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Introduction to Theatre Online Course

Dr. Eric W. Trumbull, Professor, Theatre/Speech

This page last modified: November 16, 2007 .


Theatre as an Art Form:

Objectives for this lesson:

Students will examine:

the nature of theatre as an art form

the various arts that go into the making of theatre



Theatre is a combination of many art forms, but when put together equals more than the sum of its parts.

A.  Theatre is a Literary Art : The Play

Perhaps the only concrete and lasting (permanent) element of the theatre.

The other elements are ephemeral (non-permanent) [Except for perhaps set and costume design, of which photos can keep a permanent record].

We have to look at the play in combination with its time and place -- its context -- for better understanding.

What makes a good play?

Theorists throughout history have disagreed and bickered about what makes a good play. Most base their arguments at least in part on Aristotle or variations of Aristotle - the Poetics (334 BC)-disagreeing, agreeing, or reinterpreting.

Although there is not one coherent theory of a good play, many basic premises have been determined by which we can evaluate a script -- realizing, however, that our criteria may not necessarily be the same as the criteria for a good play when the play was written - how the play was looked at at the time.

Interpretations / evaluations are different based on different ways of looking at the world, at people, at life, and at the nature and purpose of the theatre.

By looking at various theories and examining playscripts of different styles and periods, our ability to discern and evaluate aesthetic elements of the drama will become more acute.

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B.  Theatre is a Performing Art: The Production

The most ephemeral and immediate.

"The home of the now" (according to Cameron and Gillespie).

Robert Edmund Jones (early 20th century designer) -- "aware of the now".

An art for everyone.

Acting, directing, design, construction, running crew (musicians, singers, dancers).

An amalgam of all the arts -- making it either the least pure or the most pure.

Needs talent and skill to plan and execute, from all elements of the production.

Final product is a result of the efforts of many.

We can increase aesthetic and technical appreciation for the individual arts going into make theatre and for the different styles and periods of theatre.

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C.  Theatre is a Major Form of Entertainment:

Holds audience's attention-the primary form of public entertainment until the advent of radio and movies.

Theatre is fun: theatre is play (work, food, exercise) for the soul, for the mind, for the body.

All work and no plays would be boring.

Eric Bentley - suggested the concept of "eros" is essential for theatre - actual sweating breathing human beings in front of us --


Perhaps we could look at the theatre in at least four ways:

  1. as entertainment / art
  2. as instrument of education
  3. as weapon of social / political change
  4. as document of history -the plays and the theatrical events of various periods can be seen as historical documents reflecting that period.

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Important terms:




Next Section:Theatre as a Performance Art



This page and all linked pages in this directory are copyrighted Eric W. Trumbull, 1998-2007.

This page last modified: November 16, 2007 .