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Sunday, November 27, 2011


Thespis of Icaria

Thespis (Ancient Greek: Θέσπις) of Icaria (present-day Dionysos, Greece) (6th century BC), according to certain Ancient Greek sources and especially Aristotle, was the first person ever to appear on stage as an actor playing a character in a play (instead of speaking as him or herself). In other sources, he is said to have introduced the first principal actor in addition to the chorus.

The earliest origins of drama are to be found in Athens where ancient hymns, called dithyrambs, (songs about stories from mythology with choric refrains), were sung in honor of the god Dionysus. These hymns were later adapted for choral processions in which participants would dress up in costumes and masks. Eventually, certain members of the chorus evolved to take special roles within the procession, but they were not yet actors in the way we would understand it.
Thespis' wagon, relief of the
 Giotto's Belltower in Florence, Italy,
 Nino Pisano, 1334–1336
Pic by wikiuser Sailko
That development came later in the 6th century BC, when the tyrant Pisistratus, who then ruled the city, established a series of new public festivals. One of these, the 'City Dionysia', a festival of entertainment held in honor of the god Dionysus, featured competitions in music, singing, dance and poetry. And most remarkable of all the winners was said to be a wandering bard called Thespis. 

Capitalizing on his success, Thespis also invented theatrical touring: he would tour various cities while carrying his costumes, masks and other props in a horse-drawn wagon.

According to tradition, in 534 or 535 BC, Thespis astounded audiences by leaping on to the back of a wooden cart and reciting poetry as if he was the characters whose lines he was reading.

It is implied that Thespis invented acting in the Western world, and that prior to his performances, no one had ever assumed the resemblance of another person for the purpose of storytelling. In fact, Thespis is the first known actor in written plays. He may thus have had a substantial role in changing the way stories were said and inventing theater as we know it today. In reverence to Thespis, actors throughout western history have been referred to as thespians.

Source(s):  wikipedia, pbs.org

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