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A play is a work of drama, usually consisting mostly of dialogue between characters and intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. The writer of a play is a playwright.
Plays are performed at a variety of levels, from London's West End and Broadway in New York City – which are the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world – to regional theatre, to community theatre, as well as university or school productions. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference as to whether their plays were performed or read. The term "play" can refer to both the written texts of playwrights and to their complete theatrical performance.
Comedies are plays which are designed to be humorous. Comedies are often filled with witty remarks, unusual characters, and strange circumstances. Certain comedies are geared toward different age groups. Comedies were one of the two original play types of Ancient Greece, along with tragedies. An example of a comedy would be William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream , or for a more modern example the skits from Saturday Night Live .
A generally nonsensical genre of play, farces are often acted and often involve humor. An example of a farce includes William Shakespeare's play The Comedy of Errors , or Mark Twain's play Is He Dead? .
A satire play takes a comic look at current events, while at the same time attempting to make a political or social statement, for example pointing out corruption. An example of a satire would be Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector and Aristophanes' Lysistrata . Satire plays are generally one of the most popular forms of comedy, and often considered to be their own genre entirely.
Restoration comedy is a genre that explored relationships between men and women, and was considered risqué in its time.Characters featured in restoration comedy included stereotypes of all kinds, and these same stereotypes were found in most plays of this genre, so much so that most plays were very similar in message and content. However, since restoration comedy dealt with unspoken aspects of relationships, it created a type of connection between audience and performance that was more informal and private.
It is commonly agreed that restoration comedy has origins in Molière’s theories of comedy, but differs in intention and tone.The inconsistency between restoration comedy’s morals and the morals of the era is something that often arises during the study of this genre. This may give clues as to why, despite its original success, restoration comedy did not last long in the seventeenth century. However, in recent years, it has become a topic of interest for theatre theorists, who have been looking into theatre styles that have their own conventions of performance.
These plays contain darker themes such as death and disaster. Often the protagonist of the play has a tragic flaw, a trait which leads to their downfall. Tragic plays convey all emotions and have very dramatic conflicts. Tragedy was one of the two original play types of Ancient Greece. Some examples of tragedies include William Shakespeare's Hamlet , and also John Webster's play The Duchess of Malfi .
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 popularized by William Shakespeare. Examples of historical plays include Friedrich Schiller's Demetrius and Shakespeare's King John .
Ballad opera, a popular theatre style at the time, was the first style of musical to be performed in the American colonies. The first musical of American origin was premiered in Philadelphia in 1767, and was called “The Disappointment”, however, this play never made it to production.
Modern Western musical theatre emerged in the Victorian era, with many structural elements established by the works of Gilbert and Sullivan in Britain and those of Harrigan and Hart in America. Around the 1920s, theatre styles were beginning to be defined more clearly. For musical theatre, this meant that composers gained the right to create every song in the play, and these new plays were held to more specific conventions, such as thirty-two-bar songs. When the Great Depression came, many people left Broadway for Hollywood, and the atmosphere of Broadway musicals changed significantly. A similar situation occurred during the 1960s, when composers were scarce and musicals lacked vibrancy and entertainment value.
By the 1990s, there were very few original Broadway musicals, as many were recreations of movies or novels.
Musical productions have songs to help explain the story and move the ideas of the play along. They are usually accompanied by dancing. Musicals can be very elaborate in settings and actor performances. Examples of musical productions include Wicked and Fiddler on the Roof.
This theatre style originated in the 1940s when Antonin Artaud hypothesized about the effects of expressing through the body as opposed to “by socially conditioned thought.” In 1946, he wrote a preface to his works in which he explained how he came to write what and the way he did.
Above all, Artaud did not trust language as a means of communication. Plays within the genre of theatre of cruelty are abstract in convention and content. Artaud wanted his plays to have an effect and accomplish something. His intention was to symbolise the subconscious through bodily performances, as he did not believe language could be effective. Artaud considered his plays to be an enactment rather than a re-enactment, which meant he believed his actors were in reality, rather than re-enacting reality.
