Theater is an art form that is steeped in tradition and rich in history. From the early beginnings to the Great White Way, theater has gone through many transformations in its time.
The followers of Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine, would throw lavish cult ceremonies in ancient Greece. They would dance and sing, in choral form, the stories of Greek myth. In the 6th century BC a priest of Dionysus, Thespis, began to introduce a new element into the storytelling that has widely become accepted as the birth of theater. He would engage in dialogue with the chorus. In essence, Thespis became the first actor. Hence the term “thespian.” Around the 3rd century BC, theatrical contests would become a regular part of the annual festival held in honor of Dionysus. Tragedies were the main form of theater in its early years. Towards the beginning of the 5th century BC, comedies started to make their way into the Greek theater tradition in form of The Frogs, The Wasps, and Lysistrata.
Theater began to make its way from Greece to Rome as being a part of the Roman games that were held every September. The Roman games took place between the Palatine and Aventine hills in Rome. This area would become known as Circus Maximus. The games originated as a harvest festival with main events being chariot races or boxing matches. Clowns began to appear in these festivals as a side show and midway through the 2nd century BC, plays became a part of the Roman games. In addition to the sporting events, clowns, and plays, gladiator matches also became a part of Rome’s entertainment.
Toward the late 10th century, Christian churches began to introduce dramatic effects into their Easter liturgy to help visualize the theme of resurrection. This was first introduced depicting the story of Mary Magdalene and two other women visiting the tomb of Jesus whereupon they would find it empty. From these initial storytelling methods, the medieval Christian drama was born. More scenes began to be enacted during church services as well.
In part two of this series, pre-Shakespeare theater and Shakespeare will be explored as a light is continued to be cast upon the history of theater.
New York City is known for many things whether it be food, culture, or a skyline filled with tall glass buildings. One of the staples, however, of New York City is the abundance of theaters that offer shows for audiences to take in.
Helen Hayes Theatre
In 1912, this theater began its life as the Little Theater before being renamed in 1983. Helen Hayes is generally considered to be the “First Lady” of American theater who’s remarkable career earned her Tony, Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy awards. The Hayes Theater started out with a small number of seats, only 299, and went through a renovation in 1920 that added a balcony for additional seating. Even with the renovation, it still remains the smallest theater on Broadway bosting just 599 seats. In a nod to out-of-town tryouts for incoming Broadway musicals, the Hayes was designed in the colonial style. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the theater was used as a TV studio with famous names like Dick Clark, Merv Griffin, and David Frost broadcasting their talks shows from there.
The Booth Theater was designed as a pair with the famous Shubert Theater. Both theaters have Venetian-Renaissance facades. The Booth opened in 1913 in honor of 19th century actor Edwin Booth, who was the brother of famed Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. Generally, more intimate plays are run at the Booth but, occasionally, small-scale musicals such as Sunday in the Park with George and Next to Normal have constituted long runs.
Winter Garden Theatre
This theater has gone through multiple renovations and reconfigurations many times throughout its history. It was built in 1896 to be the American Horse Exchange but was purchased by the Shuberts in 1911 and redesigned as a theater that added a garden motif. The first production, La Belle Parre, gave way to the rising star of Al Jolson. When the hit sensation Cats was brought to the the theater in 1982, it was redesigned to accommodate for the junkyard setting of the show. Once closed, the theater was again redesigned and restored to the elegance of the 1920s. Boasting 1,526 seats, the Winter Garden generally houses large-scale musicals like West Side Story, Mame, and Mamma Mia!
When visiting New York City, make sure to stop by these famous theaters to get a glimpse of history and what renovation and redesign can do to transform a play or musical into an experience for its audiences.
If you have people in your life who are performers on the stage, they will more than likely have a superstition or tradition they follow as an actor. Some performers won’t speak the day of a performance in hopes that they save their voice and some performers will only wear a certain type of clothing to auditions for shows. Let’s explore some of the more common theatre superstitions that have made their way into theatre tradition.
The Scottish Play
There is a play that was written by William Shakespeare that actors strongly hesitate to utter the name of. Macbeth is a Shakespearean tragedy that has become a superstition regarded among most playhouses around the world. It’s believed that you shouldn’t say the name “Macbeth” in a theatre as it will result in bad luck. There is a story that the man who originally played Macbeth died in an accident and that Shakespeare himself had to go on in the original actor’s place. Since then, it’s said that this actor has haunted subsequent productions. Luckily, there is a remedy. If you have said Macbeth in the theatre, simply recite the following line from another one of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended, that you have but slumbered here, whilst these visions did appear.”
In most theatres, you’ll find a ghost light that is kept on during non-performance periods. This began as a tradition when theatres weren’t wired for electricity and still powered their lights by gas. Keeping the gas lines shut off during non-performance times meant that the gas in the lines could build up leading to potentially hazardous consequences. As a result, theatres began to leave their gas lines open by keeping a single light on during non-performance periods that remained on stage. Furthermore, it is a widely held belief that having a ghost light remain on during non-performance periods keeps the spirit of Thespis, who is widely believed to be the first actor, from doing anything mischievous to thwart a production.
Bad Rehearsal Means a Successful Performance
Ask any actor and they will almost unanimously state that having a bad rehearsal prior to opening night ensures a successful opening night performance. While productions are based off planning and hard work, with a final dress rehearsal being perhaps the most exhausting of all rehearsals, performances are a different matter. Combine opening night jitters with an enthusiastic opening night audience and the actors will suddenly feel confident in their abilities to put on a great show.
Live theater is a joy to experience and be a part of. Specific venues may operate small details differently than others but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t hold these superstitions close at heart.
About Pedro J Torres
The Brooklyn Academy of Music has had a long and illustrious history long before Pedro J. Torres arrived on the scene a few years ago. Beginning in 1861, the inaugural performance included Mozart and Verdi on the program. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln attended a performance during their opening week.
One of Pedro J. Torres favorite things about BAM are their incredible and historical venues, like the opera house in Fort Green on Lafayette Avenue. The Howard Gilman Opera House is known for its ornate tall ceilings. Known for its Beaux arts style and start of the art sound system, the venue is frequently sought after for major stars, orchestras, and events.
With Pedro J. Torres immense business experience in Venezuela, he is able to offer his guidance and expertise in BAM’s different business areas. BAM turned their former ballroom into a café to offer dinner to patrons before live events. This café even has an event series of free concerts for the public to enjoy.
The café began in 1999, and the performances are currently curated by Darrell McNeill. The café has a helped many artists launch their careers and has also served as a home for intimate performances by established artists. Artists include Licorice, Early Grehound, Sekou Sundiate, Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), Haale, ETHEL, Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra, Eisa Davis, Morley, Carl Hancock Rux, and Stew.
Established artists include TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone, Jeffrey Gaines, Joe Bataan, Corey Glover, Marc Ribot, Don Byron, Gary Luca, Fishbone’s Angelo Moore aka Dr. Madd Vibe, Grady Tate, Vernon Reid, and Marshall Crenshaw.
BAM offers a professional development program that Pedro J. Torres is excited about contributing to. The 14 month long program, which is located at the new BAM Fisher facility offers professional development and deeply discounted theater and rehearsal studio rentals to a group of Brooklyn non-profits and organizations. The program is a collaboration with DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center. Every year they focus on a new discipline to help their participates have long term success.
Pedro J Torres is excited to be a part of this legendary institution.