or arena stage

Theatre in which the stage is located in the centre of the auditorium with the audience seated on all sides. The form evolved from Greek theatre and was used in medieval times. From the 17th century the proscenium stage limited audience seating to the area directly in front of the stage. In the 1930s, plays at Moscow's Realistic Theatre were produced in the round and the arena stage began to gain favour in Europe and the U.S. Its advantages are its informality and the rapport it creates between audience and actors, but it requires actors to turn constantly to address new sections of the audience.

Learn more about theatre-in-the-round with a free trial on

Live performance of dramatic actions in order to tell a story or create a spectacle. The word derives from the Greek theatron (“place of seeing”). Theatre is one of the oldest and most important art forms in cultures worldwide. While the script is the basic element of theatrical performance, it also relies in varying degrees on acting, singing, and dancing, as well as on technical aspects of production (see stagecraft). Theatre is thought to have had its earliest origins in religious ritual; it often enacts myths or stories central to the belief structure of a culture or creates comedy through travesty of such narratives. In Western civilization, theatre began in ancient Greece and was adapted in Roman times; it was revived in the medieval liturgical dramas and flourished in the Renaissance with the Italian commedia dell'arte and in the 17th–18th century with established companies such as the Comédie-Française. Varying theatrical forms may evolve to suit the tastes of different audiences (e.g., in Japan, the kabuki of the townspeople and the Noh theatre of the court). In Europe and the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th centuries, theatre was a major source of entertainment for all social classes, with forms ranging from burlesque shows and vaudeville to serious dramas performed in the style of the Moscow Art Theatre. Though the musicals of Broadway and the farces of London's West End retain their popular appeal, the rise of television and movies has eroded audiences for live theatre and has tended to limit its spectators to an educated elite. Seealso little theatre.

Learn more about theatre with a free trial on

Production of several different plays in a single season by a resident acting company. The plays chosen may be classic works by famous dramatists or new works by emerging playwrights, and the companies that perform them often serve as a training ground for young actors. In Britain the practice, intended to make high-quality theatre available throughout the country, began in the early 20th century. Repertory companies, or stock companies, originally presented a different play each night of the week while preparing and rehearsing new plays. The system evolved to the current practice of presenting a series of short, continuous runs of each play.

Learn more about repertory theatre with a free trial on

Common symbols used in modern musical notation.

Written, printed, or other visual representation of music. There are two basic approaches to notating music. Tablature (such as guitar chord diagrams) depicts the actions a performer is to take (in particular, showing where to put the fingers to produce a given sound). Symbolic notation describes the sounds themselves and includes methods that vary from assigning pitches different letters of the alphabet to representing a given combination of notes by a graphic sign. The Western notation system combines rhythmic notation (the appearance of a note indicates its duration) with pitch notation (the line or space on a staff where a note is placed indicates its pitch). Thus, a single symbol shows both pitch and duration, and a string of these symbols notates both melody and rhythm.

Learn more about musical notation with a free trial on

or musical comedy

Theatrical production that is characteristically sentimental and amusing in nature, having a simple but distinctive plot and offering music, dancing, and dialogue. Its roots can be traced to 18th- and 19th-century genres such as ballad opera, singspiel, and opéra comique. The Black Crook (1866), often called the first musical comedy, attracted patrons of opera and serious drama as well as those of burlesque shows. European composers such as Sigmund Romberg brought to the U.S. a form of operetta that was the generic source for musical comedy. George M. Cohan ushered in the genre's heyday, and in the 1920s and '30s it entered its richest period with the works of Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and Oscar Hammerstein. Kern and Hammerstein's Show Boat (1927) was perhaps the first musical to employ music thoroughly integrated with the narrative. The genre flourished in the 1950s with works by composers such as Leonard Bernstein, but it began to decline in the late 1960s, by which time musicals had begun to diverge in many different directions, incorporating elements such as rock music, operatic styling, extravagant lighting and staging, social comment, nostalgia, and pure spectacle. Later notable musical composers included Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Learn more about musical with a free trial on

Popular entertainment that featured successive acts by singers, comedians, dancers, and actors. The form derived from the taproom concerts given in city taverns in England in the 18th–19th centuries. To meet the demand for entertainment for the working class, tavern owners often annexed nearby buildings as music halls, where drinking and smoking were permitted. The originator of the English music hall as such was Charles Morton, who built Morton's Canterbury Hall (1852) and Oxford Hall (1861) in London. Leading performers included Lillie Langtry, Harry Lauder (1870–1950), and Gracie Fields. Music halls evolved into larger, more respectable variety theatres, such as London's Hippodrome and the Coliseum. Variety acts combined music, comedy acts, and one-act plays and featured celebrities such as Sarah Bernhardt and Herbert Tree. Seealso vaudeville.

