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Researchers Reveal 40 Percent of Audience in First Odeon Could Not See Anything

View of the Stage in the Odeon of Pericles
View of the Stage in
the Odeon of Pericles
Originally published 14 April 2003

Odeon today is synonymous with slick cinema, but new state-of-the-art research from the School of Theatre Studies and e-lab at the University of Warwick shows the first Odeon, built mid-fifth century BC in Athens, assigned the audience a worse view than being stuck behind a 6ft 10inch body-builder at a modern cinema multiplex.

The Odeon of Pericles, the first indoor theatre and prototype for modern auditoriums, has been digitally rebuilt to reveal that although the audience could hear the actors, their view was severely obscured by rows of pillars. Archaeological evidence reveals there were nine rows of nine columns, and innovative 3D imaging shows 40 percent of the audience would not have been able to see anything. Around 80 large columns were needed to support the large polygonal tent like roof, indicating the design did not offer a spectacular view of centre-stage action, but emphasised the grandeur and spectacle of the auditorium itself.

Originally set on the south slope of the Acropolis, the ancient theatre, which held an an audience of 3,000, is now reconstructed in virtual reality to demonstrate where members of the audience could find the best seat, and the dreadful sightline problems encountered over 2000 years ago. Interactive virtual archaeology has rebuilt the theatre and can take viewers inside, onto the seating or the stage. In fact, the technology enables viewers to see that the stage was best viewed from the beams on the roof.

Professor Richard Beacham from the School of Theatre Studies at the University of Warwick, said: “By learning about the setting of a play, you can understand aspects of the drama much better. You can really feel what it was like to watch a performance thousands of years ago. The visualisation technology has a number of applications and will interest scholars, historians, teachers, architects and archaeologists.”

The e-lab team, through the Theatron project headed by Professor Richard Beacham from the School of Theatre Studies at Warwick, are recreating 3D theatre sites in Europe, ranging from the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens to the Globe Theatre in London. To ensure the virtual buildings are historically accurate research akin to detective work is carried out. Site visits are conducted, and all known texts and illustrations, such as drawings, old diaries and photography, are collated before designs are computerised.

Mr Drew Baker, Multimedia Designer with e-lab at the University of Warwick, said: “The Odeon of Pericles has been computer generated from a jumble of ruins. Virtual reality models of historically important but long lost ancient sites inject new life into study and enable students and researchers walk around theatres, many of which have long since disappeared. The creations enable people to look at intricate details and produce 3D images to help experience time, space and lighting in a way far more engaging than a lecture or set of slides.”

The technology can be used to recreate diverse ancient and heritage sites through multimedia, as well as plans for future buildings, and e-lab is looking to exploit commercial opportunities.

For more information please contact:
Drew Baker, e-lab 3D Visualisation Group, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 574272,

Professor Richard Beacham, School of Theatre Studies, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 523020/ 02476 523021, Home:01926 312 173

Notes for Editors:
The word ‘odeon’ originates from ‘odeion’, which marked the indoor roofed theatres of ancient Greece.
Theatron, a company set up in 1996, is marketing a CD Rom produced in association with the University of Warwick, called Stages of Theatre from the Greeks to Shakespeare, which consists of images, sound, text and virtual reality models of 30 historic theatres. The research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB)