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The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Kinds of Plays

Drama: All theatre is a form of drama. Theatre and drama are synonymous. Drama is the art of playwriting – fiction meant to be performed live, with stage directions. The word ‘drama’ comes from the Greek word for ‘action’.Traditional forms of drama are comedy and tragedy. Today, drama refers to any serious story where a hero faces some test or obstacles, whether it’s a tragedy or has a happy ending.

Melodrama: Originally, any play that has some musical accompaniment to the action. The idea has become a cliché – imagine a villain in black with a thin moustache and a cape. Now, melodrama is considered as fake and kitsch. It doesn’t make you think, it makes you roll your eyes.

Tragedy: coming from classical Greece, a tragedy is a sad story about a hero who sacrifices himself for some noble reason.

Comedy: Comedy has a modern and an ancient meaning, coming from classical Greece. The word 'comedy' comes from the words 'komos' and 'ode', meaning celebratory song. Greek comedy revolved around conflict, either between two societies, or one character against society. Typically, a young hero with hopes and dreams, but powerless to do anything, would make fun of society, pointing out examples of irony. In modern English, comedy is anything that’s funny. Today there are many kinds of theatrical comedies, including satire, parody, screwball, romantic, black, and comedy of manners.

Satire and Parody both make fun of people and society, but satire is meant to bring about social change, it has an argument. Parody doesn’t. Screwball Comedy is bizarre and surprising. Farce is similar –it’s full of impossible situations and plot twists. Black Comedy makes fun of the evil nature of some people. Comedy of Manners is a special kind of parody, mocking the manners of a social class, either rich or poor.

Opera: is a combination of music and drama. The entire story is sung. Anoperetta is a short opera. Opera began in the renaissance. Mozart and Verde are two famous opera composers. Light opera is comical and silly, and was popular in the 19th century, especially works by Gilbert & Sullivan.

Musicals: are similar to opera, but most of the drama is simply spoken, with musical numbers in between. Actors pause the action to sing and dance. The choreography is usually very elaborate. Musicals are modern, many are shown on Broadway, and many are adapted for film. Examples include Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserable, Grease, and Rent.

Broadway: a main avenue in New York City (if continues out of the city all the way to Sleep Hollow), It’s also home to a theatre district with over 40 venues. Comparable to London’s West End theatres, these houses produce the most expensive and technical theatre in the world. Broadway attracts about 12 million theatergoers a year, earning just over a billion dollars. These theatre houses run plays and (very often) musicals. How long each play runs is determined by ticket sales. Broadway shows run from Tuesday to Saturday night, with three matinée performances (2PM), for a total of eight performances a week.

Off Broadway: Refers to the many smaller theatre productions in and around New York City that are not part of the theatre district. These shows are smaller and cheaper to produce, but still often contain excellent actors. Because they’re cheaper, producers take more risks, performing more avant-garde plays.

Ballet: Ballet is a form of dance that often tells a story. Famous examples include The Nutcracker and SwanLake, both by Tchaikovsky. We’ll go more in depth when we talk about dance.

Improvisation: This is a form of drama that’s best for training actors. They are given a situation and are asked to act out a part, without any script. This is also great for comedians to come up with jokes.

Pantomime: is when the actors have no line and act out a story with body language.

Alternative/Avant-Garde/Fringe Theatre: This is a term used to describe small scale theatre productions, mostly in the UK and often above pubs, centering around the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In fringe festivals, plays are chosen by random lottery instead of a jury, so you never know what you’ll see. Actors may be professional or amateur. Different troupes share the same space, so sets are simple. Fringe plays are typically one act, and an hour long, and they’re cheaper. In America these kinds of productions are referred to as Off-Broadway.

Vaudeville: Popular in Americafrom 1880-1930, it was a nightly show consisting of many short, unrelated performances. Anyone with any skill or talent could perform, so long as they were popular. If you bought a ticket for a vaudeville performance, you might see actors one minute, and acrobats the next. Other typical acts included singers, jugglers, musicians, comedians, magicians, trained animals, athletes, etc. It was like a circus act in a theatre.

Puppetry: is theatre involving puppets. The puppets are the actors, controlled by puppeteers, who bring them to life. Kabuki is traditional Japanese puppetry.

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