Theater as we know it first developed in Greece as part of religious observance. The stage was simply a circle of turf on which the worshipers danced around the altar of Dionysus. The spot was usually at the foot of a hill so that the spectators on the slopes could watch the dancing.
This started the tradition of Greek theaters—semicircles of seats built into a hillside. In fact, the word "theater" is of Greek origin and means "a place for seeing."
A theater built in Athens about 500 B.C. had a circular place, called the orchestra, where the performance was given. Erected behind the circle of the orchestra was a dignified-looking stage building. It was used as a dressing place for the performers. This "skene" (from which comes the word "scene") served as a background for the action of the play. Very little scenery was used by the Greeks, and no artificial lighting was needed because the plays were pres¬ented in the daytime.
The first permanent stone theater was built in Rome in 52 B.C. The theaters of the Romans were similar to those of the Greeks, except that they were built on level ground. The Romans were the first to fill the orchestra with seats and present the play on a raised stage behind which was the "skene".
After the Roman world turned Christian, no theaters were built for about a thousand years. The first modern theater was the Teatro Farnese at Parma, Italy. It was built in 1618 or 1619. Its stage, instead of projecting far out into the orchestra, was built into one of the walls. A curtain was used to separate the stage from the auditorium so that changes of scenery could be made out of sight of the audience.