge shaped pieces of seating.
The actual area for performance was split up into several different sections as well. The Orchestra, the Thymele, the Skene, and the Paradoi. The orchestra was known as 'the dancing place' and was a flat circular space at the bottom of the koilon. n the Theatre of Dionysus, the orchestra was created first, and was thought to be rectangular until it was rounded out in the forth century (which means that it was rectangular during the era in which the surviving Greek plays were written and performed). It was the area of the stage where the chorus was located and stayed. The chorus leader would stand upon the Thymele, an altar to Dionysus.
As drama developed into a major form and developments had to be made to just basic flat areas of stage, the Skene, which was roughly translated to "Tent", was at first (Around the fifth century) made up of wooden poles with a canvas roof that became stone in the fourth century. Started small and became grander as plays became grander. Also served as storage. It served as the back wall of the stage and had doors and sets within it as well as served as storage for the performance. Later on in time the name changes later to Scaenae which comes closer to our current 'scenes' and 'scenery'. It evolved in later time to a wooden structure with a flat roof with a stone core for onstage changing of costumes and masks while the chorus would sing. The Paradoi were one or two (Usually two) entrances for actors between the skene and the seats and is where the chorus entered. Located on either side of the Skene, they served as entrances and exits for the actors. Usually two gangplanks off either side of the orchestra that the chorus or actors would used for entrances. In addition to the Skene, the Paraskenion were side additions to the Skene in one of two story wings that could be ornamented with pillars or support a frieze. At some point in the theatre's development, the Logeion Proskenion was added as well. The name refers to "something set up before the skene" and was a raised platform in front of the skene.
An interesting addition that came along with the advent of Greek theatre are the Charonian steps. They were used as entrances into the action from the 'underworld' or ghostly apparitions of the departed.
Several devices were used as set pieces to forward the action in Greek theatre. The Machina, Ekkyklema, and the Periaktoi. A crane, the Machina, was used to lift the actors and sometimes certain props, such as a Pegasus, into the air. It was used to represent the gods or heroic characters or in comedy to make fun of such situations. TheEkkyklema was a roll out platform that was used for tableaus. It was most often used to display the dead bodies of actions that took place off stage and was rolled out from a center door in the skene. Finally, the Periaktoi were triangle pieces of scenery that allowed scene changes. Each side was a different piece of the scenery and could be turned in order to make a new backdrop with either side of all of the pieces.
The Deus Ex Machina was the term for the overuse of the Machina which was usually used to 'clean up' plots or contrived endings, usually by Euripides. The Gods would simply come down and solve the problems and then disappear again.