Arrangements for the competition
Preparations for the play
began well in advance.
Competitors submitted an
outline of their plays to the magistrate or archon. Each tragic poet had a choregos
to act as a sponsor and they added their own actors. The archon had a free choice over who could be picked – although
he had to justify his decision, which made it difficult for new people to be chosen.
At first, the poet himself
chose the actors, but as the compression became more regulated, the three protagonists
were chosen by the state. The poet was the teacher and trained the chorus himself.
All public businesses and
law courts were closed during the festival. First of all, the statue of Dionysus was taken in a procession to the theatre.
All the plays were publicised in advance. The sponsors (choregoi) paraded with their casts and the playwrighters announced
the thieves of the play. The actors also performed scenes from the plays.
The following day animal
sacrifices’ were made and people brought offerings to the god, Dionysus. In the evening there was a party where everyone
got drunk. Just before the plays were performed, special announcements were made e.g. the names of the citizens who had won
special crowns for various duties; boys who fathers had been killed in battle paraded in the theatre; citizens also used this
time to announce the freedom of a slave. The ten strategoi, generals, attended
the festival as a group and offered libations. The plays were then performed and lasted for four days.
At the end of the festival, the
judges wrote their decisions on a tablet. These tablets were then placed in an urn. The archon drew out five of the tablets
to decide who had won. The prizes were traditionally ivory wreaths and later they may have got a bull.
The other main festival
was the Lenaia festival for comedy. This was held in Athens in January.
It was customary in Athens for a rich man to
be able to choose not to pay taxes for any one year. Instead, they had three choices
i) Pay for all the equipment for a religious festival
ii) Fit out a warship for active service
iii) Hire and train a chorus
for one of the festivals and pay all the production costs.
The reason why a rich man
may do one of these things is for popularity. As well as providing for the chorus he had to provide costumes, masks, arrange
rehearsals, and train the musicians and the chorus. If he was unable to train dancers, he would have to get the playwrighters
to do it. In addition to all of this he had to arrange the props, scenery and special effects. The title and author of the
play was kept secret till the day of the performance so there would be no favouritism in the competition. The order that they
were to be performed would be decided by a lot. The first play to be chosen by five judges was the winner. The best actor
got a crown and the winning cast got a banquet by the choregos, but the author of the play got nothing.
Comedy actors wore an all
over body stocking in pink or red. Over this they wore a roly-poly costume. On top of that they wore ordinary stage clothes
and an extra large phallus. They also wore grinning masks. Comic actors had to move about quite quickly so the costumes left
their legs and arms free
For a tragic actor,
the basic garment was an ankle length robe called a chiton. Over this was a cloth
called a himation. They either wore
calf length boots or went bare foot. They were usually dull colours and heavy materials so that the actor had to move around
slowly and solemnly.
Masks were worn so the audience could immediately recognise who was who very easily – especially if they were
sitting at the back. The leading actor played one part and the other two could have up to six parts, so having masks made
it easier to switch roles. The masks were made of very thin clay or stiffened cloth and others were beaten gold or silver.
The mouths were huge and as a result gave the same effect as speaking down a cardboard tube (As they didn’t have mikes
in those days – surprisingly!) The disadvantages of wearing such masks were;
you could only have one expression
they were hot to wear
they were heavy
if made from wood, you could get splinters.