Greek theater texts are regularly read by students in General Humanities courses and other literature-based courses, but rarely are those student readers asked to imagine how the plays might have been experienced, what a Greek chorus really did for a play, or how the text under discussion might have been used in an ancient Greek performance.
Early in the spring semester of 2014, at the behest of Jean Alvares, a small bunch of departmental faculty members, both full-time and part-time, posted flyers advertising that we wanted to perform a Greek tragedy, Sophocles’ Antigone, outdoors in the Kasser Amphitheater, and that anyone who was interested should meet at a certain time and place. There must have been a groundswell already, because twenty or so students, quite a few of them General Humanities majors or minors, attended that original meeting and expressed great enthusiasm: and so the Greek play project was born! We proceeded to put together, within about seven weeks, a production of Antigone that was relatively true to the original Greek text (we used a publicly available translation and tweaked it with a view to accuracy and clarity), and had an interesting interpretive angle that picked up on the bond between the two sisters Antigone and Ismene, the tired and non-confrontational chorus of veteran soldiers of Thebes, and the importance of honoring and recognizing both sides of the recent military conflict. We did not attempt to “modernize” the play (although we performed it in English, and did cut and change wording slightly where needed in order to facilitate understanding).
We used the resources of the cast–singers, composers, actors, dancers, costume designers, and more–to create a piece based on ancient performance conditions to some degree. The music was composed and sung by a student musician, Joe Vecchione, with Corey Ryzuk; costumes were designed and built on a true shoestring by a student Theater minor, Andy Bravo; choreography for the chorus was created and taught to the generally inexperienced chorus by a Dance student, Haley Yacos. It was important to us to perform in the outdoors “amphitheater” (really a Greek theater style structure built in 1936 under the WPA to accommodate just such performances, as well as provide a public gathering place–which was also the purpose behind most Greek theaters in antiquity), and many of our 200+ spectators, visiting over two days, told us that despite the challenging weather and space conditions (relatively poor structural acoustics, few mics, and lots of wind!), they could hear the actors and singers well, and appreciated the setting also for its engagement with campus life: we did not try to “hide” our setting, and in the background of the play the occasional skateboarder, backpack-toting student, bike rider, or delivery truck wended its way by. Our audience was composed of a mix of students (many brought by their teachers), faculty/administration, and curious campus denizens who happened to see it as they walked by. Two student filmmakers with their own small company captured the two performances on film, and merged the two to create one film of the production, and DVDs containing that mix, with titles, were distributed to the entire cast; with the help of the Dean’s office we were able to pay for the filming.
In April 2015 we put on a favorite play suggested by student participants of the previous year, Euripides’ Bacchae. As before, there was dancing, singing, and live instrumental music, including a small ensemble with percussion, flute, and violin. You can see more of last year’s play at our website, www.bacchae.org. If you would like a free DVD of the production, please email Jeri at fogelj @ mail.montclair.edu
This year’s production, Euripides’ Andromache, is an exciting new adventure–we hope you will come to see the play, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday, April 19, 21, and 22!