From ancient Egyptian theater to modern-day performances, theater has been a beloved art form for centuries. Theater has the power to transport audiences to different worlds, to evoke emotions, and to inspire thought and reflection. Studying the history of theater provides insight into the unique cultural contexts in which each period of theater evolved and the societal events that informed the themes and stories of each era. Today we will explore five surprising facts about the history of theater that are sure to deepen your appreciation for this timeless art form.
#1: Ancient Egyptian theater was surprisingly vibrant
When most people think of ancient Egyptian culture, theater is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. However, theater was a beloved art form in ancient Egypt, with plays performed in grand outdoor amphitheaters. The ancient Egyptians performed plays on a wide range of themes, from historical events to everyday life. Perhaps most surprising is that in ancient Egypt, men and women both performed in plays, a practice that was relatively rare in ancient theater cultures.
#2: Greek theater was not all tragedies
Greek theater is often associated with tragedies like Oedipus Rex and Antigone. However, the ancient Greeks also enjoyed comedic plays, known as “Old Comedy.” These plays poked fun at politicians and mocked societal norms. They often included vulgar language and sexual jokes that would not be considered acceptable in modern theater. However, these plays were beloved by the ancient Greeks and provide insight into their political and social views.
#3: Elizabethan stage design was surprisingly advanced
When we think of Shakespearean theater, we often picture a simple stage with minimal design elements. However, Elizabethan stage design was actually quite advanced for its time. The Globe Theater, where Shakespeare’s plays were performed, featured trap doors, specialized stage machinery, and a complex system of ropes and pulleys to create mechanical special effects like thunder and lightning. The stage itself was also highly versatile, with a large inner stage for smaller scenes and a balcony for larger scenes.
#4: Kabuki theater has a surprisingly long history
Kabuki theater is a traditional form of Japanese theater that dates back to the early 17th century. This style of theater is known for its elaborate makeup and costumes, stylized movements, and exaggerated acting. While Kabuki theater may seem relatively modern, it has actually been performed for over 400 years. Today, Kabuki theater remains a popular art form in Japan and is recognized as one of the most unique and visually stunning theater styles in the world.
#5: Modern theater has a surprisingly diverse range of genres
In recent years, modern theater has become increasingly diverse, with a wide range of genres and styles to choose from. From immersive theater experiences like Sleep No More to experimental adaptions of classic works like Hamilton, modern theater is breaking new ground and pushing the boundaries of what we think of as theater. There is truly something for everyone in modern theater, whether you love musicals, dramas, comedies, or experimental performance art.