Acting history ancient Greek plays

In the earliest acting history Ancient Greek plays are seen as the the beginning of this artform. They were very specific plays.

At the end of March each year, the Ancient Greeks held an annual festival to honour the god Dinonysus with ancient greek plays. Poets were invited to perform their works in groups of four: three tragedies and one satyr play. A satyr was a humorous treatment of a mythological theme. For many poets, such as Aeschylus, the three tragic plays would be performed as part of a connected trilogy. For example, the Oresteia dealt with successive stages in the fall of the house of Atreus.



We know about acting history that the producing also has evolved for in early Ancient Greek plays were funded publicly by Athens with the archon eponymos being responsible for the regulation of religious festivals as well as other aspects of festivities. In addition, the archon eponymos was the person who decided which three poets would receive the funding to perform their plays at the festival. The archon eponymos would also make sure that all three poets had the required talent in acting to work on the production. The archon selected the three actors and distributed them, by lot, to the three poets.

Although publicly funded, the plays were financed in a rather odd manner. The very wealthiest families from within Athens were subject to 'liturgies' – a special tax which funded major public expenses including the military and the arts. This was usually accepted as part of public service by the wealthy and it allowed them to carry out their duties with distinction. We know that in terms of actinghistory ancient greek plays were very expensive to produce and perform with three professional actors to pay, as well as a chorus to train and costumes and scenery to buy and produce.

After the funding and actors were secured, the plays were written – much the opposite to the way modern productions are put together! The production of the play involved the writing of music for the choruses, the choreography of dance steps and the rehearsal and direction of the play itself.In this time of acting history ancient greek plays seemed to have a whole team of support to make the play succesfull.

On the night or two before the festival, the proagon (pre-festival event) was held. One by one, the playwrights were called down onto the stage with their choregos (the leader of the chorus), actors, chorus members and musicians. The playwrights would then give the audience a brief plot summary as well as explaining their production. In acting history ancient greek plays wanted the audience to be involved.

On the day of the festival, approximately 17,000 people – mostly Athenian male citizens – would come to watch the plays. The priest of Dionysus would have been sat in a special seat at the front of the auditorium along with the ten selected judges. The following day, the plays were evaluated and rewards given to the winning playwrights and producers.

Looking back to the acting history ancient greek plays have created space for theatre, awards, and producing with a whole team, as we still see today, when some of the ancient greek plays are still performed.

Quotes and tips

"The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation. The theatre is a spiritual and social X-ray of its time. The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation." - Stella Adler


Acting tip

Here is another one of our tips. Develop your character by understanding al the reasons you can imagine why you can do nothing else than say the lines that are written in the script. If your line is, lets say:"I am here because you told me to be here" you're search begins. Why not your own initiative? Who is the other? How would you define the relationship? If you know the relationship, what emotions do you feel? What happenen before? What are your desires, like why did you deside to listen? What do you really want.

Most of the work an actor needs to do is search, ask questions, discover the background and the reason to be in this place, at this time, for there lies the reason to say what you have to say.

Interesting, isn't it?


You really should read this!

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Theatre histories by Phillip B. Zarrilli