Learn more about music hall and variety theatre with a free trial on

Movement in U.S. theatre to free dramatic forms and methods of production from the limitations of the large commercial theatres by establishing small experimental centres of drama. Young dramatists, stage designers, and actors influenced by the vital European theatre of the late 19th century, especially by the theories of Max Reinhardt, established community playhouses such as the Little Theatre, New York City (1912), the Little Theatre, Chicago (1912), and the Toy Theatre, Boston (1912). A few became important commercial producers; the Washington Square Players (1915), for example, later became the Theatre Guild (1918). Playwrights such as Eugene O'Neill, George S. Kaufman, and Maxwell Anderson found their early opportunities in the little theatres.

Learn more about little theatre with a free trial on

Dramatic form developed in Germany after World War I by Bertolt Brecht and others, intended to provoke rational thought rather than to create illusion. It presents loosely connected scenes often interrupted by direct addresses to the audience providing analysis, argument, or documentation. Brecht's goal was to use alienating or distancing effects to block the emotional responses of the audience members and force them to think objectively about the play. Actors were instructed to keep a distance between themselves and the characters they portrayed and to emphasize external actions rather than emotions.

Learn more about epic theatre with a free trial on

Theatre wholly or partly subsidized by the city in which it operates. The term is also used for a noncommercial community theatre, meaning a noncommercial, locally based group. Most civic theatres in Europe are professional organizations; in the U.S. they are often run by amateur groups and may later become resident professional theatres. The first major U.S. civic theatre was established in New Orleans in 1919.

Learn more about civic theatre with a free trial on

In the U.S., a dramatic movement encompassing plays written by, for, and about blacks. The first known play by an American black was James Brown's King Shotaway (1823). After the Civil War, blacks began to perform in minstrel shows, and musicals written, produced, and acted entirely by blacks appeared by circa 1900. The first real success of a black dramatist was Angelina W. Grimké's Rachel (1916). Theatre flourished during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s, and by 1940 the American Negro Theater and the Negro Playwrights' Co. were firmly established. After World War II black theatre grew more progressive and militant, seeking to establish its own mythology, abolish racial stereotypes, and integrate black playwrights into the mainstream. Its strongest proponent, Amiri Baraka, established the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in 1965. In the 1980s and '90s the African American playwrights Charles Fuller and August Wilson won Pulitzer Prizes.

Learn more about black theatre with a free trial on

British theatre company. It was formed in 1962 as the National Theatre with Laurence Olivier as director (1962–73) and included many actors from the Old Vic company. In 1976 the company moved from London's Old Vic Theatre to a newly constructed three-theatre complex on the southern bank of the Thames. In 1988 Queen Elizabeth II gave the company permission to add “Royal” to its name. Partly subsidized by the state, the theatre presents a mixed classic and modern repertoire. Its directors have included Peter Hall (1973–88), Richard Eyre (1988–97), Sir Trevor Nunn (1997–2003), and Nicholas Hytner (from 2003).

Learn more about Royal National Theatre with a free trial on

or Maryinsky Theatre, formerly Kirov Theatre

Russian imperial theatre in St. Petersburg. The theatre opened in 1860 and was named for Maria Aleksandrovna, wife of the reigning tsar. Ballet was not performed there until 1880 and was presented regularly only after 1889, when the Imperial Russian Ballet became its resident company and acquired the Mariinsky name. The theatre's name was changed to the State Academic Theatre (1917–35) and later to the Kirov (for Sergey Kirov) State Academic Theatre for Opera and Ballet (1935–91); it reverted to its original name in 1991. Its resident ballet company, the celebrated Mariinsky (or Kirov) Ballet, tours worldwide.