His plays dealt with heavy issues such as patients in psych wards, and Nazi Germany. Through these performances, he wanted to “make the causes of suffering audible”, however, audiences originally reacted poorly, as they were so taken aback by what they saw. Much of his work was banned in France at the time.
Artaud did not believe that conventional theatre of the time would allow the audience to have a cathartic experience and help heal the wounds of World War II. For this reason, he moved towards radio-based theatre, in which the audience could use their imagination to connect the words they were hearing to their body. This made his work much more personal and individualized, which he believed would increase the effectiveness of portraying suffering.
Theatre of the Absurd: This genre generally includes metaphysical representations of existential qualms and questions. Theatre of the absurd denies rationality, and embraces the inevitability of falling into the abyss of the human condition. Instead of discussing these issues, however, theatre of the absurd is a demonstration of them. This leaves the audience to discuss and question the content of the play for themselves.
One of the main aspects of theatre of the absurd is the physical contradiction to language. Oftentimes, the dialogue between characters will directly oppose their actions.
Famous playwrights within this genre include Beckett, Sartre, Ionesco, Adamov, and Genet.
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. For a short play, the term "playlet" is sometimes used.
The term "script" refers to the written text of the play. After the front matter, such as title and author, it conventionally begins with a dramatis personae : a list presenting each of the main characters of the play by name, followed by a brief characterization (e.g., "Stephano, a drunken Butler".)
For a musical play (opera, light opera, or musical) the term "libretto" is commonly used, instead of "script".
A play is usually divided into acts, similar to what chapters are in a novel. A short play may consist of only a single act, and then is called a "one-acter". Acts are subdivided into scenes. Acts are numbered, and so are scenes; the scene numbering starts again at 1 for each next act, so Act 4, Scene 3 may be followed by Act 5, Scene 1. Each scene is set at one specified location, indicated in the script at the start of the scene (e.g., "Scene 1. Before the cell of Prospero."). Changing locations usually requires changing the scenery, which takes time – even if merely a painted backdrop – and can only be done between scenes.
Next to the text to be spoken by the actors, a script contains "stage directions" (not to be confused with the use of that term in blocking, the staging of actors with specified movements across the stage). The most common type is for the entering and exiting of actors, e.g. "[ExeuntCaliban, Stephano, and Trinculo.]" ( Exeunt is the Latin plural of exit, meaning "[they] leave".) Other stage directions may indicate the manner of delivery of the text, like "[Aside]" or "[Sings]", or indicate sounds to be produced off-stage, like "[Thunder]".
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The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to theatre:
A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes plays.
English Renaissance theatre, also known as Renaissance English theatre and Elizabethan theatre, refers to the theatre of England between 1558 and 1642.
The Theatre of the Absurd is a post–World War II designation for particular plays of absurdist fiction written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1950s. It is also a term for the style of theatre the plays represent. The plays focus largely on ideas of existentialism and express what happens when human existence lacks meaning or purpose and communication breaks down. The structure of the plays is typically a round shape, with the finishing point the same as the starting point. Logical construction and argument give way to irrational and illogical speech and to the ultimate conclusion—silence.
Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragic and comic forms. Most often seen in dramatic literature, the term can describe either a tragic play which contains enough comic elements to lighten the overall mood or a serious play with a happy ending. Tragicomedy, as its name implies, invokes the intended response of both the tragedy and the comedy in the audience, the former being a genre based on human suffering that invokes an accompanying catharsis and the latter being a genre intended to be humorous or amusing by inducing laughter.
Drama was introduced to Britain from Europe by the Romans, and auditoriums were constructed across the country for this purpose.
Political theatre has at least two definitions: political posturing or theatre that comments on political and social issues.
The Theatre of Cruelty is a form of theatre generally associated with Antonin Artaud. Artaud, who was briefly a member of the surrealist movement, outlined his theories in The Theatre and its Double. The Theatre of Cruelty can be seen as a break from traditional Western theatre and a means by which artists assault the senses of the audience. Artaud's works have been highly influential on artists including Jean Genet, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook, and Romeo Castellucci.
Shakespeare's plays are a canon of approximately 39 dramatic works written by English poet, playwright, and actor William Shakespeare. The exact number of plays—as well as their classifications as tragedy, history, or comedy—is a matter of scholarly debate. Shakespeare's plays are widely regarded as being among the greatest in the English language and are continually performed around the world. The plays have been translated into every major living language.
