Theater has evolved marvelously throughout the ages. Although every era has contributed massively to how theatre evolved, the Renaissance era, which is known as the period of European cultural, artistic, political and scientific ?rebirth after the Middle Ages, contributed considerably more than any other era.
During the Renaissance various changes were made to how plays were presented to the people. Just before the 14th century, actors in Italy were performing in stages without decoration except for a row of curtained booths. Nearly 100 years later complex painted scenery was being used in play productions. (Barker, George 2018) The Renaissance brought changes as to where the stage could be located as well as new innovations involving perspective, which allowed for a more creative and enjoyable show through the use of scenery.
The theatrical innovations that were created during the Renaissance era was due to the high success of theatre. Scenery and theatrical effect saw the largest amount of change from new technology and schools of thought. Through the use of depth, even if it was just an illusion, and perspective scenery was revolutionized. One of the influential figures of this era was Sebastiano Serlio, an Italian architect who built part of the Palace of Fontainebleau, wrote a series of books, Architettura, one of which included a section dedicated to the architecture of theatres that included his theories on perspective drawing and painting and the art of recreating three-dimensional objects on a flat surface. (www.preceden.com/timelines/168318-theatre-history–italian-renaissance) For his theories Serlio used Vitruvius ideas regarding the vanishing point. Through the use of the inclined rake of the stage floor he created the effect which made everything that was upstage look as if it were farther than it really was. Although his designs became very popular, he did not limit himself to the use of scenery, perspective, and painted backdrops. Serlio became involved in the construction of theaters as well. He drew from neoclassical ideas of Greek and Roman theater designs. (Italian-renaissance-theatre.weebly.com/Italian-renaissance-scenic-design.html.)
As an example of what theatres looked like at the beginning of the Renaissance era we have to go back to the late Middle Ages, when the charitable institution of the Confrerie de la Passion converted a hall in the Hopital de la Trinite into a theatre. Nowadays, it is unclear whether the theatre has an end stage arrangement, where the audience was seated around the three sides of the hall with a large standing audience in front of the stage, or whether it had an arena arrangement, where the actors used the central floor area as a stage with the audience seated around them. This type of theatre known as a theatre hall became dominant during the Renaissance era even after several innovations were introduced Members of the nobility, who were competing against one another as to who could put on the most lavish spectacles, undertook formal experimentation, as well as entrepreneurs and charities who wanted to make extra money by providing theatrical performances for the public. (Hildy, 2018)
After Julius Pomponius Laetus, the founder of the Roman Academy, received one of the first printed copies of Vitruvius De Architecture in 1481 he set out to discover the nature of the original staging of Roman plays, which started the experimentation of the different forms of academic theatres. Laetus focus on design and the usage of scaenae fons led to the popularization of a modified form of medieval simultaneous staging. This new form had a wide but shallow raised stage that covered either four or five openings. It was angled forwards so that the central one or two openings were closer to the audience and the rest of the openings were angled towards them. Since the curtains were hard to differentiate signs were placed above them, which indicated the homes of a central character. This then became the standard pattern for curtained openings in academic theaters all throughout Europe.
