Greeks Etruscans Oscans The two major influences were the Greeks and the Etruscans.
The Greeks were already established in southern Italy. Because Rome and Greece were so close together, Greece was a strong influence on Rome in many ways.
Rome's ideas on many things were borrowed from the Greeks, including beliefs in gods and goddesses to theatre construction. Roman theatres were a lot like the Greek theatres. They both have an orchestra pit, a backstage area, and seating arrangements. Also, the ideas for plays were 'borrowed' from Greek plays. The plots were basically the same only the characters' names were changed and some other minor things. Even the rules on producing plays were similar to those in Greece.
The Roman theatre was laid out similar to that of the Greek theatre. There was a backstage area, seating arrangements for the audience, and an orchestra. The Roman stage went through many different stages before reaching the form we all recognize today. Layout and Design of Roman Theatres
Etruscans had a big influence on the Romans too. They were also a well established culture and were more powerful. They had many battles with Rome. Because of these battles, many Etruscan ideas took hold in Roman culture. For example, in Etruscan theatres, there were curtained off boxes that the wealthy would watch plays from. The Romans adopted this idea, having special seating for the rich. We see this today with premiere seating boxes, and “sky boxes.”
Oscans influenced many Roman festivals. Since theatre was originally based on festival ceremonies, Oscan activities were added to Greek style theatre, and this combinationbecame Roman Theatre. The Oscan's performed a comedy called Atellan Farce. This was a type of improvised comedy played with stock characters (player types that repeated from play to play). Thios is the birth place of improvisation, or Improv. There were typically four or five stock characters in the typical Roman play. Maccus (a boastful buffoon, a fool) Bucco (a fool and stupid guzzler) Mandacus (a monster with big jaws ) Pappus (a foolish old man), Dassenus (a hunchback, wise fool, others thought he was like Mandacus)
Theatres started out as simple, temporary wooden structures. The layout of the stage was the same as in later stone stages-3 doors each opening to the brothel, temple, and hero's house. The stage itself was enclosed by wings at each side and the scene house had a roof. Layout and Design of Roman Theatres
The Romans didn't have a permanent (stone) theatre until the final years of the Republic, the latest reference to the Romans building a new theater was in 17 B.C. The large stone theatres seated tens of thousands of Romans. There wasn't a front curtain nor were there performances done in the orchestra pit (unlike Greek plays). The patrons to the plays sat on temporary wooden benches where there was room, ushers would direct the patrons all through out the performance.
There were two major playwrights from that period, T. Maccius Plautus and Terence (those are their stage names, their real names are no longer known). The language spoken in the plays is what the average Roman would have spoken, the 'archaic' form of Latin.
In Roman theatre it was common for a play to be about war, as opposed to the Greek theatre where the plays were mimed. The Miming from Greek theatre developed into pantomime during the Roman era. Mime plays The Romans preferred comedies, especially exaggerated ones. Mime, or performing without speaking, was popular with the audiences. Such mimes (silent, small scenes) recreated and made fun of middle class citizens, as well as famous myths. Features included: Dances, Greed, Acrobatics Jokes (physical humor) Drunkenness Obscenity
By the end of the Roman Empire due to their love of the smaller mime scenes, a particular type of performance began to emerge: Pantomime. One actor played all the parts in the performance (wearing masks), danced and acted out actions while a chorus narrated or told the story he was acting out to music. This became known as Pantomime and still survives today in children's plays. Today’s Pantomime is intended to be performed to music and to be humorous in nature.
Troupes and Costumes Troupes were managed by people who were actor-managers. Favor from the public was a good thing to have, just like today. So, to gain favor, often the managers would bribe audience members to cheer at certain times during the play so officials would think people liked certain plays and hire that troupe again.
Actors wore masks which depicted the character they were playing, along with a color coded robe or chiton. The actors developed a kind of color code that would tell the audience about the characters just by looking at them. For example:
A purple robe meant the character was a rich man. A yellow robe meant the character was a woman. This was because in the early Roman era, women did not perform in theatre. As the Roman theatre progressed, women began to take the roles of women in plays. White robes and white wigs meant the character was an elderly character. A yellow tassel meant the character was a god. A red wig meant the character was a servant. A green cape meant the character was a senator or civil servant. A sword meant the character was a soldier. These were not the limit of the code, and many other garments indicated other, slightly more obscure positions. Roman costumes mirrored traditional Greek garments. Actors commonly wore a long robe called a chiton. Chitons in Roman society were often colored to denote character and social rank.
Period costumes for the 2000 movie Gladiator show typical clothing of the Ancient Roman era. These were worn by Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Designed and created by Janty Yates. Janty Yates won the 2000 Oscar for Best Costume Design for the Roman era costumes she designed for Gladiator. Costume design is one specialty area of theater production.
Following the Fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church rose to power, and was not happy with most of the Greek and Roman styles of theatre as they were festivals worshipping Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses. Theater became less favored and was carried on by travelling performing groups. These troupes travelled from town to town to entertain audiences.
A Brief History of Roman Theatre, March 3, 2011 http://www.angelfire.com/ut/latiniii/history.html http://www.angelfire.com/ut/latiniii/history.html Explore Italian Culture.com, March 3, 2011 http://www.explore-italian-culture.com/ancient- roman-daily-life-2.html http://www.explore-italian-culture.com/ancient- roman-daily-life-2.html NOVA, Northern Virginia Community College, Introduction to Theatre on-line Course March 3, 2011 http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/spd130et/roman.htm