A Most pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus the Kings Sonne of Valentia, and Amadine the Kinges daughter of Aragon, commonly called Mucedorus, is an Elizabethan romantic comedy, first performed around 1590 and regularly revived until the Restoration. It was one of the most performed plays of its age, and 16 quarto editions were published between 1598 and 1668 making it the most widely printed play from the time. It was performed for both Queen Elizabeth and King James I. A revised and expanded version was published in 1610 with additional scenes.
Metatheatre, and the closely related term metadrama, describes the aspects of a play that draw attention to its nature as drama or theatre, or to the circumstances of its performance.
Thousands of performances of William Shakespeare's plays have been staged since the end of the 16th century. While Shakespeare was alive, many of his greatest plays were performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men and King's Men acting companies at the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres. Among the actors of these original performances were Richard Burbage, Richard Cowley, and William Kempe.
Theatre of United Kingdom plays an important part in British culture, and the countries that constitute the UK have had a vibrant tradition of theatre since the Renaissance with roots going back to the Roman occupation.
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance: a play, opera, mime, ballet, etc., performed in a theatre, or on radio or television. Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been contrasted with the epic and the lyrical modes ever since Aristotle's Poetics —the earliest work of dramatic theory.
Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place, often a stage. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music, and dance. Elements of art, such as painted scenery and stagecraft such as lighting are used to enhance the physicality, presence and immediacy of the experience. The specific place of the performance is also named by the word "theatre" as derived from the Ancient Greek θέατρον, itself from θεάομαι.
Comedy is a genre of fiction consisting of discourses or works intended to be humorous or amusing by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, film, stand-up comedy, television, radio, books, or any other entertainment medium. The term originated in Ancient Greece: in Athenian democracy, the public opinion of voters was influenced by political satire performed by comic poets in theaters. The theatrical genre of Greek comedy can be described as a dramatic performance pitting two groups or societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old." A revised view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions posing obstacles to his hopes. In this struggle, the youth is constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to resort to ruses which engender dramatic irony, which provokes laughter.
An actor is a person who portrays a character in a performance. The actor performs "in the flesh" in the traditional medium of the theatre or in modern media such as film, radio, and television. The analogous Greek term is ὑποκριτής (hupokritḗs), literally "one who answers". The actor's interpretation of their role—the art of acting—pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character. This can also be considered an "actor's role," which was called this due to scrolls being used in the theaters. Interpretation occurs even when the actor is "playing themselves", as in some forms of experimental performance art.
The history of theatre charts the development of theatre over the past 2,500 years. While performative elements are present in every society, it is customary to acknowledge a distinction between theatre as an art form and entertainment and theatrical or performative elements in other activities. The history of theatre is primarily concerned with the origin and subsequent development of the theatre as an autonomous activity. Since classical Athens in the 6th century BC, vibrant traditions of theatre have flourished in cultures across the world.
History is one of the three main genres in Western theatre alongside tragedy and comedy, although it originated, in its modern form, thousands of years later than the other primary genres. For this reason, it is often treated as a subset of tragedy. A play in this genre is known as a history play and is based on a historical narrative, often set in the medieval or early modern past. History emerged as a distinct genre from tragedy in Renaissance England. The best known examples of the genre are the history plays written by William Shakespeare, whose plays still serve to define the genre. History plays also appear elsewhere in British and Western literature, such as Thomas Heywood's Edward IV, Schiller's Mary Stuart or the Dutch genre Gijsbrecht van Aemstel.
Sentimental comedy is an 18th-century dramatic genre which sprang up as a reaction to the immoral tone of English Restoration plays. In sentimental comedies, middle-class protagonists triumphantly overcome a series of moral trials. These plays aimed to produce tears rather than laughter and reflected contemporary philosophical conceptions of humans as inherently good but capable of being led astray by bad example. By appealing to his noble sentiments, a man could be reformed and set back on the path of virtue. While the plays contained characters whose natures seemed overly virtuous and whose problems were too easily resolved, they were accepted by audiences as truthful representations of the human predicament.