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Actors Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin performing in the play The Big Voice: God or Merman

The first recorded case of a performing actor occurred in 534 BC (though the changes in calendar over the years make it hard to determine exactly) when the Greek performer Thespis stepped on to the stage at the Theatre Dionysus to become the first known person to speak words as a character in a play or story. Prior to Thespis' act, stories were only expressed in song, dance, and in third person narrative. In honor of Thespis, actors are commonly called Thespians. To this day, theatrical legend maintains Thespis is a mischievous spirit; disasters in the theatre are sometimes blamed on his ghostly intervention.

Traditionally, actors were not of high status; therefore, in the Early Middle Ages traveling acting troupes were often viewed with distrust. In many parts of Europe, traditional beliefs of the region and time period meant actors could not receive a Christian burial, which left an actor forever condemned. In the 19th and 20th centuries, this negative perception was largely reversed as acting became an honored, popular profession and art.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>

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