Different Types of Theater Art
The word theater derives from theaomai, the Greek word, which means 'to see.' Today, theater is used for aural-visual art form as well as performing space. As an art form, theater means drama performance, and as a performing space, theater implies the area where drama, movies, concerts etc. are showcased.
Theater art began on the street. Street Theater is the mother of all kinds of performing art. However, today theater implies a drama performance in a closed space. There are different types of theater art. Theater art is categorized by the performing space.
Street Theater is preformed for different reasons, such as:
- To master theater skills
- Experiment with theater forms
- Promote mainstream theater
- Raise funds for proscenium productions
- To involve audience directly with the performance
- To stage protest artistically
- Sociopolitical activism
Different Types of Theater
Street Theater is the oldest form of theatrical performance. When the drama is performed on the street, it is called Street Theater. Public spaces such as street corner, shopping malls, parking lots etc. are used as performing space. Street Theater is open to all and it is free, however, sometimes performers collect voluntary donation. Street Theater survives on the fact that many people cannot pay to watch theatrical performances. Street Theater is used as a platform for social and political activism more than the aesthetics.
When the productions are rejected by the mainstream theater, or theater groups and companies are unable to bear the cost for proscenium productions, theater artistes take upon the street. Street Theater is sometimes commissioned by the local government and social organizations to promote specific issues. Street Theater is minimalist in design and production, it does not use lavish costumes, props and sound amplifier. Dramas performed on the street are simple and can be followed by a layman. Comedy and humor are very popular themes in the Street Theater.
A Russian theater artist, Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold (1874 – 1940), is believed to have first introduced modern Street Theater in 1917. Meyerhold experimented with staging styles and developed body language, to express different kinds of emotions, for theatrical performances.
Brazilian theater director, writer and political activist Augusto Boal (1931 - 2009) is the founder of the Theater of the Oppressed. He studied theater at the Columbia University, United States, and became associated with Actors Studio. Boal produced his plays first time in 1955, in New York. A year later, he returned to his native country and began working with the Arena Theater, where he not only directed plays, but also experimented with theater forms.
In 1971, Boal was arrested and tortured by the military ruler for his controversial teachings. He exiled to Argentina. During his five years stay in Argentina, Boal published Theater of the Oppressed. In this book, Boal discusses theatrical methods to deal with oppression. While in exile, Boal traveled to Peru and Ecuador and worked with poor communities.
Augusto Boal returned to Brazil in 1986 and established Center for the Theater of the Oppressed. During his term as a city councilor in 1992-1996, he developed Legislative Theater. Boal’s Legislative Theater made the voters the lawmakers.
Augusto Boal was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 and was awarded "World Theater Ambassador" by the UNESCO in 2009.
Augusto Boal Theater
Based on his theories in the Theater of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal founded Forum Theater. Forum Theater is a form of Street Theater, which is practiced as sociopolitical activism. Forum Theater intends to teach people how to deal with social problems. Actors perform issues plays. They present a problem in aural-visual form, then stop the performance and ask the spectators how the problem can be solved. The spectators either suggest the denouement, or perform to show how the problem can be handled.
Augusto Boal’s Forum Theater provides a platform for interaction between the performers and audiences. The viewer who participates in the Forum Theater is called spect-actor (spectator actor). The spect-actor tries to solve the problem raised by the actor. If the spectators do not agree with the spect-actor, they ask the spect-actor to modify his/her approach. If the spect-actor continues to fail audience expectations, actors resume their performance and a while later another spect-actor is called to solve the problem.
Forum Theater deals with the issues of oppression. There is no concrete script for Forum Theater and the performances are impromptu. Forum Theater, with slight modifications, is practiced in more than 70 countries.
Theatre of the Oppressed
Augusto Boal used theater as a language and a discourse. According to Boal, traditional theater is oppressive because audience does not have a chance to participate in the performance. There is a communication gap between the spectators and the actors. Boal introduced the concept of spect-actor, who is not only the spectator but also an actor who performs. Boal created this method to allow spectators to express themselves, and collaborate with the actors.
Boal's Theater of Oppressed is implemented by various theater groups around the world. In the Theater of the Oppressed, audience is not a passive viewer, but active participant in the performance. In the beginning, oppression is enacted by the actors, and the spect-actors are asked to take upon the stage to deal with oppression. Theater of the Oppressed addresses the issues of oppression through theatrical language.
End Stage is generally used as temporary performing space. Space for performance is raised and spectators watch the performance from the front. Back of the stage is called backstage. Actors enter the stage from left or right side.
Alley Theater, also called corridor or traverse theater, is similar to Arena Theater except that spectators sit on the raisers on the two sides of the performing area. Actors enter and exit from left or right. Alley Theater is uncommon for drama productions but popularly used in fashion parade.
Arena is a place where sports events are held, however, Sport Arena is also used as performing space for music concerts. Temporary stage with rectangular floor is set for the performance. The performing area or the stage is set as End Stage, and sometimes as Arena Stage.
Different Types of Theater Stage
Proscenium Theater consists of a raised platform for performance and a proscenium (archway), which is usually covered by a curtain. Proscenium Theater is the most used performing space in the modern theater. The stage is surrounded by wall or curtains from the three sides. Actors perform facing the audience. The left of the performing area is called stage left, the right of the performing area is stage right. Back of the stage is called backstage, which is hidden from the main stage by a curtain or wall. The downstage is the area for auditorium. Performance takes place in a raised platform, and it is called onstage, everything that takes place backstage is called offstage.
When the dramas are staged in real settings and not in traditional theater stage, it is called Environmental Theater. Objective of Environmental Theater is to promote authenticity to the performance. Environmental Theater is a modern modification of Street Theater. Actors try to involve the audiences by addressing or talking to them. Drama is performed offstage and there may or may not be a proper seating for the spectators.
