Thursday, October 06, 2016

Ancient Natural Classicism in Theatre

If you are a playwright or in theater in any capacity at all, you really need to know your theatre history. This short history of ancient theatre is a great little start.

One of the main aspects of theatre we forget but which is still in some real sense a fundamental aspect of theatre is its origins in shamanism. Theatre is about appeasing the spirits and pleasing the gods -- and when it gets away from that, it loses its way. Theatre is "with the divine through elaborate rituals. The fact that shamanism foreshadows theatre is evident in the existence of theatrical elements that are present in a shamanistic ritual. These include song, dance, music, characterization, hypnotism, illusion, clowning, and ventriloquism." Certainly older forms including things like chanting, music, and dance. Oral storytelling was certainly included.

In many ways theatre has moved farther and farther away from every one of these elements. While there's not a lot of song and dance in Shakespeare, this poetic language in fact keeps it well in place (and the regular rhythms of iambic pentameter brings it close to chant). Clowning is certainly not uncommon in Shakespeare, and his works of illusion are truly hypnotic, as their continued popularity proves.

At the same time,  one has to wonder what would happen if these elements were more explicitly introduced. We're talking going beyond musical theatre to something older, more ancient, more fundamental to who we are as human beings.

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