Imagine walking into a semi-circular theater with 18,000 spectators. Everyone is excited about this wonderful festival. This description perfectly fits one of an ancient Greek theater. Ancient Greek theaters were used for religious festivals, but later they were a source of entertainment. Almost every city in Greece had a theater. Only men were actors, which meant that the men had to act as women too. Greek plays were mostly comedies or tragedies. In a comedy, the actors wore bright colors and had bright decorations. In a tragedy, the actors wore darker colors and had darker backgrounds and scenes. They also wore goat skins, danced like goats, and the best performer would be awarded a kid goat. Actors wore masks and different costumes.
The structure of a Greek theater was divided into many sections. The main section is called the Orchestra. The Orchestra was where the chorus sang. All the other parts of the theatre were built around the orchestra. In the center of the theater there was a Thymeli, which was an altar. Later, the leader of a chorus would use the altar to conduct the chorus. The second section called the Koilon or Theatron was where the spectators would sit. It was simply the auditorium. The Koilon was divided into two Diozoma. There was the upper Diozoma and the lower Diozoma. The Diozoma are like the rows of a movie theater today. The third section of the ancient Greek Theater is called the Skene. The Skene is a hut that was used for the actors to change their costumes. Later, it became the background or scene. It used to be decorated as a palace or temple. Later on, other backgrounds were painted. The Skene had many entrances and exits for the appearance of ghosts and gods. Also, later on the Skene became a two-story building.
Along the walls of the auditorium are the Parados. The actors would appear from the Parados. If the actors came from the right-hand door, it meant that they were from the city. If they came from the left-hand door, it meant that they were from some distant place. The Parados was significant for the plot of the play. Towards the back of the Skene there were two buildings with doors called the Proskenion. The Proskenion enhanced the theme of the Skene. It was a front wall of the stage and an acting area. On top of the Proskenion there was a logeio, which was a raised platform where a public speaker would stand.
All these parts of the ancient Greek theater were cleverly designed. It is also said that people who visit Greek theaters and sit on the Koilon can hear every word clearly from the person down on the bottom. This is because the dome-shaped structure encloses the sound so it doesn’t escape. All of these unique techniques in ancient Greek theaters should be preserved and, like all history, be remembered.
The Orchestra was the almost circular place, situated in front of the scene (stage) facing the audience. At the center of the orchestra was situated the Thymeli, which at the early years was meant to be an altar and later on, a place, where the leader of the chorus (koryphaios) was standing.
The architecture of the ancient Greek theatre consists of three major parts: the Orchestra, the Skene and the main theatre, called Koilon.
The Koilon (or Theatron) was the auditorium of the Greek theater, where the spectators sat. It was called Koilon because of its shape. Its shape was semi-circular, built around the orchestra. It was divided in two Diazoma, the upper and the lower. At first the spectators were sitting around the orchestra. Later the Greeks started building the Koilon. It is believed that during the 5th century, the spectators carried along cushions to sit on. Radial staircases separated the Koilon into wedge shaped sections, in order to make the entrance and exit of the spectators easier.
The Greek Theater was a central place of formal gatherings in ancient Greece. Not only did the structure serve as the stage for Tragedies and Comedies, but it also provided a forum for poetry and musical events.
The scene had one or three entrances for the actors. The sides of the Skene facing the audience, served for background as were decorated as a Palace or a Temple. Later on, as scenography (i.e. theatrical painting) developed, painted panels with other themes, such as woods, army camps etc were placed as background. The side doors beside the retaining walls of the auditorium were called the Parodos, through which the spectators entered the theatre. The appearance of actors through these entrances was significant for the plot of the play: the public was aware of the convention that when an actor entered from the right-hand door, he was coming from the city; the use of the opposite door meant that he was arriving from some distant place. The members of the chorus always stayed in the orchestra, even later when a platform and stage buildings were added to its open side. There was a strict mathematical relationship between stage, altar and auditorium, which was related to the effort to perfect the acoustics.
At the back of the Skene one could find two buildings with doors, that let on the Proskenion and as far as their decoration is concerned, they might extend the theme of the Skene or even present another theme.
The orchestra (playing area) was the soul of the theatre. All the other parts grew up around it, as its final circle was surrounded by the auditorium. The altar, which was right in the centre, had to be equidistant from all sections. The side doors beside the retaining walls of the auditorium were called the parodoi, through which the spectators entered the theatre. The appearance of actors through these entrances was significant for the plot of the play: the public was aware of the convention that when an actor entered from the right-hand door, he was coming from the city; the use of the opposite door meant that he was arriving from some distant place. The members of the chorus always stayed in the orchestra, even later when a platform and stage buildings were added to its open side. There was a strict mathematical relationship between stage, altar and auditorium, which was related to the effort to perfect the acoustics.
With the creation of the stage, steps were built leading up from the orchestra to the logeio (platform), where the actors recited their parts. At the back there was a large wooden facade, movable and painted, which depicted an outdoor backdrop. This facade was always the same according to the play: in tragedy an official building was shown, usually a palace or temple; in comedy smaller, rural buildings tended to be used; in satyric drama, the scenery required a cave entrance. As the performances were held during the day, no artificial lighting was necessary, although there were various sound effects used, such as metallic containers full of water to increase the volume of the speeches, and pebbles were shaken around in bronze jars to sound like thunder. The technicians who wielded these vessels would either stand behind the scenery or along the sides of the platform, in the side-wings. In the stage building behind the platform, there were areas where the actors changed their masks and costumes and where these props were kept after the performance.