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Drama and Theater Research Resources

Dramatic literature and the performances that bring it to life have captivated the human imagination for centuries. People have gathered everywhere from the open-air theaters of ancient Athens to modern day high school auditoriums to encounter these works of art. The resources compiled here will help you bring those experiences into the home and classroom. Through this guide, you'll learn about the history of drama and theater, find links to archives of dramatic works, and read introductions on everything from stage terminology to early English playbooks.

Drama and Theater Basics

The resources below will help you understand what drama and theater are, and explain why studying them is an important aspect of any arts education. In addition to dictionary and encyclopedia entries, you'll find resources that distinguish between different dramatic genres and introduce you to each one.

What is Drama and Why is it Unique?

Drama is the only form of literature that is written to be performed, typically by actors on a stage. The resources below will help you understand how "drama" is defined, and how it is different from other works of prose and poetry. 

"Drama" (Wikipedia) 

Wikipedia's entry includes a general definition of drama, as well as sections on dramatic history, genres of drama, and links to many additional external resources. 

"Theater" (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia's entry on theater provides an introduction to the concept, as well as an explanation of the various types of theater. Reading this entry will help clarify what distinguishes drama from theater.

"Dramatic Literature" (Encyclopedia Britannica

This encyclopedia entry delves more deeply into the difference between drama and literature and how the two forms work together. What constitutes a play, and how does the text of a play differ from its performance? 

"What is Drama?" (Victoria and Albert Museum) 

The Victoria and Albert theater archive provides online access to numerous resources about the history of drama and performance, plus a large collection of data related to the topic. 

"What's the Difference between Drama and Theater?" (The Guardian)

This post from The Guardian's theater blog explores the difference between drama on the page and theater on the stage. It also introduces a third term: the "post-dramatic theater."

Genres of Drama and Theater  

"List of Genres" (Drama Online) 

Drama Online offers resources on many aspects of drama and theater, including a comprehensive and detailed list of dramatic genres. Each genre includes an explanation, as well as examples of works within that specific genre. 

"Theater Practitioners and Genres" (The British Library)

The British Library's online collection includes resources on a number of different theatrical styles, including the "theater of cruelty" and the "theater of the absurd." It also includes links to interviews, clips, excerpts, and more. 

"Types of Dramatic Literature" (Quizlet)

Quizlet's helpful study set contains dozens of flashcards on the main types of dramatic literature, including melodrama, farce, and satire.

In Our Time: "Tragedy" (BBC) 

This podcast from the BBC focuses exclusively on the popular genre of tragedy, exploring its origins and its place within modern society. 

The History of Western Drama

Drama has been an important part of western culture since the early Greek and Roman empires. Over the centuries and across countless different societies and cultures, the purpose and prominence of dramatic literature has changed significantly. The resources in this section will help you understand those changes by focusing on particular periods in the history of drama.

Greek and Roman Drama

In ancient Greece and Rome, dramatic spectacle was often used to convey political views. Ancient Greek tragedy is also tied to the Aristotelian idea of "catharsis"—the purgation of powerful emotion through pity and fear. Many comedies and tragedies from this era, including those of Sophocles and Aeschylus, remain popular today. The resources below will help you understand classical theater.

"Theater of Ancient Rome" (Wikipedia) 

The Wikipedia entry on the theater of Ancient Rome provides an overview of the characteristics of Roman tragedy and comedy, describes the physical spaces of the Roman theaters, and offers links for further exploration. 

"Theater of Ancient Greece" (Wikipedia) 

The Wikipedia entry on the theater of Ancient Greece is a good starting point for exploring the importance of drama and theater in Greek society. It includes a section on the masks worn in classical Greek theater.

Articles on Greek and Roman Drama (Theatrehistory.com) 

Here, you'll find a collection of articles pertaining to both Greek and Roman drama, most of which are excerpted from Alfred Bates's 1906 book The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization. 

