In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek Theater Production

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Collections
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals and Special Issues
  • Iconography
  • “Pre-dramatic” Performances
  • Aristotle’s Poetics
  • Theater Space
  • Audience: Size
  • Audience: Composition
  • Audience: Reception
  • Finance
  • Actors: Tragedy
  • Actors: Comedy
  • Chorus and Dance: Tragedy
  • Chorus: Comedy and Dithyramb
  • Masks
  • Costumes
  • Set and Stage
  • Eisodoi (Entrances)
  • Scene Painting (skenographia)
  • Stage Machinery
  • Stage Directions
  • Props
  • Theater Production beyond Athens/Attica

Classics Greek Theater Production
Peter Meineck
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0150


Greek theater production means the physical manner in which ancient Greek (mainly Athenian) drama was realized in the theater. This includes the use of masks, costumes, props; set, machinery, and vehicles; the way in which the architectural form of the theater affected the staging (such as entrances and exits); the stage movements (blocking) of the performers; the financial elements that enabled the production of the plays; and the wider cultural environment of the religious festivals within which ancient Greek drama was performed. Although tragedy, comedy and satyrlike performances are attested to elsewhere in the Greek world, most of our evidence for drama in the Classical period comes from Athens. We know of 6th- and early-5th-century performance spaces in Sparta, Argos, Sicily, Athens, and the demes of Attica: although apart from Athens we do not know if narrative drama was performed there or if they were choral dance or ritual spaces. Apart from fragments of plays by Aeschylus possibly produced in Sicily, all of the extant plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Menander were intended for production in Athens. It is also likely that the fragments of the plays of other dramatists from this period were also intended for the Athenian theater, although they may have been re-performed elsewhere. As theater spread throughout the Hellenistic period we find much more material-culture evidence of drama, although less textual evidence. It is important to note that the Greek theater stagecraft developed rapidly and underwent a number of significant changes. The theater also changed architecturally from a temporary wooden stand overlooking a level dancing space (orchestra) at a sanctuary or in a marketplace to a large stone edifice capable of accommodating thousands of people. The texts of ancient plays have come down to us without stage directions. Scholars have attempted to reconstruct Greek theater production techniques from evidence derived from the plays themselves, the material-culture evidence of architectural remains of theater spaces, the iconography of vase painting and sculpture, epigraphic records, and later scholia and commentaries from Hellenistic, Roman, and medieval scholars. As a result there are many controversial issues such as the shape and size of the theater space, the use of scenery and scene painting (or not), the introduction of the scene building and the entrances, exits, and stage movements of the performers.

General Overviews

Webster 1970 is another important work that examined the field in detail (originally published in 1956). Webster confined his survey to costumes, scenery, and staging and took a regional approach to the evidence some sixty years before the current scholarly interest in theater outside of Athens. Taplin 2003 (originally published in 1978) proposed that all significant stage actions were indicated in the texts of Greek plays. This approach re-ignited scholarly interest in the text as a source for Greek theater production from a philological perspective. Although Taplin himself concedes that not all stage action is indicated by text, his work is still having a profound effect on contemporary scholarship on theater production. Wiles 2000 counters Taplin’s purely textual approach and uses the evidence of material culture and what we know of the theater’s environmental setting to locate the plays in a wider visual context. Arnott 2013 (originally published in 1989) tackles the subject from a practical perspective and is a good introductory guide. Davidson 2005 provides a short overview and briefly surveys the evidence, context, performance space, and performers. This work would be a good place to start for the undergraduate and non-specialist, as would Storey and Allan 2005, which covers much of the same ground. These can be supplemented in Ley 2007, which also covers the use of costumes, props, and specific scenic effects. Ashby 1998 has much to commend. The subject of production is approached by a theater scholar and teacher and the book as a whole is dynamic, offering some good information. Dugdale 2008 is a richly illustrated and excellent introduction to the subject. Robson 2009 provides a useful introduction to Aristophanic theater production.

  • Arnott, Peter D. 2013. Public and performance in the Greek theatre. Routledge.

    Originally published in 1989, Arnott was a scholar and a practitioner who staged elaborate marionette productions to demonstrate ancient drama in performance. This book is a good general guide to Greek theater production.

  • Ashby, Clifford. 1998. Classical Greek theatre: New views of an old subject. Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press.

    Ashby approaches Greek theater production from the perspective of theater practice and his own observations. In places the book can seem quite unorthodox in its approach, but it offers some valuable perspectives and is a good introduction for non-specialists.

  • Davidson, John. 2005. Theatrical production. In A companion to Greek tragedy. Edited by Justina Gregory, 194–212. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470996676

    A brief general overview of Greek theater production and a good starting point for students.

  • Dugdale, Eric. 2008. Greek theatre in context. Greece and Rome: Texts and Contexts. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    An attractive volume with many illustrations that focuses on Greek drama in the 5th to 3rd centuries BCE. The author shows how ancient sources provide evidence for ancient drama. The book is aimed at upper-level high school age, university students, and the general reader. An excellent introduction.

  • Easterling, P. E. 1997. Form and performance. In The Cambridge guide to Greek tragedy. Edited by P. E. Easterling, 151–177. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521412455.007

    An excellent overview of the form of an ancient performance, particularly good on outlining the issues surrounding music and dance and the chorus.

  • Ley, Graham. 2007. A material world: Costumes, props and scenic effects. In The Cambridge companion to Greek and Roman theatre. Edited by Marianne McDonald and John Michael Walton, 268–287. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521834568

    A good introduction to Greek theater production by a noted theater scholar.

  • Robson, James. 2009. Aristophanes and introduction. London: Duckworth.

    Chapter 2 (pp. 13–29), entitled “Putting on a Show,” is a good, brief general introduction to the production conditions of Old Comedy.

  • Storey, Ian C., and Arlene Allan. 2005. A guide to ancient Greek drama. Vol. 3. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470776209

    A good general introduction for students, with specific sections dealing with production.

  • Taplin, Oliver. 2003. Greek tragedy in action. London: Routledge.

    Originally published in 1978 this book is still an excellent introduction to the subject of Greek theater production. Written for the non-specialist, this book explores nine plays, including Aeschylus’s Oresteia and has chapters on visuality, stage directions, exits and entrances, gestures, props, structure, and space.

  • Webster, T. B. L. 1970. Greek theatre production. London: Methuen.

    Originally published in 1956, this book is notable for its geographic approach to theater production a good sixty years prior to the current interest in theater outside of Athens.

  • Wiles, David. 2000. Greek theatre performance: An introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Provides a general introduction to Greek drama. Its chapters “Space” and “The Performer” are useful for introductory purposes.

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