Theatrical machinery – devices used for theatrical effects – are much older than you might think. They were used on stage since the beginning of the history of theater. Here are some of the tricks ancient Greeks used to help the audience get fully immersed into the play.
Ancient Greek Stage Machinery:
- Anapiesma (Trap)
- Vronteio & Keravnoskopeion
- Other Theatrical Tricks
Mechane/ Deus ex Machina
You may know this machine with its latin name “Deus ex Machina”. “Mechane” or “Aiorima” was a crane used in ancient Greek drama. Ancient Greek tragedies would often require the intervention of a god or goddess in times of crisis. The divine character would hang over the stage with the help of the mechane and provide a solution to the tragic character’s problem. Euripides, the most alternative tragedian, used the aiorima for a non-divine character – Medea. Since then, mechane has been used to land any type of character on stage, if the plot requires them to fly around.
Periaktos -often seen in plural as periaktoi – was a wooden device that rapidly changed the theatrical scenes. It had the shape of a triangle with three different backgrounds painted on each side. The periaktos would rotate, changing the set of each scene. This device gained popularity during the Renaissance period and that is when theatrical designers, such as Nicola Sabbatini, were admired for their work.
Ancient tragedies often delt with the darkest side of the human psyche. The plot usually included violent crimes, including murder. But depicting such devious scenes was not allowed. That is why they would use a wheeled platform called ekkyklema to remove and reintroduce characters on stage. For example, a character would be rolled out of the scene before his murder and pushed back in while laying on the ground.
Theologeion was a stage trick similar to mechane. It was a raised platform which was very well disguised as part of the scene. Actors who played divine characters would climb up these platforms and spoke the word of god from above.
Anapiesma was the ancient Greek version of the stage trap we know today. It was a concealed opening under the stage floor, where actors and props would be hidden before they appeared on stage. Such traps are used even today.
Vronteio & Keravnoskopeion
In ancient Greek drama, weather changes often symbolized the mood of the gods and goddesses. Storms would take place when a character committed hybris. Tragedians would employ two devices to mimic the sounds and lightnings of a stormy weather: vronteio and keravnoskopeion. The first was a metal box full of rocks that was shaken to produce loud noises. The second was a type of periaktos that had a side with a mirroring effect. It was used to reflect the sunlight in a way that resembled a lightning.
Other Theatrical Tricks
Ancient Greeks constructed their theaters amphitheatrically. The goal was that everyone could see and hear whatever happened on stage. The locations were chosen carefully, and Greek theaters still have incredible acoustic. The acoustic did not only occur naturally but also with the construction of obstruction behind the stage. This happened in order to enhance the physical phenomenon of reflection, which causes echoes.
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Medea (Μήδεια) is one of the most controversial female heroines to have ever existed. In modern Greek, her name is given to women who end the lives of their children. We know Medea from ancient Greek mythology and specifically the Argonautica. But the character is widely known thanks to the theatrical play with the same name, presented by Euripides in 431 BC.
Hybris, nemesis, and catharsis are three important aspects of every ancient Greek tragedy. Hybris and nemesis were mentioned way before the birth of Greek theatre; we know the terms from ancient Greek mythology. And catharsis is a concept that was introduced in drama. But what is the meaning of these three theatrical terms?
Antigone by Sophocles is one of the most well-known ancient Greek theatrical plays. It belongs to a collection of tragedies – the Theban plays – since it takes place in the Greek city of Thebes. It was written by the great tragedian Sophocles and was presented at the theatrical competition of Dionysia in 441 BC. It is based on the myth of Oedipus but Sophocles manages to make the story even more tragic. It focuses on the subject of written vs. unwritten rules and absolute power.