In Thrust Theater, audience sit on three sides. Performing place is raised and is square or rectangular. Thrust Stage is sometimes referred as platform stage or open stage. Actors enter the stage from the audience side or through backstage. Thrust Theater is generally used in non-traditional performing space such as university, restaurants or public places.
Black Box Theater
Black Box Theater does not have permanent stage and seats for the audience. Big black boxes are used to define the performing area, and even to set the scene. Black Box Theater use minimalist designs.
Stage in Arena Theater is on the center, and audience surrounds the performing place from all sides. Unlike Proscenium Theater, there is no curtain in the Arena Theater. Actors enter and exit stage through all sides. The Arena Theater is leveled with the auditorium.
Different Types of Theater Arts
Western Theater originated in Athens. Athenian theater tradition, which began around 6th century BCE, included festivals, sporting events, music, poetry, drama performances, symposium etc. Modern Western Theater developed from ancient Greek drama. Themes, plots, characterization, classifications, theater elements, staging techniques, everything comes from Greek theater tradition. Modern Western Theater includes plays in different genres, opera, ballet and musicals.
To honor God Dinoysus, Athenians organized Festival of Dinoysus, which was marked with staging of tragedy, comedy, and the satyr play. Performing space in ancient Athens was semi-circular, and the raisers were used as auditoriums. Almost 20 thousand of people could watch a performance. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were widely celebrated dramatist in Hellenistic world. They participated in theater festivals and won many drama competitions.
Theater art reached Rome in 4th century BCE. Western Theater outgrew in ancient Rome. Roman theater consisted of Street Theater, sporting events and dance-drama. From Rome, theater art spread to France, Britain and Germany. For one thousand years, Western Theater remained same. However, during the Renaissance various theater forms evolved. After the Industrial Revolution, Western Theater tossed away poetic drama and moved towards natural and realistic performance. Women were not allowed to perform on stage until the 18th century. By the 19th century, Western Theater gave up farce, burlesque, romanticism, melodrama, musical theater and moved towards problem plays.
Expressionism in Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg’s work became very popular. This tradition of problem plays continued until 20th century. Then there was the realism of Stanislavski, political theater of Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett’s Theater of the Absurd, and Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed.
Nepali Theater art is at least 2000 years old. According to the available chronicles, the tradition of dance-drama began in Nepal in 154 BC under the name Harsiddhi. Harishiddhi Dance-Drama is still performed in Nepal, even though much of the script has been lost.
Theater developed substantially in fourth through tenth century. Roots of Modern Nepali theater lies in the theater traditions belonging to 10th – 18th century.
Japan has a rich theater tradition. Japanese Theater consists of different theater forms such as Kabuki, Noh, Kyogen etc.
Kabuki is Japanese Theater form, which includes stylized performance with singing and dancing. The plays performed for Kabuki Theater are lyrical.
Noh is a traditional Japanese theater form belonging to 12th century, which is still practiced in Japan. In Noh Theater, stories are told in aural-visual form. It incorporates symbolism and allusions. Music is important part in Noh Theater.
Kyogen is farce or comical play. The traditions of Kyogen originated in the 16th century.
Eastern Theater Traditions
Asia is a home to different races, cultures and traditions. Therefore, there is no such thing as Eastern Theater. There are different theater traditions in different countries and culture.
Theater traditions in Indian subcontinent (Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh) take inspiration from ancient Sanskrit Theater. Origin of Sanskrit Theater is placed somewhere between second and first century CE.
Even though music and dance performance culture was present in the Indian subcontinent, theater art was unknown until Alexander invaded India in the 3rd century BCE. Nevertheless, it developed native taste and color very soon. Plays based on the Hindu Epic Mahabharata, the Ramayana and other mythologies where written and produced. First through tenth century is considered the golden period of Indian Theater.Bharata’s Natyashastra (Drama Theory by Bharata), which is the basis of Indian Theater tradition, was composed aroundthird century CE.
Islamic Theater traditions emerged in the medieval age. It included puppetry, shadow play, and marionettes. Islamic Theater also produced plays that showcased episodes from the history. The productions used lavish costumes, makeup, scene setting and props. Islamic Theater greatly influenced Indian theater when the Muslims invaded India around 11th century. A new theater form, which is called Parsi Theater, emerged in Indian subcontinent when Islamic Theater blended with Sanskrit Theater.
China has a rich performance culture. Shadow theatre originated in China in 1000 CE. Singing, dancing, acrobatics and martial arts are the basics of Chinese performing culture. History of Chinese performing arts dates back to 1000 BCE. Chinese Opera takes substantial part in Chinese Theater.
Zaju is a four act mixed Chinese drama style that originated in 10th century. In Zaju plays, story is told through movement, songs and dance. Zaju plays present stories of simple people. German theatre reformer Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1948) was adapted from a Zaju titled Huilanji (The Chalk Circle).
Nanxi originated from the Chinese traditions of folk tales around 10th century. Nanxi used folk music and dance to tell the story which was also alternated by colloquial dialogues.
Chuanqui developed from Nanxi in the 14th century, which flourished parallel to Zaju. Stories in Chuanqui were based on heroic figures or contemporary life.
The History of World Theater by Felicia Hardison Londre, 1999
Encyclopedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suit, 2011
More by this Author
An overview of Nepali theater and a short introduction on Aarohan Theater Group
A short introduction to theater stage design, and an overview of theater terms such as upstage, centerstage, downstage, stage left, house left etc.
An overview of the origin and development of cat species, and a short introduction to 32 cat breeds including Persian and Siamese.