The Ancient Stage

The productions of ancient Greek plays originally took place in the Theater of Dionysus on the south slope of the Acropolis.


In the fifth century b.c.e., the natural curve of the land was enhanced to accommodate wooden seats that formed an irregular semi-circle (known as the theatron or watching space) overlooking the acting area. That area—the orchestra or dancing place—was a flat, generally round space with a diameter of at least sixty-five feet. Behind it was the skene (SKAY-nay), which in the fifth century was probably a temporary wooden structure with one central door. The skene provided a door as an entrance and exit, a “backstage” in which to change costume and store props, a simple backdrop for the action, and a roof-level surface for the occasional appearance.

By 431 b.c.e., some sort of crane allowed actors to appear from the machine
or—ex machina—flying in above the skene. In addition to the skene door, two pathways to the left and the right of the skene and just in front of the forward edge of the theatron—the eisodoi (EES-o-doy)—provided ways to reach and retreat from the orchestra. Part of the audience could see performers for much of the length of their entrances on these two paths.


At Randolph College, the Mabel K. Whiteside Greek Theatre, which we call the Dell, reproduces these original conditions quite closely.