Theatre (or theater, see spelling differences) is the branch of the performing arts defined by Bernard Beckerman as what "occurs when one or more persons, isolated in time and/or space, present themselves to another or others. By this broad definition, theatre has existed since the dawn of man, as a result of human tendency for story telling. Since its inception, theatre has come to take on many forms, often utilizing elements such as speech, gesture, music, dance, and spectacle, combining the other performing arts, often as well as the visual arts, into a single artistic form.
The word derives from the Ancient Greek theatron (θέατρον), meaning "the seeing place".
The earliest recorded theatrical event dates back to 2000 BC with the passion plays of Ancient Egypt. This story of the god Osiris was performed annually at festivals throughout the civilization, marking the known beginning of a long relationship between theatre and religion.
The ancient Greeks began formalizing theatre as an art, developing strict definitions of tragedy and comedy as well as other forms, including satyr plays. Like the passion plays of ancient Egypt, Greek plays made use of mythological characters. The Greeks also developed the concepts of dramatic criticism, acting as a career, and theatre architecture.
Western theatre continued to develop under the Roman Empire, in medieval England, and continued to thrive, taking on many alternate forms in Spain, Italy, France, and Russia in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The general trend over the centuries was away from the poetic drama of the Greeks and the Renaissance and toward a more realistic style, especially following the Industrial Revolution. A uniquely American theatre developed along with the colonization of North America.
The history of Eastern theatre is traced back to 1000 BC with the Sanskrit drama of ancient Indian theatre. Chinese theatre also dates back to around the same time. Japanese forms of Kabuki, Noh, and Kyogen date back to the 17th century. Other Eastern forms were developed throughout China, Korea, and Southeast Asia.
The most popular forms of theater in the medieval Islamic world were puppet theatre (which included hand puppets, shadow plays and marionette productions) and live passion plays known as ta'ziya, where actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. In particular, Shia Islamic plays revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. Live secular plays were known as akhraja, recorded in medieval adab literature, though they were less common than puppetry and ta'ziya theater.
The most recognisable figures in theatre are the directors, playwrights, and actors, but theatre is a highly collaborative endeavour. Plays are usually produced by a production team that commonly includes a scenic or set designer, lighting designer, costume designer, sound designer, dramaturg, stage manager, props mistress or props master and production manager. The artistic staff is assisted by technical theatre personnel who handle creation and execution of the production.
Some theatre theorists argue that actors should study all of the commonly-taught acting methods to perfect their craft (though many others disagree), such as the Meisner, Stanislavsky, Strasberg, and Hagen acting methods. However, the majority of modern western theatre is derived from Stanislavski's "system" in one form or another.
In order to put on a piece of theatre, both a theatre company and a theatre venue are needed. When a theatre company is the sole company in residence at a theatre venue, this theatre (and it's corresponding theatre company) are called a resident theatre or a producing theatre, because the venue produces its own work. Other theatre companies, as well as dance companies, do not have their own theatre venue. These companies will therefore either perform at rental theatres or at presenting theatres. Both rental and presenting theatres have no full time resident companies. They do, however, sometimes have one (or multiple) part time resident companies, in addition to other independent partner companies who arrange to use the space when available. A rental theatre allows the independent companies to seek out the space, while a presenting theatre seeks out the independent companies to support their work by presenting them on their stage.
Found Theatre is an exception to this rule, putting on pieces of theatre without a theatre venue. These performances can take place outside or inside, in a non-traditional performance space, and include street theatre, and site specific theatre.
A touring company is an independent theatre or dance company that travels, often internationally, being presented at a different theatre in each city.