Theatre of Dionysus

Symbolism and the Theater of DionysusDionysius-Theater

The Theatre of Dionysus was set in the precinct of Dionysus Eleuthereus, near the Acropolis.  Not uncommon to many theater companies today, performances were mostly presented outside, letting the audience decide to sit or stand, but around 498 B.C.E. it is thought that wooden seats were utilized.

Exact formation of this type of arrangement is known today as a proscenium thrust, and can be recognized in major theaters throughout the world. The earliest asset of the Theatre of Dionysus was the orchestra, “The dancing place,” and smack dab in the middle of the orchestra, laid an altar, otherwise known as thymele.  It wasn’t till Aeschylus wrote the simple words, “SCENE: Palace at Argos,” in the beginning of his trilogy, that background building existed.

Prior to such commodities, the actors would simply ask the audience to imagine they were at a given location.  However, once the background building (skene) came into play, other devices were created to compliment and improve the concept.  Pinakes were attached to background building, and could be detached and changed with another pinake as seen fit.  This may seem like a simple idea, but it has left a lasting impression.

The pinakes are what we would call flats, and these flats, still used in Twenty-First Century Theater, require an array of workers, anyone from a painter to a carpenter can find work in the creation of a pinake.  After the success and response of the skene and pinake, the periaktoi were introduced, three-sided cylinders with a different tableau for each side.  Periaktoi are still used in major set pieces, as they are sound in the sense that they are (for the most part) foolproof, and straightforward.

These developments not only enriched the actions executed on stage, but set a tone for the theatre community as a whole, saying: This is a collaborative effort! Much like the Spartans prepared dutifully, consistently, and devotedly for battle in order to produce the cleanest and most efficient effect, so do thespians prepare and agonize in hopes of that kismet beauty.

As we live and breathe so does the Theatre of Dionysus.  Educating the youthful thespians of the traditions expected to carry on through them will inspire a hunger for authentic creation.  It is not enough to pick up a script, stand on a stage, or speak a word without paying respect to such men as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Aristotle.  Respect is always due to those who pave a path for others to plant forests.

While artists of the present generation may sometimes feel clouded by all the technological gadgets meant to dissociate people with Truth, they should feel like the Spartans did: Responsible.  It’s the responsibility of the dignified artist to wake up the souls locked in human shells, and as Aristotle said, “Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them.”