The History of the Theatrical Impulse; and Human Nature’s innate desire to tell stories

Tracing back as far as to the beginning of mankind, we have evidence that man has always had a desire to story tell. Over thousands of years the theatrical impulse has been used to enforce morals, teach/practice religion, foster understanding, create community, entertain, engage in ritual, comment on social norms and injustices, and escape; all of which are good tactics for engaging story telling.


Before man even had a vocabulary by which to tell stories, we, as mankind, first saw evidence of the desire to story tell with pictures drawn on walls of caves by cave men. Although we don’t have many remaining artifacts from these early B.C. days, we do have things like Egyptian hieroglyphics to reflect upon man’s earliest form of communication. The Egyptian’s understood common story telling principals such as the importance of line, form, color, size, and prominence. These examples of story-telling tools can be seen below in this screen shot of a stone tablet from what is regarded as one of the first dramatic performances done by man, The Abados Passion Play.

We see these similar principals used today in things like, your everyday Instagram post. Take this Taylor Swift Post for example. The use of her dark clothing contrasting her background dancers white suits helps bring her into prominence. The fluidity of her movement and her stance shows good use of line and draws your eyes to every corner of this picture, therefore making it an engaging piece of content and successful tool to story tell with.

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Another tactic of story telling that we see in history, as well as today, is content generated with the intent to be interactive with the consumer. During Medieval Times, in the Byzantium Era, there was a theatrical device known as a pageant wagon. Often these wagons would roll right in the town square and under the direction of a pageant master would perform little theatrical skits, most notably one of the four Mystery Plays, that would happen in the local vernacular making it easily accessible to the merchant class. What made these pageant wagon skits so entertaining, besides utilizing special effects in a way that previously wasn’t seen in theater, was by having the performers break the fourth wall and jump straight into the audience. By having the performers interacting with the audience so directly, these pageant wagons, pictured below, were very successful in engaging their audience and masterfully telling stories.

An example of interactive content generated today, is the publics interaction with something like a BuzzFeed Quiz. The people at BuzzFeed are wizards of reading popular opinion and understanding what consumers are interested in interacting with. How many times have you stumbled across a stupid quiz about your passion for Corgis only because your friend shared it on Facebook first? Or how many times did you click on a grossly intriguing article about the Diva Cup just because of the catchy meme on the front of the article, the memes you got to click on throughout the article, and the shock factor of the content? This content was created and continually shared because, like the pageant wagon, it shocked the audience, was interactive, and felt personal.

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The connection made between audience member and story teller is a powerful one, and if utilized with the proper storytelling skills, can make a powerful impact on not only todays generation, but generations to come.

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