The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization (Internet Archive)

You can download Alfred Bates's seminal book on drama in various formats courtesy of this Internet Archive page, including ePub, Kindle, and PDF.

"Greek and Roman Theater Glossary" (The Ancient Theatre Archive)  

Here, you'll find a sampling of definitions pertaining to Greek and Roman drama. Clicking on each term will bring you to a page with more information and helpful images. 

"Virtual Tour of Greek and Roman Theater" (The Ancient Theatre Archive) 

Check out this "virtual reality" tour of various ancient Greek and Roman theaters. It includes information on the modern-day locations of the ruins, seating capacity, reconstructed floor plans, and a detailed history with external resources. 

"Dr. J's Illustrated Greek Theater" (Dr. J's Illustrated Guide to the Classical World) 

This illustrated guide, part of a larger guide compiled by Dr. Janice Siegel, outlines the setup and layout of a typical theater in Ancient Greece. 

Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama 

This research project aims to study ancient Greek and Roman texts in performance in a wide variety of different media. The online database contains a broad range of information on dramatic performance.  

Early Modern Drama

Few eras are better known for the quality of their dramatic art than Renaissance England. The theater flourished during the 16th– and 17th–century rules of Queen Elizabeth and King James VI, with plays by Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare drawing crowds by the hundreds. The resources below will introduce you to the period and its many masterpieces.

"English Renaissance Theater" (Wikipedia)  

The Wikipedia entry on English Renaissance theater provides basic information on the period's theaters and playhouses, playwrights, actors, and performances.  

Early Modern Drama Database 

A vast tabular record of every recorded early modern English play performed in London between 1573 and 1642, this database includes each work's date, author, genre, company, and the theater where it was first performed. 

"Elizabethan Theater" (Victoria and Albert Museum)  

This informational article on theater during the Elizabethan era from the Victoria and Albert Museum includes a helpful, introductory section on William Shakespeare. 

"Database of Early English Playbooks" (Univ. of Pennsylvania)  

This database, maintained by the University of Pennsylvania, allows you to search for any early modern English dramatic work and access a wide range of information on each text.  

"Why Should We Study Elizabethan Theater?" (Oxford Univ.)  

In this podcast, Professor Tiffany Stern of Oxford University discusses why Elizabethan theater is still important and relevant in the world today.

Modern and Postmodern Drama

Twentieth-century and postmodern drama deviate from earlier theatrical eras in numerous ways. Below, you'll find resources that delve into the difficult-to-define aspects of postmodernism, and that introduce you to the most famous and experimental texts of the period. 

"A History of British Theater" (BBC) 

This timeline from the BBC details the progression of British theater from 1350 to 2015. Although it's limited in that in only discusses British theater, it is a helpful outline of how drama has changed from the early modern to contemporary periods. 

"A to Z of Modern Drama" (The Guardian

Michael Billington, theater critic for The Guardian, has a collection of articles about "what makes modern theatre tick," from "absurdism" to the comedic performers he dubs "zanies."

"Postmodern Theater" (Wikipedia)  

This Wikipedia entry covers the basic groundwork of what might constitute the "postmodern" work, which is rooted in mid-20th century European postmodern philosophy.

Examples of Postmodern Dramatic Works (Drama Online Library)  

This collection includes detailed descriptions of many postmodern dramatic texts, including what exactly makes them "postmodern." Each explores contemporary issues in non-normative ways. 

Forced Entertainment Theater Company

Forced Entertainment, based in Sheffield in England, is one of the most well-known experimental theater companies in the world. Through their performances, they push theater to its limits and question what it can express about contemporary society. 

Theater and the Stage 

In order to understand how a performance comes together, you must understand the venue in which it is performed. There are many different components of any theater, all of which contribute to and impact the performance itself. In this section, you'll find resources describing these different elements, along with examples of well-known theatrical spaces around the world. 

Types of Stages 

"Stage (Theatre)" (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia's entry on the stage includes a definition of the term, a section on types of staging, and another section on stage terminology. You'll also find links to further resources. 

