The term “baroque theater” (or “theater”) refers to the period in Europe between the 17th and 18th centuries when theater became more extravagant. This style of theater lacked the elements and direction associated with neoclassicism and the Enlightenment period. Playwrights began to focus less on religion and more on humanity’s interactions and discoveries. Due to gaudy costume designs, elaborate stage settings, and special effects, the Baroque theater style was unusual for the time, often lively and considered vulgar. Furthermore, the period produced some of the world’s most well-known playwrights and served as the foundation for modern theater.
Prior to this time, the majority of plays were produced the Church to further religious teachings. The public was also educated on proper social behavior through the productions. Playwrights began to focus more on man’s accomplishments after the discovery of America and technological advancements. They began to see the entire world as their stage, and they began to write plays based on their own personal beliefs rather than the church’s. William Shakespeare and Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliere, for example, wrote plays about politics, the universe, and the propriety of private life during the Baroque period.
Setting for the Baroque theatre stage became more elaborate as playwrights wrote more detailed plots. Thus was born the marriage of drama and fine art. The backdrops and scene settings were simple and did not change prior to Baroque theatre. Stage directors began to hire artists to paint the backdrops for various scenes in their plays during the Baroque period.
Special effects and actual buildings to house theatre productions were introduced to the stage during the Baroque period. The first theater was built in Venice, followed others across Europe. Directors were able to add special effects to their productions because they had an actual building to perform in. Actors appearing from trap doors, effects for flying across the stage, and the introduction of stage lights and foot lights were just a few of the effects.
Women’s participation in Baroque theatre productions became more socially acceptable as costume designs became more elaborate. Prior to the Baroque era, characters wore simple costumes and were almost always played men. Women could now play Heroines, and to distinguish themselves from the other characters in the play, they wore brightly colored plumes or extra-large skirts. Heroes wore sequins and crystals on their costumes, which reflected the light and enhanced their heroic acts on stage.