From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Greek chorus (choros) is a group of twelve or fifteen minor actors in tragic and twenty-four in comic plays of classical Athens. They can portray any characters, for instance, in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, the chorus comprises the elderly men of Argos, whereas in Euripides' The Bacchae, they are a group of eastern bacchants, and in Sophocles' Electra, the chorus is made up of the women of Argos.
Plays of the ancient Greek theatre always included a chorus that offered a variety of background and summary information to help the audience follow the performance. The Greek chorus comments on themes, and—as August Wilhelm Schlegel proposed in the early 19th century to subsequent controversy—shows how an ideal audience might react to the drama. The chorus also represents, on stage, the general population of the particular story, in sharp contrast with many of the themes of the ancient Greek plays which tended to be about individual heroes, gods, and goddesses.
In many of these plays, the chorus expressed to the audience what the main characters could not say, such as their hidden fears or secrets. The chorus often provided other characters with the insight they need.
The Greek chorus usually communicated in song form, but sometimes spoke their lines in unison. The chorus had to work in unison to help explain the play as there were only one to three actors on stage who were already playing several parts each. As the Greek theatres were so large, the chorus' actions had to be exaggerated and their voices clear so that everyone could see and hear them. To do this, they used techniques such as synchronization, echo, ripple, physical theatre and the use of masks to aid them. A Greek chorus was often led by a coryphaeus. They also served as the ancient equivalent for a curtain, as their parodos (entering procession) signified the beginnings of a play and their exodos (exit procession) served as the curtains closing.
Decline in antiquity
Before the introduction of multiple, interacting actors by Aeschylus, the Greek chorus was the main performer in relation to a solitary actor. The importance of the chorus declined after the 5th century BCE, when the chorus began to be separated from the dramatic action. Later dramatists depended on the chorus less than their predecessors.
In the popular musical Seussical, the bird girls serve as a Greek chorus, singing backup to principal characters. They have no official roles in the story.
In the musical Little Shop of Horrors, Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon function as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action throughout the show.
In the movie Repo! The Genetic Opera, the character of the Graverobber along with the Zydrate addicts, serve as a Greek chorus, supplying exposition, commenting on the action, and both opening and closing the movie.
In parts of the animated film Flushed Away, the slugs some times act as back up singers and some times as miniature Greek chorus.