History of Theater and Acting

When was the last time you went to the movie theater? What about the last time you went to a play preformed by local high school students? The origins of theater date back thousands of years, and is arguably the most developed art form today. Today you pay 10 dollars or more for a ticket to see a film at the local cinema, and easily over 50 dollars to see a professional play. But lets take a step back through history and see how theater developed into the billion dollar business it is today.

The first recorded example of theatrical drama dates back to 2500 B.C. in Egypt. The Egyptians re-enacted the story of their gods. The story of Osiris was re-enacted the most and the performance took place annually for 2000 years at his mythical burial site, Abydos. The many rituals preformed by the Egyptian priests and elders eventually developed into a sort of play, and the priests became the actors.

Later in history the Greeks expanded greatly on the performance arts with their competitive view on theater. Their biggest contribution to theater was the addition of music and chorus. Due to the competition rules it was not unusual for plays in early Greece to consist of a chorus that preformed half the lines in a script, and music was normally played during the chorus to help set the mood.

Roman theater improved on other cultures practices and traditions. The Romans biggest development was more so in theatrical entertainment, and the Roman Coliseum was the setting for much of it. The Roman Coliseum could seat over 60,000 people, and was on occasion flooded to allow for ships to battle inside of it. Chariot racing, horse racing, foot races, wrestling, fights between wild animals, and fights between gladiators are the most renown performances in Roman culture.

During the middle ages the Catholic Church used theater as a way to dramatize bible stories in monasteries. The most popular bible story to be re-enacted was Mary visiting Christ’s tomb to discover he had been resurrected. Costumes and ways to create the setting of a play were also developed during this time. Structures called mansions were used to create a setting, build a scene, and illustrate surroundings. Symbolic accessories were added to actors clothing to create a costume that visually separated characters. The directors picked up the responsibility of handling large number of actors(Sometimes over 300), as well as funding a production.

Theater during the late 19th century was slowly developing into something people today would recognize. Each person in a play would act one role, and theater “stars” began touring with companies who put on shows. Royalty systems were developed where a play write would earn money for every play he wrote that was preformed, and it was then that writing plays became profitable. Plays involving modern issues such as slavery and religion began connecting with the audience. Accurate settings, dialects, and costuming were essential to a play and its success. Electricity was used to change lighting, and added mood and atmosphere to a performance. Ultimately the 19th century commercialized the art and ushered in a new era of theater.

After the 1960’s ticket prices fell because the lowered cost of production made developing a play less expensive. The United States brought obscenity and even nudity to theater in 1968, and it was around this time that film began to take hold of the acting business. By the 60’s it cost a little less than $1 to see a full length film, and the movie industry began to flourish.

Today performances like the Blue Man Group tour theaters across the United States. Actors perform modern and classic plays everyday. However in the U.S. “going to watch a show” eventually began to mean going to see a movie rather than watch a Broadway performance. Despite the modern worlds focus, theater pushed on, and is still very much alive today. Be it Broadway shows or high school plays, theater is as much a part of today’s world, as it was thousands of years ago.