Teaching about Greek theater and its history may sound like the kind of lesson that will send a class of active teenagers to sleep, but when the students become the theater, ancient times come to life!
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Becoming the Theater
Many of the terms theater artists use today have their roots in the floor plan of the Greek theater, and understanding where terms like scene, backstage, and orchestra come from can help modern theater students understand more deeply why theater traditions exist. To help them visualize what the theater looked like centuries ago, it's essential to have them experience what the Greek theater was like for themselves.
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The Pieces Come Together
As the students in your class become each section of the Greek theater's floor plan, they will be repeating phrases that help them remember the part of the theater. This lesson is designed to be silly and fun, and while it has a serious purpose (creating memories and better connection with history through games), the fun is what will help the information stick. If your students do great impressions or like using crazy voices, this is the lesson to break those out and play with them!
Have two students stand at the back of the class, facing each other and with their arms raised. These students will repeat the phrase, "We are the skena!" in unison when called upon to do so. Again, crazy voices and silly accents should be encouraged! After the two have perfected their line, ask the class what the word skena sounds like. The word skena is the source of our word, scene. In Greek, it referred to a covered place, and the earliest stages were wooden posts with cloth placed between them, almost like a tent.
The rest of the lesson follows the same pattern. Use the following patterns for other Greek theater terms, going back to the beginning and going through all the sayings again before introducing a new one.
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Further Terms to Use
Paraskena- Have two students stand on either side of the skena. These students should look at the skena performers and say, "Hi. I'm Para. You must be Skena." Expain that para in Greek means next to or beside, so the paraskena were structures that stood next to the skena. This is where actors would make entrances and exits to the skena area. It was also where actors would eavesdrop on what was happening on the skena, similar to our idea of the backstage.
Parados- Two to four students should line up in a straight line coming away from the paraskena at a slight angle. Have these students sing, in unison, "Parados!" Explain that these were corridors where the chorus would sing special songs called parados and where the audience would filter in before the show.
Orchestra- The rest of the students should form a circle from the ends of the parados to fill the rest of the room. Ask these students to dance and say orchestra three times before coming to a stop. In Greek theater, the word orkhestra means the dancing place, and this rectangular or circular area is where the chorus danced and performed.
Theatron- Ask every other member of the orchestra to take a step back, then close ranks towards the middle facing the skena. In very high brow accents, they should state, "We are the theatron." Theatron means seeing place in Greek, and it was the name for the audience seating area. In many ways, our theaters and the theatrons of old are not so very different. They are still a place to see and be seen!
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Wrapping It Up
After the students have walked through the Greek theater and learned all of its various parts, have them sketch and label a theater. This lesson is a terrific start to a unit on Antigone, Lysistra, or any of the surving Greek works. With their knowledge of how the Greek theater worked, your students will be ready to tackle the intricacies of the play with new understanding.