Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

In voice and text to provide an originally inspired

In this essay, I will be
outlining how I would direct an episode from Euripides Greek tragedy, Alcestis. I will be placing a contemporary
agenda on the play while using historical context and analysis of classical
elements such as chorus, stage, voice and text to provide an originally inspired
interpretation of the play. I will be directing from the first entrance of Alcestis (‘O
Sun! O light of the day’, p.50 in Vellacott) to the first entrance of Heracles
(p.57 in Vellacott). When deciding between Shakespeare The Winter’s Tale and Euripides Alcestis, I was conflicted as to which episode
to direct as they are both popular classic plays but upon examining the
episodes offered for the essay question, I was drawn to
the character and segment of Alcestis.
I was familiar with Shakespeare’s work and a
range of adaptions throughout the years but I wanted to challenge my creative
mind and delve into the studies of Greek theatre. The history of Alcestis is limited, but there are versions
such as Katie Mitchell and Robert Wilsons which allowed a visual understanding
of how other playwrights have interpreted and adapted elements of the play.
There is a range of Greek adaption, although limited in Alcestis, this meant I would need to research adaptions of other Greek
and Euripidean plays to understand the influence on contemporary adaption and interpretation
to an audience. Throughout my adaption the imbalance within Admetus and Alcestis
relationship will be highlighted and the power imbalance reversed. I will explore the recent terror attacks across the
western sphere and draw comparisons to the western invasion of Iraq to create
feelings of disillusion, nostalgia and repetition to the audience. The concept
of strange will also be key as I want to highlight the dangers that every person can face in daily life and the possibility
that appearances can be deceiving.

Traditionally the play Alcestis would have been performed in a
large colosseum during festivals celebrating Dionysus, with cloth costume,
multi role actors and masks. Grecian communities had little access to
literature and Latin so the plays were a source of knowledge as well as
entertainment for the audiences. Brownings transformation of Euripides Alcestis into a poetic monologue in Balaustions Adventure (1871) is a reaction against the vulgarities he
perceived in the spectacular mid-Victorian theatre (Hall.
2002: 432) The history of adaption is a complex and problematic issue,
with cultural context at the forefront of the adaptive thought process for many
playwrights and directors. There is a tension between the ‘democratic’ form of
ancient drama and its often-conservative content. This tension gives the plays
an ideological complexity, a dialogism, that partly explains their perennial
appeal. (Hall 2010: ch.3.) The choice of Browning
to transform Euripides text this way seems strange but
recent playwrights such as Greig and Ruffle identified the orality of Greek
culture, ‘These plays were written as poems to be spoken and heard. It is not
simply a question of trying to render the meaning: you have to rise to the
poetic occasion’. He did not wish to change the units of meaning and this was
one way in which the play was intended to be ‘performance friendly’. (hitting your ear interview with Andrew Burnet, programme
notes). This links aspects of language
and interpretation between the style of the texts however Greig and Ruffle
identified aspects of the play that are readily translatable into modern
sensibilities as this was the most effective way in communicating Greek texts
to the audience of the era. Although Greig and Ruffles adaptions highlighted
the importance of text in performance, other playwrights such as Mitchell,
Wilson, Heckel and Warlikowski focus on other elements
of classic plays such as the visual aspect to relate the plays to a
modern audience.

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Warlikowski devised
(A)pollonia, a four-hour meditation on the themes of sacrifice, death, dealing
with what he claimed to be a forgotten episode of Polish history at the time of
the Holocaust. Based on a collage of ancient and modern texts, (A)pollonia
juxtaposed Aeschylus’ Oresteia and Euripides’ Alcestis with the true story of a
Polish woman Apolonia Machczynska-Swiatek (). In (A)pollonia the self-sacrifice
of the main female characters is performed without interruption, the production
combined Brechtian acting, movable sets, live camera projections and puppets with
visible scene changes. A video intermezzo introduces Admetus and Alcestis as a
loving couple, interviewed in the video respond to a series of questions about
sacrifice including whether they would give their life for each other (). The
adaptive qualities of Warlikowski were of the greatest interest to me as I too
wanted to highlight the self-sacrifice of Alcestis and the underlying power
dynamic between her and Admetus, to emphasise the imbalance in her relationship
as I believe he would be unwilling to die for
his wife and place part blame on the expectations of women to obey their
husbands and act as a vessel for their happiness. Therefore, I chose to create
focus on Alcestis as the heroine and clarify the power imbalance within their
domestic gender roles to the audience, to highlight the flaws Admetus holds and
undermine his role of King and husband.

