Ancient Greek Theatre - Activities for Kids
Updated: Oct 5
Here at Imagining History we love everything drama and performance! The origins of which can be traced all the way back to the Ancient Greeks in 6th Century BC. They were the first to present performances in the form of hymns sung to the Greek god Dionysus*. These performance were called dithyrambs. Soon the singers of these hymns would form a 'chorus' (see below) and dress up in costumes and masks - and consequently the first performance was formed.
The Greek Chorus
Jump forward in time and the first ever fully formed plays performed by the Greeks included just one actor, the 'protagonist', and a 'chorus' of people to help him (yes, him, actors at this time were primarily male) to tell the story.
The Chorus is a key part of Greek plays. Their job is to comment on what is happening in the play. They would give introductions, set the scene, recap information, tell you what a character was thinking, and more.
The Chorus would be made up of at least 12 people. Each member of the Chorus would wear the same costume and mask to show that they were all the same character or group of characters. They would talk in unison, sing in unison and dance in unison. This was hard work, so they sometimes had a leader, called a Coryphaeus, to help them.
Try this creative activity from TheatreFolk.com to create your own Greek chorus.
Working together in a small group, write a Chorus piece that narrates an every day activity (EG washing the pots, getting ready for school, walking the dog). Write at least six sentences describing the activity - don't forget to use detailed and descriptive language.
Choose one member of the group to be the 'Protagonist'. They will perform the actions (in an exaggerated fashion) as the rest of the group (as the Chorus) narrate them.
Don't forget the Chorus must all speak in unison. It's a good idea to choose an adult or strong performer to be your Coryphaeus to lead and help the others along. Go a step further by adding choreographed movements for your Chorus to do, or even add a song!
Make sure to get some rehearsal time in together before you perform. Next you'll need some masks to wear as your Chorus performs (see below).
Find more guidance and example Chorus pieces on TheatreFolk.com's original article.
The Ancient Greeks had three types of plays - Comedies, Tragedies and Satire. A comedy would always have a happy ending, a tragedy would always have a sad ending and a satire would make fun of real people or real events.
These stories were told using masks (and a lot of talent - but mostly with masks!). A Greek Theatre Mask shows different characters and different emotions. For example, the villain of the play (the 'antagonist') might have an evil looking smile and arched eyebrows. This would help the audience to know who each character was and how they were feeling straight away.
We've found a straightforward craft activity from ActivityVillage.co.uk showing how to create your own Greek Theatre Masks. All you need is cardboard, pencils and items to decorate with.
Have a think about what you want your Protagonist & Chorus members to show to the audience through their mask and make one of your own.
Find the full details on how to create your ActivityVillage Greek Theatre Mask here.
Now you're ready to perform your Greek Chorus piece, why not set up a Greek Theatre space to perform it in? (See below).
Soon the Ancient Greek's developed theatre spaces in which to perform their plays. These were outdoor spaces, often next to a hillside to allow for natural tiered seating for the audience.
Greek theatres were made up of:
This was a circular stage space that the actors performed in.
The seating area that overlooked the Orchestra. It was in a semi-circle around the circular Orchestra space and was tiered so that everyone had a good view.
A building behind the Orchestra that worked as a backdrop, a storage space for props & costume and an entrance/exit for actors.
These were walk ways on either side of the Orchestra running next to the edge of the Theatron. This was used as an entrance/exit for the Chorus.
Create your own Greek Theatre.
Ideally, use an outdoor space to create your Greek Theatre (if not, clear some furniture in your front room/class room!).
Firstly, use a piece of string to create a large circle in the middle of your space. This will be your performance space - The Orchestra.
Collect a number of chairs (dining chairs or outdoor seating will work great) and place them in a semi-circle around one half of your Orchestra circle. This will be your audience seating - the Theatron.
Next, create your Skene. This can be created in a number of different ways. You could use a bed sheet over a washing line or over a table. A box works well to store your props & costume. Pull the sofa forward and get your actor to dive behind it when they make their exit from the stage. The possibilities are endless. You could also go the extra mile and draw/colour your own backdrop to set the scene.
Finally, gather your audience members (cuddly toys work great if all of your friends/students are actors or Chorus members!), get into mask and costume and perform your Greek Play!
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*Further Reading from the Imagining History blog: