AskDefine | Define performer

Dictionary Definition

performer n : an entertainer who performs a dramatic or musical work for an audience [syn: performing artist]

User Contributed Dictionary




performer (plural: performers)
  1. One who performs for, or entertains, an audience.


Extensive Definition

The performing arts are those forms of art which differ from the plastic arts insofar as the former uses the artist's own body, face and presence as a medium, and the latter uses materials such as clay, metal or paint which can be molded or transformed to create some physical art object. The term "performing arts" first appeared in the English language in the year 1711.

Types of performing arts

Performing arts include the acrobatics, comedy, dance, magic, music, opera, film, theatre, and circus arts.
Artists who participate in these arts in front of an audience are called performers, including actors, comedians, dancers, musicians, and singers. Performing arts are also supported by workers in related fields, such as songwriting and stagecraft.
Performers often adapt their appearance, such as with costumes and stage makeup, etc.
There is also a specialized form of fine art in which the artists perform their work live to an audience. This is called Performance art. Most performance art also involves some form of plastic art, perhaps in the creation of props. Dance was often referred to as a plastic art during the Modern dance era.


Music as an academic discipline mainly focuses on two career paths, music performance (focused on the orchestra and the concert hall) and music education (training music teachers). Students learn to play instruments, but also study music theory, musicology, history of music and composition. In the liberal arts tradition, music is also used to broaden skills of non-musicians by teaching skills such as concentration and listening.


Theatre or theater (Greek "theatron", θέατρον) is the branch of the performing arts concerned with acting out stories in front of an audience using combinations of speech, gesture, music, dance, sound and spectacle — indeed any one or more elements of the other performing arts. In addition to the standard narrative dialogue style, theatre takes such forms as classical Indian dance, Chinese opera,opera, ballet, Illusion, mime, kabuki, mummers' plays, and pantomime.


Dance (from Old French dancier, perhaps from Frankish) generally refers to human movement either used as a form of expression or presented in a social, spiritual or performance setting.
Dance is also used to describe methods of non-verbal communication (see body language) between humans or animals (bee dance, mating dance), motion in inanimate objects (the leaves danced in the wind), and certain musical forms or genres.
Choreography is the art of making dances, and the person who does this is called a choreographer.
Definitions of what constitutes dance are dependent on social, cultural, aesthetic artistic and moral constraints and range from functional movement (such as Folk dance) to codified, virtuoso techniques such as ballet. In sports, gymnastics, figure skating and synchronized swimming are dance disciplines while Martial arts 'kata' are often compared to dances.

Performance art

In performance art, usually one or more people perform in front of an audience. In contrast to the traditional performing arts, performance art is unconventional. Performance artists often challenge the audience to think in new and unconventional ways about theater and performing, break conventions of traditional performing arts, and break down conventional ideas about "what art is," similar to the postmodern art movement. Thus, even though in most cases the performance is in front of an audience, in some cases, the audience becomes the performers. The performance may be scripted, unscripted, or improvisational. It may incorporate music, dance, song, or complete silence. The audience may buy tickets for the performance, the performance may be free, or the performer may pay the audience to watch the performance.

History of Western performing arts

Starting in the 6th century BC, the Classical period of performing art began in Greece, ushered in by the tragic poets such as Sophocles. These poets wrote plays which, in some cases, incorporated dance (see Euripides). The Hellenistic period began the widespread use of comedy.
However, by the 6th century AD, Western performing arts had been largely ended, as the Dark Ages began. Between the 9th century and 14th century, performing art in the West was limited to religious historical enactments and morality plays, organized by the Church in celebration of holy days and other important events.


In the 15th century performing arts, along with the arts in general, saw a revival as the Renaissance began in Italy and spread throughout Europe plays, some of which incorporated dance were performed and Domenico da Piacenza was credited with the first use of the term ballo (in De Arte Saltandi et Choreas Ducendi) instead of danza (dance) for his baletti or balli which later came to be known as Ballets. The first Ballet per se is considered to be Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx's Ballet Comique de la Reine (1581).
By the mid-16th century commedia dell'arte became popular in Europe, introducing the use of improvisation. This period also introduced the Elizabethan masque, featuring music, dance and elaborate costumes as well as professional theatrical companies in England. William Shakespeare's plays in the late 16th century developed from this new class of professional performance.
In 1597, the first opera, Dafne was performed and throughout the 17th century, opera would rapidly become the entertainment of choice for the aristocracy in most of Europe, and eventually for large numbers of people living in cities and towns throughout Europe.

Modern era

The introduction of the proscenium arch in Italy during the 17th century established the traditional theater form that persists to this day. Meanwhile, in England, the Puritans forbid acting, bringing a halt to performing arts which lasted until 1660. After this period, women began to appear in both French and English plays. The French introduced a formal dance instruction in the late 17th century.
It is also during this time that the first plays were performed in the American Colonies.
During the 18th century the introduction of the popular opera buffa brought opera to the masses as an accessible form of performance. Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni are landmarks of the late 18th century opera.
At the turn of the 19th century Beethoven and the Romantic movement ushered in a new era that lead first to the spectacles of grand opera and then to the great musical dramas of Giuseppe Verdi and the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) of the operas of Richard Wagner leading directly to the music of the 20th century.
The 19th century was a period of growth for the performing arts for all social classes, the technical introduction of gaslight to theaters in the United States, burlesque (a British import that became popular in the U.S.), minstrel dancing, and variety theater. In ballet, women make great progress in the previously male-dominated art.
Modern dance began in the late 19th century and early 20th century in response to the restrictions of traditional ballet.
Konstantin Stanislavski's "System" revolutionized acting in the early 20th century, and continues to have a major influence on actors of stage and screen to the current day. Both impressionism and modern realism were introduced to the stage during this period.
With the invention of the motion picture in the late 19th century by Thomas Edison, and the growth of the motion picture industry in Hollywood in the early 20th century, film became a dominant performance medium throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
The Darktown Follies and the later cultural growth of the Harlem Renaissance spanned the 1910s to the early 1940s. Rhythm and blues, a cultural phenomenon of black America became a distinctive genera in the early 20th century.
In the 1930s Jean Rosenthal introduced what would be come modern stage lighting, changing the nature of the stage as the Broadway musical became a phenomenon in the United States. George Gershwin and Rodgers & Hammerstein radically re-shaped the medium as the Great depression came to an end and World War II erupted.

Post-War performance

Post-World War II performing arts were highlighted by the resurgence of both ballet and opera in Europe and the United States.
Alvin Ailey's revolutionary American Dance Theater was created in the 1950s, signaling the radical changes that were to come to performing arts in the 1950s and 1960s as new cultural themes bombarded the public consciousness in the United States and abroad. Postmodernism in performing arts dominated the 1960s to large extent.
Rock and roll evolved from rhythm and blues during the 1950s, and became the staple musical form of popular entertainment.
In 1968, Hair introduced the rock opera.

External links


performer in Asturian: Artes escéniques
performer in Bosnian: Scenska umjetnost
performer in Breton: Arzoù an arvest
performer in Catalan: Art escènica
performer in Danish: Scenekunst
performer in German: Darstellende Kunst
performer in Spanish: Artes escénicas
performer in French: Spectacle vivant
performer in Croatian: Scenska umjetnost
performer in Haitian: La sèn
performer in Limburgan: Podiumkunste
performer in Dutch: Podiumkunsten
performer in Japanese: 舞台芸術
performer in Occitan (post 1500): Espectacle
performer in Portuguese: Artes cénicas
performer in Simple English: Show
performer in Swedish: Scenkonst
performer in Thai: ศิลปะการแสดง
performer in Chinese: 表演艺术

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

actor, actress, affecter, agent, architect, artist, artiste, author, belly dancer, burlesque queen, chorine, chorus boy, chorus girl, concert artist, conjurer, coryphee, creator, dancer, dancing girl, deceiver, doer, ecdysiast, entertainer, executant, executor, executrix, exotic dancer, fabricator, fake, female impersonator, fraud, geisha, geisha girl, guisard, guiser, hollow man, hoofer, impersonator, interpreter, maestro, magician, maker, man of straw, mannerist, medium, mime, mimic, minstrel, minstrelsy, mountebank, mover, mummer, music maker, musician, nautch girl, operant, operative, operator, paper tiger, peeler, perpetrator, phony, playactor, player, practitioner, prestidigitator, pretender, prime mover, producer, public entertainer, show girl, singer, soloist, straw man, stripper, stripteaser, stripteuse, subject, thespian, trouper, tunester, vaudevillian, vaudevillist, virtuosa, virtuoso, worker
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