Most of us enjoy good entertainment like concerts, sports, video games, books, and arts, but topping them all are the intense dramas from TV shows, movies, theatrical plays, or viral videos of girls being overly dramatic. And what entertains us the most is a good drama in the recent films from A-list celebrities whose versatile performances and dedication in portraying complex characters never cease to amaze us.
But in this digital age, anyone can act and produce short videos playing famous film characters, or dressing up as a mythical creature, or lip-syncing to a line from a movie on TikTok. Anyone can act. But has anyone ever wondered how acting came to be? Well, we did, and we will be sharing with you what we learned on the origins of plays, acting, and cinema.
The names of European writers and playwrights never miss being mentioned in conversations like this—and for good reasons. From the classical period until contemporary times, European influence is highly cognizable in writers' and playwrights' storytelling styles in their respective mediums.
There’s no accurate time when acting and plays started, but they may have started as early as 4000 BC. Acting, at this time, was not done for its entertainment value but was rather for religious and non-religious practice. Since the beginning, acting has been an art of remembering and has continued to do so today.
In Egypt, it was to worship the memory of the dead; in China, it was to keep a ruler’s triumphs alive. But in primitive years, acting was a reenactment of hunts that evolved into pre- and post-hunting and soon a ritual for good luck.
Greeks (600 BC-600 AD)
Acting and drama/plays began as a festival ceremony honoring the god Dionysus, where participants, dressed up and wearing masks, sang ancient hymns that were later adapted into choral processions.
Citizens started reading their works then acting them out as if they were the characters, drawing massive audience attention that soon made poets write longer scripts, where more people wanted to participate in playing other roles.
Their first plays started with just one actor and were performed at stylized large outdoor theatres. Soon, playwrights added extra roles to three speaking characters, and sometimes different actors would play the same character.
Competitions were held and Thespis was the first recorded winner. He is regarded as the “Father of Tragedy” and is one of the founding fathers of drama. The word “thespian” was coined after him. With the progression of drama, the Greeks later developed acting schools and the star system, holding actors in high regard.
Drama in Greek means “to do/to act,” but eventually, the meaning evolved and is now associated with situations with ambiguous emotions. The three known Greek theatrical genres are comedy, tragedy, and satire. Greeks loved tragedies, their most popular theatrical genre.
Romans (600 BC-600 AD)
Like the Greeks, Roman plays originated from performing ceremonies to give offerings to their gods called Lectisternium. Romans added theatrical games and dancing to their ceremonies to please their gods more after a plague hit them. These performances soon became organized shows. Integral to them were well-written funded plays with short scripts and prevalent music and dancing.
Greek culture influenced Romans greatly, and no doubt they’re exposed to Greek drama as well. They began adapting and reworking Greek plays that influenced more Roman playwrights to write productions that helped them establish their own production style. Focusing less on drama and storytelling but more on entertainment and circus-like performances, farce was a popular genre.
Roman theatre was different from the Greeks in some ways. Greek actors were treated highly while Roman actors were not in all terms of the difference. Their citizens were not allowed to perform, and going against this law will cost them their civil rights. Only non-citizens or slaves were allowed to participate. Performers were beaten or killed if they gave a poor performance, but a good one would win them their freedom.
The Romans also allowed women to participate in non-speaking parts, unlike that of the Greeks where all participants were male.
It was in theatre productions that the Romans improved greatly and innovated machines that would help them in changing scenery and offer other stage effects that even extended to their audience seating.
The jumpstart of cinema happened not because of just one country or a person’s efforts but by numerous people in every corner of the world through their continuous innovative inventions. It might be incredible beyond belief that at some point, cinema started as just optical toys in the 1820s onwards: with Thaumatrope, a piece of paper with designs on either side that looked merged when rotated with speed.
The Phenakistoscope came in the 1830s. It’s a spinning disk with images drawn and equally spaced slits for the viewers to look through in front of the mirror. Once spun, the series of images with different phases of movement look like a single moving image.
Two years later, the Zoetrope followed. It was almost similar to the phenakistoscope, except this was cylindrical with slits and a series of pictures inside. When one looks through the rotating zoetrope, the images show a sense of motion.
By 1877, the Praxinoscope came out in France. It was similar to the zoetrope, but instead of the series of slits, used a mirror in the inner circle that reflects steady moving images once spun.
But with the technological advancement in photography, it was Eadweard Muybridge's “series photography” that made other cinematic innovations reach greater heights. He photographed a horse in motion with a series of twelve cameras triggered in sequence to help the enthusiast who hired him, Leland Standford, prove his theory that horses lift all their hooves off the ground, and he was right! Muybridge’s technique was just the first step towards moving pictures, and his work also laid the groundwork for other inventors.
Thomas Edison, the Lumiere brothers, and Louis Le Prince were cinematic inventors and developed ways of photography and film projection. Edison developed the Kinetograph, but it allowed only one person to view the images through its peephole. He also built the first movie studio called the Black Maria, where he shot his first short.
Le Prince developed light-sensitive celluloid film strips that allowed the camera high-speed recording and projection of images that created movement illusions.
The Lumiere brothers developed cinématographe, both serving as a camera and projector and very efficient. It sharply captures images and allows a multitude of audiences to view the moving images at once.
You must be very keen of the artistry behind modern films and stills. Conversely, the first moving images captured did not hold any artistic qualities. This is because filmmakers and inventors were still exploring and making themselves familiar with the apparatus and were looking for ways to improve it. The first few produced moving images were shorts, silent, and in black and white. It was not until the hike in the number of production houses that filmmakers slowly progressed towards producing lengthy narrative films.
The first few short films were Edison's five-second shot of a man sneezing, and Lumiere's “Workers leaving the factory” and “The Arrival of the Train”. Le Prince, believed to be the “Father of Cinematography,” had perfected the cinematic equipment ahead of Edison and the Lumiere brothers. He was supposed to present his short films, but he vanished mysteriously.
It was not until 1896 that the first fictional film, “The Cabbage Fairy” came out. It was written, directed, and edited by the pioneer of narrative filmmaking, Alice Guy-Blache, the first female filmmaker. She was followed by George Méliès, who became a well-known filmmaker,
producing hundreds of films. Méliès experimented a lot with film technicals and was much known for special effects and hand-painted colors in his works.
In the following years, cinematic inventions and innovations continue to flourish. Inventors, businessmen, writers, and artists come forward with their works in the hopes of creating new cinematic forms of entertainment for the public. Many books were adapted into drama films to what we mostly enjoy today, and with the growth of cinema, other film genres also emerged, giving audiences a wide range of narrative films to choose from.
Top Tagsdrama plays acting cinema theatre movies films actors greeks romans characters roles scripts genre performances productions moving images
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