Learn more about Mariinsky Theatre with a free trial on

New York theatre company (1931–41) founded by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, and Lee Strasberg to present U.S. plays of social significance. Embracing the acting principles of the Stanislavsky method, the company—which also included actors and directors such as Elia Kazan, Lee J. Cobb, and Stella Adler—staged John Howard Lawson's Success Story (1932), Sidney Kingsley's Men in White (1933), Clifford Odets's Waiting for Lefty (1935) and Golden Boy (1937), Irwin Shaw's Bury the Dead (1936), and William Saroyan's My Heart's in the Highlands (1939), among many other plays.

Learn more about Group Theatre with a free trial on

London theatre in which the plays of William Shakespeare were performed after 1599. It was built by two brothers, Cuthbert and Richard Burbage; half the shares were kept by the Burbages, and the rest were assigned equally to Shakespeare and other members of the Chamberlain's Men. The wooden theatre, built in the shape of an O with no roof over the central area, was destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and finally pulled down in 1644. Reconstructed (beginning 1987) near the site of the original theatre, the new Globe Theatre inaugurated its first regular season in 1996.

Learn more about Globe Theatre with a free trial on

Prominent ballet company based in New York City. It was founded in 1939 as the Ballet Theatre (the name was changed in 1958) by Lucia Chase and Richard Pleasant to promote works “American in character.” Oliver Smith replaced Pleasant as codirector in 1945; Mikhail Baryshnikov served as artistic director from 1980 to 1989 after dancing with the company in the 1970s. New ballets were created for the company by Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, and Antony Tudor; Michel Fokine revived many of his earlier works for them as well. Principal dancers have included Alicia Alonso, Erik Bruhn, Anton Dolin, and Natalia Makarova.

Learn more about American Ballet Theatre with a free trial on

Dublin theatre. It developed from the Irish Literary Theatre, founded in 1899 by William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory to foster Irish drama. After moving the troupe to a renovated theatre on Abbey Street in 1904, they codirected its productions with John Millington Synge, staged their own plays, and commissioned works by Sean O'Casey and others. Important premieres included Synge's The Playboy of the Western World (1907) and O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars (1926). The Abbey became the first state-subsidized theatre in the English-speaking world in 1924. A fire destroyed the original playhouse in 1951, and a new theatre was built in 1966.

Learn more about Abbey Theatre with a free trial on

A play, or stageplay, is a form of literature written by a playwright, almost always consisting of dialogue between fictional characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than reading. Many people (especially scholars) read plays for pleasure, or study them in an academic manner. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed or read. Therefore, the term "play" can refer to both the written works of playwrights and to their complete theatrical performance.

Richard Monette, who held the longest tenure of Artistic Director at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (1994-2007), said that plays on the shelf are literature, whereas plays on the stage are theatre.


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.

In Westeren culture, the play originated in Ancient Greece and was popular through Roman times. They began to fade from popularity until the late 16th Century, when Shakespeare popularised theatres and plays. His influence on this literary form, and the English language, is still apparent today.

Shakespeare may, in fact, have helped introduce the play to England, as before the late 1500s there were no set plays in England, just wandering minstrels performing scenes on request.

The history of plays in Eastern theatre is traced back to 1000 BC with the Sanskrit drama of ancient Indian theatre. The earliest plays in Chinese theatre also date 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 plays in the medieval Islamic world were 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 ta'ziya plays.



Comedies are plays which are designed to be humourous. Comedies were one of the two original play types of Ancient Greece, along with tragedies.


A generally nonsensical genre of play, farces are often overacted and often involve slapstick humour.


A satire is a play that tends to poke fun at current events or famous people.


These plays often involve death and are designed to cause the reader or viewer to feel sadness. Tragedy was one of the two original play types of Ancient Greece.


These plays focus on actual historical events. They can be tragedies or comedies, but are often neither of these. History as a separate genre was popularised by William Shakespeare.


The term "play" can be either a general term, or more specifically refer to a non-musical play. Sometimes the term "straight play" is used in contrast to "musical", which refers to a play based on music, dance, and songs sung by the play's characters.

See also


Related topics


Search another word or see theatreon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature