A comprehensive and well-written text that travels the path of theater’s evolution in form and style.
Demokritos University professor and architect Athanasopulos (Building Technology and Design, 1979) traces the development of theater in architectural, scenic and lighting design. Supporting photographs and diagrams chronicle the art form’s movement from ritualistic, processional origins in early human history, to outdoor amphitheaters of ancient Greece, to the rise of the modern multipurpose civic theater. Organized into four main sections, the book covers antiquity to the 19th century, the early 20th century, the period between the Great Wars and the present. The author peppers the text with sharp commentary, informed by his almost jingoistic belief in the artistic superiority of state-supported European theater. He’s not shy about espousing his distaste for the rigorous financial and functional demands placed on contemporary theater–particularly on those large complexes located in the United States and Australia. Commerce, Athanasopulos opines, has trumped art in countries that rely on private enterprise to support the arts. According to the author, these venues suffer artistically, given that they’re run by directing boards consisting of capitalist Philistines, bent on balanced budgets. Lincoln Center, D.C.’s Kennedy Center and the Sydney Opera House are listed as examples of three such offensively disjointed behemoths. Contemporary Theater also contains a too-brief overview of street, political-militant and mixed media theater, the last of which combines elements such as film projection with traditional stagecraft. Athanasopulos concludes with intriguing examples of experimental multimedia performing spaces likely to exist in our not-so-distant future. The short final chapter, â€œThe Importance of Meaning and Speech” seems an afterthought which could have functioned better as part of the overall text, rather than being left as a footnote. Also notably absent are details on non-Western theater design and development.
Expertly researched text with a cerebral and occasionally acerbic point of view.