"What the Types of Theatre Stages and Auditoria?" (Theatre Trust)  

The U.K.'s national advisory public body for theaters offers a list of the most common types of stage arrangements, including some photos and images for reference. 

"What Spaces Make Up a Theatre?" (Theatre Trust) 

This page from Theatre Trust details the most common elements of a theater complex, and includes high-quality photos for reference. 

"Creating and Staging a Devised Performance" (BBC) 

This guide from the BBC's study support resource Bitesize offers staging diagrams and lists the pros and cons of each stage type. 

Stage Terminology

There are many terms and phrases used in relation to the theater. Did you know that "stage left" refers to the left side of the stage from the performer's point of view, rather than the audience's vantage point? Use the resources below to familiarize yourself with many other theater-related words.

Glossary of Technical Theater Terms (Theatrecrafts.com) 

This beginner's guide, from a website devoted to entertainment technology resources and history, focuses on the fundamentals of technical theater. 

"60+ Theater Terms Every Actor Should Know" (Backstage) 

This list is intended for actors, but it's informative for anyone hoping to learn about theater productions. It includes sections on architecture, tech, the actors, and the crew. 

"The Theater Dictionary" (Theatre Development Fund) 

This dictionary from the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) defines a wide variety of theater-related terms, and each term includes both a written definition and a video explication.

"Drama Vocabulary" (Teachers Pay Teachers)

This resource pack from the popular website Teachers Pay Teachers includes a worksheet with 27 different dramatic terms, as well as an accompanying quiz to test the vocabulary.                                                          

Famous Theaters Around the World

Below, you can find links to the official websites of many well-known theatrical venues. We've directed you to the theater's "About Us" pages, but we invite you to explore each website further. Of course, this is just a small selection of a vast network, so we have also included a list and database to consult for further examples. 

Shakespeare's Globe 

The reconstructed Globe Theatre, located on the south bank of the river Thames in London, is one of the most well-known theaters in the world. Built only a few feet from the site of the original Globe of Shakespeare's day, this theater is renowned for its original practice productions, which aim to mimic the conditions of early modern theater. The theater also puts on more experimental productions. 

The Public Theater 

The Public Theater in Greenwich Village, New York, was designed to provide accessible theater to everyone. The theater group is known for their Shakespeare in the Park performances, they also put on a wide variety of plays and musicals. 

The Old Vic 

Located in South London, the Old Vic is an independent, not-for-profit theater that opened in 1818. To this day, it hosts many of the greatest stage actors in the world. 

"17 Amazing Theater Cities That Aren't London or New York" (Mic)  

This article lists a number of locations that aren't immediately recognized as "theater cities," but that boast thriving theater scenes to rival New York and London. 

"Theaters Database" (Theatre Trust)  

Theatre Trust offers a searchable database of U.K. theaters from the early modern period to the current day. Enter a search term, or click "Browse A - Z." 

From Script to Stage 

Hours upon hours of work precede any successful opening night. In order to mount a production, a director must be chosen and a tech crew brought on board, auditions are needed to select the cast, and an often lengthy rehearsal schedule follows. Below are resources that allow you to explore various approaches to the production process.

Rehearsal and the Cast

The rehearsal process is what brings an entire performance together; from read-throughs to blocking and direction, every aspect of a performance must be rehearsed in order to prepare it for an audience. Everyone's rehearsal experience is different, but the resources below explore some common components. 

"What Really Goes On in the Rehearsal Room?" (The Guardian 

This blog post from The Guardian's theater blog discusses the rehearsal process. It considers the secretive and private nature of the rehearsal room. 

"Can You Ever Have Too Much Rehearsal?" (The Guardian

This post, also fromThe Guardian's theater blog, questions how much rehearsal should precede a performance, and asks whether too much rehearsal can hurt rather than help a production. 

