Tag Archives: Orestes

No such thing as original… Writing plays and the ancient Greeks

Charles Mee

Charles Mee

I have a lot of time for the American playwright, novelist and historian Charles Mee. I was first introduced to his work by Phillip Zarrilli, who directed a large scale site-specific production of his version of Orestes in the US in 1998.

Mee does not believe that there is such a thing as an ‘original’ play – the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare retold existing stories and he believes all performance is both original and adaptation – we ‘remake’ as we go along.

His ongoing (Re)Making Project and the texts available on the site are offered as a free resource to be taken, used, refashioned and put to each artist’s use. He invites writers, dramaturgs, actors and directors to ‘…pillage the plays as I have pillaged the structures and contents of the plays of Euripides and Brecht and stuff out of Soap Opera Digest and the evening news and the internet, and build your own, entirely new, piece…’ He then encourages practitioners to share their own new re-makings. This way the old stories are made new, with resonance to contemporary audiences.

‘My own work’ Mee writes on his website ‘begins with the belief that human beings are, as Aristotle said, social creatures—that we are the product not just of psychology, but also of history and of culture, that we often express our histories and cultures in ways even we are not conscious of, that the culture speaks through us, grabs us and throws us to the ground, cries out, silences us.’

Owing to this, he tries to get past traditional forms of psychological realism, which in many ways over-simplifies the reasons why human beings do what they do. In an essay on theatre and translation for Theatre Journal in 2007, he celebrates what he views as the ancient Greeks more complex understanding of what it is to be human – what historians call multifactorial explanations: ‘We see now that we are formed by history and culture, gender and genetics, politics and economics, race and chance, as well as by psychology,‘ he writes.

Three years after writing my own version of Aeschylus’s Persians, I recently came across Mee’s opinion of the Greek chorus and found it similar to my own: the Greek chorus is the voice of the community, but composed of individual voices. In the version of Persians I wrote for National Theatre Wales in 2010, I separated out what I felt to be the different tones and ‘voices’ of the collective chorus into separate, identifiable, individual figures (I would not call them ‘characters’). They created the foundation and relief upon which the ‘principals’ rested.

‘I think the structures of the Greek plays were like Rolls Royces’. Mee states in the essay. ‘They work perfectly.’

I’m inclined to agree.

For further information on Charles Mee:

http://www.charlesmee.org/about.shtml

Kaite won the 2011 Ted Hughes Award for New works in Poetry for her version of Persians. For images of Mike Pearson’s stunning site-specific production, plus reviews and other information, see: http://www.kaiteoreilly.com/plays/persians/index.htm

An experiment in staging Ancient Greek drama

 

To ancient Epidavros on the Peloponnisos in Greece and an experiment in form and ancient texts. The Imalis Project – a research centre for Ancient Greek Theatre in Epidavros – was iniated by brothers Nicholas and Vasilios Arabos.

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Photograph of Epidavros amphitheatre from web. Photographs of  workshop by Kaite O’Reilly

I have been observing a group of female performers working on a speech by Elektra in Euripides’s Orestes, using the Ancient Greek. Collaborating with Phillip Zarrilli, who has been using his psychophysical approach to training actors as part of the experimentation, they have been exploring how to embody and sound the text in the astonishing ancient amphitheatre.

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Maria Athinaiou and Eleonora Marzani in workshop at Epidavros

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The company gather at dawn and dusk to train with Zarrilli when the intensity of heat and light is not too much for martial arts and physical scores.

Eleana Georgouli

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Roisin O’Donovan and Eleana Georgouli

It has been a meeting of classical Greek text with Zarrilli’s psychophysical process – creating structured improvisations from activating images with resonance to the text and context.

Antigoni Riga in workshop

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I am brought to violent sobbing o country of Pelasgia….

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Epidavros was an important social, cultural and healing centre, with the sacred sanctuary of Asklepios.

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The ancient theatre at Epidavros was erected in the mid 4th century BCE by architect Polykleitos, who built the famous Tholos in the sanctuary of Asclepios. It is immense, seating between 10-15 thousand.

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Rosa Prodromou

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Vasilios tells me when originally built, the theatre would have been of highly polished marble, which must have made it shine like a beacon in the full sun.

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This detail is at odds with any half glimmer of knowledge I may have grasped before and makes perfect sense as we travel inland to the theatre, imagining how it must have resembled a pilgrimage with so many thousands travelling towards this one centre, this literal light house milennia ago.

Phillip Zarrilli