1508 was the year where the first known use of perspective scenery was used on a large painted backdrop. In the course of the 1540r’s, square panels that had been connected to make the shape of an L had been organized at uniform intervals alongside every side of the stage. Three dimensional architectural details, which supplied a continuous perspective that gave the general image greater depth, had been put on the angled wings; furthermore, the floor of the stage was angled upward toward the vanishing point of the backdrop, which created the present-day designations of what we now understand as upstage and downstage. For the first time in the history of theater, perspective now dictated that stages should be deeper than they were wide. However, even though a lot of innovative things were discovered, actors still restricted themselves to acting on the side of the part of the stage that was nearest to the audience. Perspective became such a fascinating subject that not even academic theatre could resist it. For an example, we can look at the famous Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy. The Teatro Olimpico is the oldest existing theatre in Europe. (Hildy, 2018) It was designed by the Italian Architect Andrea Palladio to fit into a pre-existing hall, which opened 5 years after his death in the year 1585. (www.preceden.com/timelines/168318-theatre-history–italian-renaissance) The most elaborate reconstruction of a Roman scaenae frons can be seen in the Teatro Olimpico which had 5 doors. Behind 4 of the doors there is a forced perspective vista of a city street, while behind the largest door one can see 3 of the same vistas. Unfortunately, such a theatre was too expensive to copy by any average institution and since it didnt allow for the changing of the perspective that was widely used during court it was not widely imitated. (Hildy, 2018)
Very little is known about the permanent theatres that were built at Ferrara in 1531 and Rome in 1545, except that they were most likely court theatres that were built as a theatre-in-the-hall type. One of the most dominant theatre types was the theatre in the hall style that even when the Confrerie de la Passion opened the first public purpose-built theatre in Europe since the Roman era, known as the Theatre de lHotel de Bourgogne, in 1548 it followed the theatre-in-the-hall model. The most significant innovation seem in the theatre was the second-level stage that was located at the back of the main stage. Eventually, the Bourgogne was followed by purpose-built theatres across Europe. (Hildy, 2018)
The evolution of theatres across Europe was diverse. In 1565, the first public theatre was built in Venice, Italy, but it is unknown whether it was a freestanding theatre or one in an existing hall. In 1567, the Red Lion was built in London in a garden with seating risers and a large stage backed by a tower. In 1575 and 1576 the playhouses of St. Paul and Blackfriars respectively, were adaptations of existing halls. Meanwhile, a charitable society in Spain opened a public theatre in a courtyard in Calle Sol in 1568 and in 1574 the first purpose-built public theatre in Spain was built in Sevilla as a courtyard theatre. (Hildy, 2018)
The Theatre in London was the first truly innovative design to be found on a playhouse. The Theatre was built with its central area in an open-air style. What was amazing about it and truly innovative is that it was built in the shape of a polygonal, while most theatres were built in the shape of a rectangle. Its innovative shaped has about 20 sides that were around 12 feet deep and contained 3 levels of seating covered by a roof. The audience stood around a large stage that was 5 feet high and integrated into several bays at one end of the theatre. Behind the stage was the backstage area, called a tiring-house. This basic design became the standard for all open-air theatres in London and helped it became one of the most successful examples of theatre design of the time. Unfortunately, The Theatre only had its doors open for 20 years, and in 1598 it was taken down. However, its timbers were used to build what we know now as the Globe Theatre, which became popular due to William Shakespeare most of his plays were performed on its stage. (Hildy, 2018)
During the renaissance we also saw a lot of improvement to the capacity of people that a theatre could hold. By the 17th century The Globe could hold an audience capacity of 1,500 but since audiences tended to crowd outside the theatre the number was expanded to 3,000 people. (m.bardstage.org/globe-theatre-audience.htm) This was the average size of Elizabethan theatres which were designed in a style similar to the Coliseum, but a smaller version of it. Their dimensions were different, ranging from 20 feet wide 15 feet deep to 45 feet wide to 30 feet deep, and since they all were in an open arena style people often got wet when it rained.
The Teatro Olimpico was built to have a capacity of 1000 people, although it only has 400 seats available as of today. Plays during the Medieval period were performed outside so it is unclear as to how many people were able to see or hear the play at a single time, but it is most likely that at most 100 people at a time saw the same play. In other words, during the Renaissance we saw the stage for plays get a more formal space. The Renaissance was an era of rebirth where people were interested in discovering and innovating themselves and the things around them.
Furthermore, since the nobility were competing on who could put on the most lavish and spectacular show, architecture was of most importance. Some theatres had designs on its walls and on its archways. Some like the Teatro Olimpico have statues on it walls, which made it look more beautiful and rather classy. Balconies and galleries were also focused on since it was used by the nobility. There were galleries known as the Lords rooms, which were considered the best seats in the house, even though it had such a poor view of the stage. (m.elizabethean-era.org.uk/architecture-of-Elizabethan-theatres.htm.)
In conclusion, we saw a lot of changes being made during the Renaissance. Artists as well as architects became more inspired and created a lot of innovative things in theatre. Before the Renaissance era artists looked only for a stage, but as people became more interested in the arts experimentation led to creating beautiful scenes that revolutionized theatre. Nowadays, how you present a stage is part of a play. Props, background, even music help the audience experience a play more in depth. Not only does it help the audience, but they also help the creator of the play enhance the vison of their work. We also saw modifications being made to theaters so that now actors can work in theatres that can house more than a thousand people, while back a couple hundred people at a time would have been able to see a play.
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