An ancient god who represented the wild and the free, the unconventional and the unexpected. Isn’t it amazing that concepts and practices in theatre, relevant even today, owe their roots to him?
Dionysus was the Greek god of the grape harvest, wine-making, fertility, religious ecstasy and theatre. He is often represented as a foreigner. Hundreds of years back, as early as the sixth century BC, a festival called Dionysia was celebrated in Athens, in honor of Dionysus. Citizens would gather in large numbers for cheer, merry-making and no less than a feast for the intellect – theatre!
Tragedy, comedy and satyr blossomed in all their glory in ancient Greece. In the earlier years of the drama competition, which was the central event at the Dionysia, tragedies were staged and celebrated. Four playwrights cum directors (often, they were the actors too) were chosen to compete. The performances by each contestant would take up a day! And yet, the enthusiasm of the spirited audience held strong!
Thespis, one of the winners at the contest, is often called the ‘Father of Tragedy’. We still refer to him every time we use the word ‘thespian’.
Theatre then was a little different than what we know it as today. At the times of the great tragedies, the cast was often just one person. The second and third actor were major additions! It would be a grand affair involving a lot of verse and song.
Exaggerated masks and costumes were common, increasingly so in the comedies that came into popularity in later years, after the time of Alexander the Great. In fact, the shape of the mask helped the actor’s voice to project forth.
And the audience listened, spellbound.
Much as we do today.
Khatija is a writing enthusiast who enjoys learning how to create a good piece of art, with words.
Image Source: Stagecraft Archives
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