Theatre has a rich history, and people have been entertaining themselves with theatrical performances for thousands of years. There’s nothing quite like seeing your favourite performance on the big stage, being mesmerised by the stunning architecture, and experiencing the magic of the theatre. Here are some of the most popular and notable theatres throughout European history.
The first buildings used for theatrical performances in Europe were amphitheatres designed in ancient Greece. According to London Theatre Direct, the first recorded theatre in Europe dates back to 600 B.C. These greek amphitheatres were semi-circular structures, constructed of wood initially and later stone. They were open-air with banked seating surrounding a raised stage. Early Greek theatre involved tragedy plays performed at religious festivals. These, in turn, inspired the genre of Greek comedy plays. The two types of Greek drama were hugely popular and spread throughout Europe, later influencing Roman theatre.
Medieval theatre was presented on elaborate temporary stages inside barns, halls, or in open courtyards. This theatre design evolved over the years and gave rise to the wooden open-air theatres of Elizabethan times, such as that of The Globe in London. The audience sat or stood in covered galleries around the other sides or in the open courtyard and all the performances took place in daylight. This is the theatre design and style of the plays of many famous English playwrights including William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw a huge increase in the production of live theatre as well as the importance of the arts within Spanish society. During this period a new style of drama, the comedia, would come to define what we now know as Spanish Golden Age Theatre. The plays were performed in open-air theatres called corrales, which contained both seated galleries and a yard for standing guests. Sets were essentially nonexistent, props were simple, and the actors wore contemporary clothes. One very striking difference was that female roles, unlike in England and France, were played by women.
The Baroque is a highly ornate and extravagant style of architecture, painting, sculpture and other arts that flourished in Europe from the early 17th century. Baroque theatre started in Italy and then expanded to most of Europe between the 17th and 18th century. During this period, both the buildings and the plays transformed, and theatres evolved into more sophisticated and dramatic venues. Baroque theatres featured striking architecture and introduced several key characteristics to theatres including - balconies, the horseshoe layout, and the orchestra pit. Baroque stages were much larger to accommodate more complex sets as well as bigger machinery used to create visual effects. During this period, things like theatre design and theatre seating became far more popular and the first operas were created, becoming a new, widely accepted genre.
Neoclassical was the dominant form of theatre across Europe in the 18th century, where theatrical arts were defined by the ideas and styles of ancient Greek and Roman societies. Ancient Greeks were the first great classicists - later, the Romans, French, and English produced classical movements. The Neoclassical period can be characterised by its grandiosity and strict concern for the classics. The costumes and scenery were highly elaborate and the acting was characterised by large gestures, improvisation and melodrama. The Neoclassical movement began in France but quickly spread throughout Europe and beyond.
Twentieth-century theatre describes a period of great change within the theatrical culture of the 20th century. This period can be characterised by the emergence of many new forms of theatre including - modernism, expressionism, political theatre and other forms of experimental theatre, as well as the continuing development of already established theatrical forms like naturalism and realism. New inventions such as cinematic films meant that many theatres were renovated to include upgrades like projection rooms.
The arts industry’s approach to digital technology has changed dramatically in the past few years. Digital theatre is a popular new form of theatre that can be identified by the coexistence of “live” performers and digital media with a co-present audience. Digital Theatre captures live performance authentically on screen, using multiple camera angles and high-definition technology. These shows are distributed globally across multiple platforms so that people can enjoy the world’s finest theatre productions anywhere, anytime. Some may argue that this takes away the magic and experience of attending the theatre, but there’s no denying that advances in technology can help to grow and improve the theatre experience for a wider audience.