"First Day of Rehearsals" (Royal Shakespeare Company) 

Byron Mondahl, an actor in the Royal Shakespeare Company's recent production of Hamlet, details his experience of the first day of rehearsal. 

"Rehearsal Process for 'Much Ado About Nothing'" (YouTube) 

In this video, a director and actors from the National Theatre in London discuss the rehearsal process. They speak to the importance of reading classic play texts, understanding why the character say what they do, and translating that into performance. 

Technical Theater Roles

While actors may be the face of a performance, those who work backstage are just as integral to the production. Those in technical theater roles ensure that everything runs smoothly. The links below will help you understand this aspect of the theatrical world.  

"Technical Theatre" (Wikibooks) 

This entry from Wikibooks offers a brief and basic overview of the various roles involved in technical theater, from the costume designer to the master electrician. 

Technical Theater Subreddit (Reddit)  

This subreddit is dedicated to people involved or interested in technical theater, providing a place to ask questions or seek advice on anything regarding the topic. 

"Glossary of Technical Theatre Terms—Jobs" (Theatrecrafts.com)  

Theatrecrafts.com provides another helpful glossary of terms, this one dedicated specifically to the various jobs that occur backstage. 

"Who Works in a Theater?" (Theatre Trust) 

Theatre Trust provides a slightly more in-depth and detailed glossary of different roles in technical theater, and describes all the ways they contribute to making a performance possible. 

Theatrical Performance

If you're acting in a production, you'll need guidance on preparing for the performance and understanding your audience. Here, you'll find resources to help you understand the unique challenges posed by performing live.  

"Exercise Class: Preparing for Performance" (The Guardian 

This advice from a RADA graduate gives some suggestions for how to prepare, physically and mentally, before a performance. The exercises are intended for actors to relieve stress and nerves.

"Stage vs. Screen: What the Big Difference" (New York Film Academy)  

This short but informative piece highlights the differences between watching a film and a live theater performance. It is important for any performer to understand these differences, particularly the expectations of a live theater audience.  

Should Stage Actors be Movie Stars? (Slate 

This piece also delves into the differences between performing on stage and on screen, questioning whether movie stars should be stage stars and vice versa. 

"What Makes a Great Theatre Actor?" (BBC)  

This guide from the BBC describes what, in the author's opinion, makes great theater actors. It highlights the difficult nature of live performance. 

Dramatic Works, Actors, and Playwrights 

Now that you understand the basic principles of drama and theater, it's time to delve into some celebrated dramatic works and learn about the people who wrote and performed them.  Below, you'll find links to texts and resources on some of the most familiar figures in the world of drama and theater. 

Famous Playwrights

Provided below are links to the Goodreads pages of some of the most celebrated playwrights of all time. These pages include a helpful biography, complete list of works, as well as quotes and forums. Although this is a very small selection, it is a good starting point to learn about some of the most often-performed and discussed dramatic works. 

Famous Dramatic Works

Don't know what plays to read first? Start here. You'll find different authors' lists of the greatest or most popular plays of all time, along with databases that host hundreds of dramatic texts.

"50 Best Plays of All Time" (Time Out) 

Here is one author's list of the 50 best plays ever written, from A Raisin in the Sun to Our Town. While every list is of course subjective, this list will introduce you to well-loved plays that have stood the test of time .

101 Greatest Plays (The Guardian) 

Michael Billington, a theater critic for The Guardian, wrote a book on his picks for "101 greatest plays." The article above comments on his choices, and considers some of the "greats" he left off the list. 

"50 Classic Plays Every Student Should Read" (Online College Courses)

This list of classic plays from an online learning center contains a brief description of each play and why you should read it, along with a link to Amazon for each one.

"The Most Popular High School Plays and Musicals" (NPR)

This article from NPR discusses the most popularly performed plays and musicals among high school students since the 1940s. 

