Pompeiians at the theatre
It is not correct to talk about the Theatre of Pompeii because there were actually two theatres, a larger one that was uncovered and a smaller one, covered, named Odeion. The Large Theatre is still today used for shows of every kind, to testify the continuity between the ancient city and the modern world.
Two theatres that could accommodate thousands of spectators in a city that counted about18,000 inhabitants can seem excessive for our times. But in the Roman and the Greek cities, theatre was a pastime connected to the religion, and participating to a show was at the same time a sign of civic belonging (only the free citizens went to the theatre), of religious festivity (the shows happened during the festivity), and at last of pure amusement. The connection with the religious aspect is testified by the proximity of the theatre with the doric temple, planned together and previewed in the same urbanistico space. That then the theatre was an occasion for all was testified from the fact that, like all the shows in the arenas of the Ancient Rome, it was free. The richest citizens paid for the scenes, so you took the favors od the voters (you know that politics is the art of consensus, even with these means).
Therefore the spectators entered in the theatre and they sat down according to a social hierarchical order: the closest ones to the scene, and that is to the actors, were the richer citizens and those with political assignments, upper there were the pertaining to the corporations, and that is the productive ranks, the entrepreneurs, we would say today, and at last the people. On the upper side there were the women, that, according to an imperial deliberation of Augusto, had to seat there, but it seems that already then the women of Campania were not faithful to the duty and the laws and therefore they tried to hide with the other spectators.
How theatre were built
The Large Theatre was built during the I century b.C., and it’s structure is Greek. The Greeks used to construct the platea, that is the part for the spectators, on the declivity of a height to simplify the job, and therefore is constructed the Large Theatre. The Roman, instead, most skilled engineers, built the theatre by raising it off the ground, so completely artificial, and so for example is theater of Ostia Antica near Rome. The particularity of the Small Theatre is that it is equipped with a cover, remarkable what for a building of the sort and it was dedicated, it seems, to music, even if someone advances the idea that works in Latin were represented here, dedicated to new roman princes came such as Silla in the I century b.C., while in the Large Theatre works in osco were represented, the language speech from the original inhabitants of Pompeii.
The various shows
What kind of shows were on stage here? There were many different genres for all kind of pleasure. There were the classic works of the Greek theatre, tragedies and commedie, obviously translated. The actors were all men, also those who represented the feminine parts, and acted with masks, said in Latin “person”, from which drift our term in order to indicate the individualities. But this was heavy stuff, and we doubt that the myths of Oedipus or Medea were loved by the inhabitants of Pompeii. An other kind of show had much success, it was born right here: the fabula atellana. It was a kind of popular farce in which you laughed, were represented familiar scenes of loves, betrayal, jokes.
But to the Theatre of Pompeii the most loved show was the mimo, represented by actors without mask, but also from actress, some of which became real stars, as attest the love declarations on the walls of Pompeii destined to the most famous one, Novella Primigenia. The actress were often pushed to make real stripteases, and here we understand why people preferred this instead of the terrible Greek tragedies: -)