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Ancient Greek Theatre

by K. Phillips

Ancient Greek Theatre

Ancient Greek Actors

Ancient Greek Stage

Stage Directions for Ancient Greek Theatre

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Ancient Greek Stage

Stage Setup

The ancient Greek theatre had a distinctive setup. No other theatre had the same design. Originally the theatre was made to hold religious ceremonies. There was an altar to the gods, a tithing house, and a tiring house (dressing room). The tithing house and tiring house were both made of wood. As the theatre became more important, the setup began to change. The altar got smaller. The tithing house became a treasury. The tiring house joined with the skene, the setting where actors performed. The tiring house also became an entrance and exit.

The theatre was constructed of three major parts.
  • skene
  • orchestra
  • koilon
The skene was the place where the actors performed. It was originally a hut, tent, or booth. It was the background for the play. The skene faced the audience. In the beginning the skene was a palace or a temple. Later on, tables were added or other themes, such as a market place or the sea, were put on the background. Most of the time there were one or three entrances on the skene.

Typical theatre of Ancient Greece


The skene of the theatre showed the background and is a little like a modern day stage. It has the scene like picture on the background. In the foreground is the actual stage. There might be tables, there were exits and entrances, and whatever kind of buildings may be needed. The hypocrits, actors, moved around the skene to make it appear that they were doing something. If they were writing, they would sit at the table and do so, or pretend to do it. They would have a pen, or some kind of writing tool, to write with.

Inside a permanent skene, were machines. One machine, the Aeorema, was a crane that enabled the gods appear on the stage. Another machine, the Periactoi, was placed inside pillars on the left and right side of the stage. It changed the background of the skene. The last machine used was the Ekeclema, a platform on wheels to bring the bodies of the dead out to show the audience. This was necessary since murder and suicide never took place in front of the audience.


The orchestra was the main part of the stage where the chorus was located at. The word orchestra was derived from the word orcheisthai. Literally translated, it means the dancing place. It was the place where the chorus danced and sang. During the harvesting season it was used for threshing. Threshing was the beating of wheat to remove the grain. The orchestra was in front of the skene and was at the center of the theatre. It had the thymeli in it, which began as an altar, but later became the place for the chorus leader, the korypharios, to stand.


The koilon (or Theatron) was the auditorium of the Greek theater. It was called koilon because of its shape. At first spectators were sitting around the orchestra. Later, the Greeks started building the (wooden at the beginning, from stone later) Koilon. Its shape was semi-circular, built around the orchestra. It was divided in two Diazoma, the upper and the lower. (Description).


Some historians say that the stage was originally a rectangle, and then became a circle. Others say that the stage has always been a circle. The stage was against the back wall. It was a narrow, raised platform. It was called the Logeion, and was designed so that the actors could be separated from the chorus.

Outside of the Theatre

The outside of the theatre was made of stone. The seats were stone and carved into a hill. Unlike modern theatre, the seats weren’t setup so that the better seats were all together, and the worse seats were all together. Instead, every Greek "tribe" sat in a different section. The front rows, called Proedria, were reserved for the priests. The lay audiences were in the section for their tribe. The most honorable person in the audience would have been the priest of Elefthereos Dionyssos.

Indoor Theatres

There were indoor theatres also. They were called Odeia. They were used for musical performances and tragedy Proagones. A tragedy Progones was like a contest of qualifications.

History and Thought of Western Man
Rich East High School * Park Forest, IL 60466

This page was created by K. Phillips. Last revised 03/29/00.

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