Introduction to Theatre

Origins of Theatre

     Theatre at its core is storytelling.  Stories to unite, define, defend, express and imagine.  Humans define themselves and their world with their stories.  Humanity expresses the passage of time, the depth of emotion and the awareness of identity with the story structure.  As such, theatre, is as old as humans and human civilizations.  The many cradles of civilization:


Mesopotamia, Africa, China, Sumeria


Village elders would share stories and use the arts of theatre performance to enhance their storytelling.

Arts of Theatrical Performance:


Arts of Theatrical Performance or Active Storytelling:

Mimicry and Imitation - how we learn       

      Exaggeration - to make things more than what they are  

 Personification - to make things like us

        Feats of Power or things doing the impossible - to astound us

  Lighting - to draw our focus

Shadow Creation - to show us what is real and believable

     Costuming - to show us relationships  

  Properties Use - to tell us the truth about a character

Movement and Dance - to create energy and express emotion

      Vocal Projection and Modulation - so we can hear, and tell the difference between speakers and emotions

Singing - the emotional state of the character              

Special effects - to single out a significant moment              

      Sound Effects - to help us feel like we are there

           Visual Metaphors - meaning layered onto all that is designed to be seen

      Allegories and Allegorical Characters - they represent something bigger and more complex than they are

         Simplifications - to make things less than what they are

     Timing - rhythm  and speed and pace and pauses      

              Character Creation - who is chosen to be part of the story       

         Comparison - a way to study differences

                 Sequencing - the order in which the story elements are revealed      

     Expectation Recognition - knowing our audience and the kind of stories they like   

             Moral Deductions - applying a relationship between good and bad to the story                       


The reasons an elder or other tribe member would tell a theatrical story:

To identify with an object or event.

To express an emotion beyond words.

To unite a group toward a common goal.

To explain the explainable.

To share crucial lessons and information.

To give a group an identity separate from others.

To provide hope.

To lesson grief.

To excite and motivate.

To remember and to be remembered.

These are just a few of the reasons.

Not all entertainment is Theatre. 

The four crucial elements a story must have to be defined as Theatre are:  Idea, Actors, Audience and A fundamental change of the Protagonist.

This fundamental change is key. 

This separates theatre from Performance Art, Sporting Events, Poetry Slams ect.

Nganalam Cave Painting


Cave Painting, Dance scene


Introduction to Theatre Origin Links:

Origins of Theatre




Origins Vocabulary

Active Storytelling – using the tenants of theatricality to transform a story into a theatre presentation.

Ritual – a religious ceremony with prescribed actions and dialogue.

Ceremonial – a ritual that marks a change of status or rite of passage.

Intercommunication – two way communication between two or more beings.

Culture – an accepted set of norms and way of life among a group of people.

Sub-Culture – a smaller group with varied vocabulary, rituals, and belief systems existing within a larger culture.

Allegorical – to represent something more than the parts involved.

Non-Verbal Communication – any and all communication that does not involve speech.

Acculturated – assimilation through experience or teaching into a culture or sub-culture.

Convention – a way of behaving that is accepted by the majority.

Expectations – a belief that a set of parameters will be met.

Archetype – an excepted symbol that represents the epitome of an example or type.

Personification – to apply human traits to non-human objects.

Divinity – pertaining to having the attributes of more than human nature but less than God.

Humanities – the study of what makes us human.



Origins of Theatre Project Options


1.  An unexpected and most terrible storm floods your village.  You are the village elder.  You take everyone away to a safe cave.  The people are scared and fighting and blaming each other for silly things.  You need to calm them and grab all of their attention.  How do you do this and what story do you tell them to bring everyone together and to calm them all.

2.  Take a simple story and act it out for the class using the many arts of expressive storytelling.

3.  Research ancient stories and legends and illustrate with the way you see those stories being told by ancient peoples.  (hint:  ancient special effects research).

4.  List modern examples that fulfill the ancient reasons for storytelling in today’s arts media.

5.  Divide the class into two groups, give each a well-known story to present and using the arts of theatricality have them try to outdo one another in the spectacular presentation of their story.



Created for OER      Collective Commons Copyright        Valerie Brugh    VWCC

Origins of Theatre

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