"Plays" (Drama Online)

Drama Online provides links to over 2,000 plays and accompanying resources. You can listen to a full-cast performance of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, or read and interpret Shakespeare's Macbeth with the help of the "Play Tools" tab. (Note: while some of the site's content is free, other resources require a subscription that your school or library may have purchased.)

Folger Digital Texts

Here, you'll find meticulously edited digital texts from the Folger Shakespeare Library. When you click the "Read" button on the right, you'll be directed to a page with links to each of Shakespeare's plays.

Famous Dramatic Actors 

Get to know the actors who have brought dramatic literature to life. Below, you'll find a few authors' lists of the greatest actors to point you toward further research, along with articles and books that delve more deeply into the careers of particular stars.

"Greatest Stage Actor Poll in Pictures" (The Telegraph

Dame Judi Dench was voted the greatest stage actor in a poll by The Stage. Here, The Telegraph offers a photo and short blurb on each of the other actors who received the most votes. 

"Who is the Greatest Stage Actor Ever?" (The Guardian)

In this article, The Guardian comments on the same poll by The Stage. It helpfully critiques it for omissions and an overwhelming focus on British performers, while offering its own suggestions for actors who should have made the list. 

"Thespis" (Wikipedia)

Meet the ancient Greek poet Thespis, who according to Aristotle was the first to appear onstage as a character. This Wikipedia article has sections on Thespis's "alleged works" and legacy.

"Theater Actor" (Biography.com)

Explore Biography.com's webpage on famous theater actors, from Edwin Booth to Ian McKellen. Click on an actor's name and photo, and you'll be redirected to their biography page.

Great Shakespeare Actors: Burbage to Branagh (Amazon)

This series of essays by Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells is aimed at a broad readership. Wells discusses the greatest performers of Shakespeare's works, from great tragedienne Sarah Siddons to the actor and director Kenneth Branagh.

How to Read and Analyze Dramatic Works

It's often said that plays and dramatic works are meant to be seen on the stage, not read on the page. Still, there is much to be gained from reading the text of a play. You'll become more alert to the nuances of the language, and will gain a greater appreciation for the play's structure and thematic focus. Here, you'll find resources to help you read, interpret, and write about dramatic literature.

"How to Read a Play" (School Theatre)  

This illustrated guide offers 30 steps to better understand and analyze a play text, from paying close attention to the character's journey to analyzing scenic metaphor.

"Writing about Drama" (Univ. of North Carolina)  

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has created a guide to writing an essay on dramatic works that walks you through the important points of analysis to consider. 

"How to Read and Enjoy a Dramatic Play" (ThoughtCo)  

This blog post considers how reading a play-text can enhance understanding of the performance and how to get the most out of it. 

"Top Tip for Analysing Drama" (YouTube)

This short video from an English teacher offers strategies for analyzing drama, noting that different tools must be used to analyze plays and novels.

Resources for Teaching Drama and Theater

While many of the resources above may help teachers plan lessons, the links below are designed specifically for that purpose. You'll find suggestions for which plays to teach, websites dedicated to the art of teaching drama, classroom activities, and entire drama units. 

"Best Works of Shakespeare to Teach in High School" (ThoughtCo)

This post from a veteran secondary school educator suggests a list of eight Shakespeare texts that high school students find interesting and informative. 

Theatre Links 

This website by Justin Cash hosts over 5,000 links to resources from across the globe on drama practitioners, styles, scripts, and stagecraft. 

Drama Activities and Games (TPT)

This Teachers Pay Teachers resource for middle school and high school students offers "drama trunk" cards for warm ups, improvisation, storytelling, language activities, and more.

Introduction to Drama (TPT)

Another Teachers Pay Teachers resource, this drama unit for middle school and high school students is comprised of six, 50-minute lesson plans, homework tasks, extension activities, and more.

"Shakespeare Teacher Resources," LitCharts Complete Guide to Shakespeare Resources

For a large selection of resources specifically devoted to teaching Shakespeare, take a look at another guide in this series, LitCharts Complete Guide to Shakespeare Resources.