Many words associated with theatre have roots in Greek. Theater comes for the word theatron meaning "seeing place". Drama comes form the word dran meaning "to do" Many dramas were presented in the theater in Athens, yet only forty-three plays have been found intact. There were, however, many plays, comedies, and commentaries left in fragments.
Athens was the main center for these theatrical traditions. Athenians spread these festivals to its numerous allies in order to promote a common identity. The Greek theatre history began with festivals honoring their gods. The god, Dionysus, was honored with a festival called by "City Dionysia". Dionysus was the god of fertility (main duty), wine and agriculture. In Athens, during this festival, men used to perform songs to welcome Dionysus. Plays were only presented at City Dionysia festival. Actors, directors, and dramatists were all the same person. After some time, only three actors were allowed to perform in each play. Later a few non-speaking roles were allowed to perform on-stage. Due to limited number of actors allowed on-stage, the chorus evolved into a very active part of Greek theatre. Music was often played during the chorus' delivery of its lines.
There were two major types of Greek plays. There was tragedy, which was derived from the word tragos and means goat. The other one was comedy, which was derived from the word odé and means song. A tragedy received its name from how it was performed. A tragedy had actors who wore goatskins and danced like goats. They were stories about suffering. Not all of them had unhappy endings. However, they all pointed out that though people suffered, most individuals were able to carry on despite their suffering. Three well-known Greek tragedy playwrights of the fifth century are Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus.
Comedy was also an important part of ancient Greek theater. Greek comedies were about the present. Originally, comedies poked fun at politicians and leaders, but later, did away with the chorus and started to poke fun at a certain kind of person. One of the greatest writers of Greek comedy was Aristophanes. he found something funny about everyone.
The theaters were large, open-air structures constructed on the slopes of hills. They consisted of three main elements: the orchestra, the skene, and the audience. The centerpiece of the theatre was the orchestra, or "dancing place", a large circular or rectangular area. The orchestra was the site the choral performances, the religious rites, and, possibly, the acting. Behind the orchestra was a large rectangular building called the skene. It was used as a "backstage" area where actors could change their costumes and masks, but also served to represent the location of the plays, which were usually set in front of a palace or house. These structures were sometimes painted to serve as backdrops, hence the English word scenery. Rising from the circle of the orchestra was the audience. The theatres were originally built on a very large scale to accommodate the large number of people on stage, as well as the large number of people in the audience, up to fourteen thousand. The audience sat on tiers of benches built up on the side of a hill. Greek theatres, then, could only be built on hills that were correctly shaped.
The cast of a Greek play was comprised of amateurs, not professionals. The casts were all-male. With such a large space to fill, ancient Greek actors could not be subtle in their acting. They had to gesture grandly so that the entire audience could see and hear the story. However, most Greek theaters were cleverly constructed to transmit even the smallest sound to any seat. The actors were so far away from the audience that without the aid of exaggerated costumes and masks, they would be difficult to see. The masks were made of linen or cork, so none have survived. Tragic masks carried mournful or pained expressions, while comic masks were smiling or leering. The shape of the mask amplified the actor's voice, making his words easier for the audience to hear.