Theater Play – Concept, origin, characteristics and elements

We explain what a play is, its origin, characteristics and elements that make it up. Also, theatrical genres.

The plays are very varied in theme, structure, scenery and language.

What is a play?

A play, theatrical work or theatrical piece is an artistic representation, registered in both the performing and literary arts, which consists of staging different fictional situations, through actors, sets and different scenic elements, according to what is established in a script or dramatic text.

Just as in the making of a film, a variable number of people intervene in a theatrical work, dedicated to different aspects of the staging (mainly technical and artistic). The result of your actions, the work itself, it is exhibited to an audience for a season.

Similarly, a play usually has two types of artistic authorship: that of the playwright, who is the author of the theatrical text, who composed the script and may or may not take part in its stage performance; and the theater director, author of the staging (often called “montage”), who makes the scenic decisions and can also intervene in the dramaturgical text when necessary.

The plays can be very varied in theme, structure, literary language and scenery: some are more conventional, and in them the story is more recognizable, and others more avant-garde or experimental. In fact, throughout its vast history from its classical origins until today, the theatrical genre has accompanied humanity in its most important changes, serving as a mirror in which society can look at itself.

Characteristics of a play

play Elizabethan space history
The space of a play changes according to the time and culture.

Broadly speaking, a play is characterized by:

  • It takes place in a certain environment called a dramatic space: a theatrical stage, a stage, even the street itself, as long as there is an audience in attendance and a theatrical space where the performance takes place.
  • It has a certain duration, generally no longer than a couple of hours, but it depends on the scenic proposal. In ancient times, plays could last a whole day of performance.
  • It involves a combination of artistic genres: literature (in dramatic text) and the performing arts (in representation). In addition, you can use other scenic expressions such as singing, music, dancing, etc.
  • Generally represents a story through actions and dialogues, so that the viewer can witness what happens. There is usually no narrator, and if there is, he usually operates as one more character in the piece.

Origin of a play

Theater is an extremely old artistic genre: its origins date back to Ancient Greece (4th century BC). Greek society used it as an instrument of civic education and transmission of its extensive mythology. Its actors used masks that represented each character, as well as stilts and other scenic elements.

There were great Greek playwrights both in the genre of comedy (such as Aristophanes) or tragedy, considered a major art, such as Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus. Many of his works are still performed in our times.

Elements of a play

stage play
The scenery of a play is not always realistic.

The elements that make up a theatrical piece are:

  • Characters, played by actors, who can wear specific clothing, use certain forms of speech, and so on. The characters interact with each other through actions and through dialogue.
  • Stage, which is the physical space in which the performance takes place, and along which the actors wander, “entering” and “leaving” the scene as they enter or disappear from the stage. This stage can have different forms, and can even be in public present in it.
  • Scenery and props, better known as “scenic elements”, these are objects that favor scenic representation, serving as scenery or fulfilling specific roles in the story, such as swords, glasses, tables, etc. In many representations they are dispensed with, and simply imagined, evoking them through dialogue and actions.
  • Theatrical text, which is not present in the scene, but has been learned by the actors. It specifies the dialogues, actions and changes of scenery.

Theatrical genres

As in the cinema, theatrical works can be of very different types, depending on their arguments and their ways of staging them. The main theatrical genres are:

  • Tragedy. One of the oldest genres in the history of the theater, its stories usually consist of unsolvable and painful situations, generally of the fall from grace of an illustrious hero or heroine, by the work of implacable destiny.
  • Comedy. The counterpart of the tragedy, also of ancient origin, focuses on the satirical representation of the characters, in such a way that their actions invite the audience to laughter or joy.
  • Tragicomedy. The combination of comedy and tragedy, in which there is room for both: suffering and laughter, both of which increase as the story progresses, until reaching an emotional climax that leads to the denouement.
  • Farce. A short type of work, with cartoonish characters and situations that are not too realistic, but that may have a satirical or critical intention, that is, to denounce society. In it, the viewer is not always moved to laughter, but also to shame.
  • Melodrama. It is a type of dramatic work in which the tragic or pathetic feelings evoked in the viewer are highlighted through the use of music. It is, if you will, the artistic precursor of the telenovela, and that is why it is often called “melodramas” to this type of television productions.