Monday, January 19, 2009

Introduction to Theater

I have always been a fan of theater productions. In fact, I used to be a stage actor when I was in high school. Every single moment spent with my co-actors is a time well spent. There is certainly that unexplainable feeling that you can only get from becoming a part of a stage play. Hard work and patience really took root on me as we rehearse plays days after days, to think that during this time, I had to balance my high school academic life and acting career (so to speak). 

Acting is not easy but it is surely fun. Some of my high school classmates would admire me and ask me how it feels to be on stage. I delight at the feeling of being noticed, and I tell them that acting is not just a privilege but more of a responsibility. In acting, you need to keep your schedule of rehearsals, memorize lines and take care of your voice. Unless you can keep these things then you won’t survive in theater. 

True enough, discipline was an attitude our directors would often tell us to have. If an actor lacks discipline then no matter how good he is then he will never be an effective actor. Later on, I was recognized as one of the best actors in our high school. I was recognized as best supporting actor in a play where I acted as an ostentatious gay vendor selling “talong” and other vegetables. 

Years have passed and those people who have seen the play still calls me “talong.” Just proves how effective the power of “talong” can be on people’s memory. My point is simple, theater experience is something that can never be achieved in a normal activity. 

Frankly, when I find myself on a stage I crave to act again. I want to be somebody else. That’s the power of theater. You can become anybody that you want, and the audiences believe you for that short span of time while you act your part on stage. They don’t laugh at you or ridicule you because they accept who you are when they are watching. Some may call this escapism, I call it the ‘Superman Effect’. 

Everyone wants to become somebody else for a time, and after experiencing the feeling of becoming somebody, you can go back to your true self that everybody knows. Just like Superman who shows his superhero side when he feels needed. He gets famous and powerful but after that, he comes back to being Clark Kent, the simple reporter who is undistinguishable with other citizens. Truly a remarkable experience, theater gives a person satisfaction to this fleeting life and I am fortunate that I have experienced all these.    

Establishing my background on theater, I would like to proceed now to Theater 100. What have I learned in this class? How is my experience? Not to kiss anybody’s ass but this class is one of the best classes I had this semester. Everything else was just a mill around my neck which made me dread coming to those classes. But with Theater 100, I always felt like I can do my stuff for after all this is my turf and I am so comfortable with what I am doing. 

Actually I am very interested with we have studied in the class plus the teacher was so animated and he always make the class laugh. I love the teacher and the way he handled this class. He did not make the class feel like we are studying but instead he brought us to what we are studying. 

I have learned that there is a difference between learning and knowing. People learn things with effort as if these are things needed to be caught. But when people know, they just look at themselves and realize that they need not go far to find what they are looking for. In the University, most teachers tell students to learn. But in Theater 100, the professor made us know what theater really is. This is the reason why I think everybody enjoyed the class. 

This is not to say that the class was just about fun. The professor knows very well that it is important to educate the students so he needed to build a wall for a student-teacher relationship. I think that is healthy since students become more respectful of the teacher if they are not too close. 

The first time I saw the professor went berserk because of a pompous student, saying he (the student) was busy when asked why he was absent for a number of times, I was perplexed. I did not know whether to find the situation funny or serious. The professor after all had had that jolly aura for the most part of the semester and there you see him blowing his top over some insensitive guy. But it made me realize that you don’t take this subject easily. 

Aside from the academic demands, you also have to consider respect to fellow beings.    Lesson wise, I have learned a great deal about theater. The way it was presented in class was so interesting that it’s not difficult to get close to what we are discussing. I have for a time believed that if a student can associate himself to what he is studying then it is easier and more interesting to learn. 

Some of the things that I could not forget in this class are: the quality of audience, the theater (especially the proscenium  theater), the history of theater (which appealed to me like stories of Greek gods and goddesses), and of course the series of reporting which include my report on French Theater , expressionism (lovely) and Asian Theater especially that of Chinese and Japanese.    

Working now on details, audience are groups and each audience differ in size and self image. Each has certain arrangements and theatrical norms that allow actors to do certain things. Self-image of the audience is also an important consideration. Audiences are also ephemeral and affect performance. Two kinds of dissatisfied audiences are unprepared audience or those who are fairly new to plays and the unwilling audience or those who are required and forced to watch a play.    

