What Are the Different Types of Theater Arts?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
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There are many different types of theater arts, including drama, musical performance, and dance. Some types, such as musical theater, use a combination of several elements to create a dynamic performance. The creation and performance of these arts often relies not only on the performance of the principal actors, singers, or dancers, but also on the work of many professionals rarely seen on stage.

Drama is one of the best known types of theater arts, and includes the performance of plays or material improvised by actors. A staple of many cultures, drama evolved from religious or ceremonial activities to become a fundamental means of entertainment, storytelling, and education. Modern dramatic performance can include the revival of plays written thousands of years ago, as well as works created by modern playwrights. Improvisational theater differs from classical drama in that the performers make up the story, characters, and lines as they perform, often for humorous effect.


The live performance of music, such as singing or playing instruments for an audience, is another important genre in theater arts. Vocal performance often includes aspects of acting as well as technical performance, since the singer often tries to engage the audience in the story or meaning of the song. Bands, choirs, orchestras, and solo musicians engage in theatrical arts when they perform their work for the appreciation of an audience. Improvisational performance can also be found in this realm of theater arts, especially in music styles such as jazz, where improvised variations on a stated musical theme are a common staple of performance.

Dance is another major genre of theater arts, allowing the performers to use their bodies as the medium to express their art. Dance performance comes in many different forms, from the re-enactment of famous choreographed ballets to highly competitive ballroom dance tournaments. Dance performance may include individual routines by solo dancers, or collaborative dances that require several or even dozens of dancers sharing the stage at once.

Many forms of theatrical performance borrow from these three major traditions to create multi-dimensional performances. Modern musical theater, for instance, usually incorporates an acted story as well as songs and dances. Opera typically combines acting and song; in some operas all of the action may be sung and acted out simultaneously, while others have separate periods of song and spoken dialogue.

A great deal of the creation of theatrical performance involves artists and craftsman who do not actually take a visible part in the live presentation. Set designers, for instance, create the backgrounds and locations for a performance in a theater, but the finished set, rather than the designer, is what is seen on stage. Similarly, lighting and sound professionals make theater arts performances both visible and audible, but tend to conduct their work in hidden locations offstage. While designers, technicians, and stage workers may not get the visible recognition of onstage performers, their collaborative efforts are no less critical to nearly every type of theatrical performance.


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Other types of theatrical arts include those in the comedy genre, such as sketch comedy, stand-up comedy, and improv comedy, both long and short-form. Out of the three, sketch comedy is arguably the most popular, followed by stand-up. Short-form improv is popular due to shows such as 'Whose Line is it Anyway?' and Second City in Chicago, though improv in cities such as Philadelphia has yet to truly take off.

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