The theater on the other hand specifically on the performance spaces  such as the stage and everything around it is a combination of different parts. The proscenium theater, an image of a picture frame, is made up of a stage. It usually has an apron which is used for the orchestra. The back part is called the backwall usually covered by a cyclorama, a white cloth for lighting. On the left and right  sides of the stage are wings which can be curtains. At the back of the stage is what we call a crossover. The seats are elevated in a proscenium theater. The stage is divided into nine parts namely: Upper Right, Upper Center, and Upper Left; Center Right, Center Stage, and Center Left; Down Right, Down Center, and Down Left. 

On the ceiling are lights hanging from rods called batters. These lights are covered by black curtains called tormentors. Other elements in the stage are tracks, hydraulics, revolving and kabuki. Other forms of stages on the other hand may include thrust, arena, black box, and found spaces.

The history of theater    

The history of theater goes a long way. We can say that theater started even during the times when people are naïve of the ways of the world. Plays are performed to mimic what is happening in their surrounding. Initially, theater functioned as religious performances often depicting stories of gods. 

In Greece, prominent men who have started theater include Protagoras, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes. The most identified god in theater is Dionysus making him the patron of theater. Festivals are held in honor of him. Dionysian festivals are commonly divided into three parts: for 2 Dithyrambs, for 3 tragedies, and for 1 satyr. 

The parts of a tragedy follows the four: prologo, parodos, staisma and exodo. Seelection of plays in Dionysian festival is done by the Archon or production manager in our time.  The Chorus is one of the most important part of the play. Among the roles they play are establishing the ethical and social framework of the play and creating intervals.    

Symbolic gestures in Greek plays are called Cheironomia, while rituals are Emmeleia and comic dances are Kordax. Chiton is the common costume where chlamys is the shorter one and himation is the longer one. Sandals are called kothornus. The stage is composed of the thymele or center altar, pinakes or background, ekkyklema or the platform for violence, mechane or flying machine for gods, paradois or entrance for the parados. 

From Greece then we move to Roman and the most famous structure associated at this period is the Coliseum.  From this time, theater history moved to religious era specially that of the Christianity and it is here that liturgical dramas were performed. Historically, theater began in monasteries and it was only later that it moved to the public. Usual types of plays included mystery, miracle, and morality. Theater performances were done by guilds and every guild has their own pageant wagons attracting the audience. Pageant masters act as overall chairman of performances. 

After secular movement in theater we move to Italy where Renaissance happened. During this time, plays have become humanistic and verisimilitude was adhered. Plays also observed the three unities of time, action and place. It was the Comedia Dell’Arte that significantly influenced theater production in Italy and later on in Europe and the rest of the world.

World theater


In the reporting, my report on French Theater made me realize some things. First of all, plays in Europe share some aspects in that during the 17th century, Italy, France, and Spain all observed the neoclassicist ideals where they observed the three unities of time, action, and place. They also showed in their play reward for the good and punishment for the evil. 

Such has been the standard that people had been accustomed to this norm and a deviation would usually create a stir in the public. In the case of Corneille, Racine, and Moliere in France, their nonconformity in the way plays are presented were met by violent reactions from the Church but later on was considered a great movement in the years that would pass. The other movements like Theater of the absurd taking the futility of this ephemeral world and the realism which is important to show what is really happening t constructivism where there is no one way of interpreting a play all contributed to my understanding of plays.

The Asian theater meanwhile made me realize that Eastern and Western have very different take on plays. That while Western is after a predictable sequence of plays, Eastern is more of intrinsic understanding making it difficult to understand. But this made me more proud as an Asian because it only proved that Asians are not mere receivers of theater norms from the West. We are a creative race so we can be proud and should be proud of what we have.

Now what’s next after this? Well I was really inspired by the stories of the professor and by the plays we have seen in class so I would continue watching plays both in DVD and on stage. I know that theater experience can never be the same with watching movies so I am really looking forward to seeing more plays. Now that I have become more aware of theater, I know I can be more critical of what I am going to see on stage the next time I see one. As the professor would put it, “bonggang bonggang” theater experience.

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