The scene will take place in a
large office, offering angles, cover and appropriate mobile space for the scene.
The audience will be shown a clear hostage situation, with Admetus and Alcestis
at the centre. Admetus is dressed well, a man of wealth and status with a loss
of stocks in the company creating he has been targeted-lost money. Clothing
represents their wealth. Alcestis can be dressed prim and proper but when faced
with death tussles her clothes, hair messy make-up smudged heels off to show
she is willing to be active in order to challenge the expectation of her as a
woman. Music will play instrumental contemporary artist to set time frame- Fits
with recent terrorism and threat and exploitation/capitalism. As Lichte says, Performance takes place between present
day actors and spectators. It is embedded and engrained in the actual cultural,
social, political situation much more deeply than texts and objects. (Fischer-Lichte 2010) so the setting is imperative the
success of the play, a modern audience need to connect with the characters and
plot on stage, so the war link will both intrigue and upset audience members as
it is a controversial topic. To create a distance between audience and events
on stage the scene will take place in 2003, following the invasion of Iraq as
this is still a 21st century topic of discussion and will parallel
to current social and political unease around terror threats to create
nostalgia and feelings of déjà vu-history repeating itself, resonating with the
audience and forcing them to visualise the previous negative events and future devastation.
Depending on the cultural and historical context, however, both groups, actors
and spectators, are limited in the possible behavioural modes by the social
rules governing public events like theatrical performances. (Fischer-Lichte 2010). Another reason for focus on a
less current event is the political correctness and ethics of content,
audiences would find war controversial but to use recent lived situations could
prove too raw for an audience to comprehend the action clearly.  The music used in the scene will be from a
2003 artist and I will have a chorus member in the scene with a slogan relating
to that time, possibly even with the Iraq slogan on the front to create a wave
of unease through the audience and clearly set the time frame as costume, of
all semiotic elements in a production, is immediately accessible and one of the
most direct means of setting its tone, the historical period, mood and so on. (Matejka and Titunik 1976). Mitchells costuming
strategy, of using non-authentic costume, locating the play and characters in
recent era allowing an audience to relate to the events but symbolic of a past
era to evoke feelings of nostalgia and pathos.

The scene will begin as
Alcestis is shot and her dialogue ‘O sun, O Light…’ up
to ‘urging me impatiently’ with Admetus
responding lines cut to create a dramatic monologue of Alcestis entry to cement
the classic element of the play and her role as lead.  There will be several members on stage dressed
in office wear, the chorus, who will create a lamenting soundscape as Alcestis
is shot. There will be a group of three that stand before Alcestis as she is
shot, all wearing masks, the masks offer a separation of cast, the chorus,
Admetus, Alcestis and the others who kill her. To retain one’s cognitive hold
over reality, is in the eyes of the God a grave insult, entailing the human being’s
disaster and delusion…More precisely, within the Dionysus dramatic era, it is
the mask, an inherently Dionysiac property, which guarantees for the performer
the possibility of becoming “other”, of acquiring a different identity’. (Lada-Richards 1997,1999). Masks create a disillusion
and hold meaning of a modern audience to criminality, such as robbery and
murder therefore creating links between classical convention and some modern
audiences understanding.

The chorus are an integral
part of classic productions and I want to keep this element in my adaption,
however I take inspiration from Michael Thalheimers production of the Oresteia (premiered 2006). The chorus was placed above and
behind the spectators in the gallery; it shouted down at them and sometimes
even shouted them down, creating a sense of claustrophobia. Chorus reminiscent
of Einar Schleefs use of the chorus in his new tragic theatre which began in
1986 with the production of The Mothers,
a compilation of Euripides’ Suppliant
Women and Aeschylus’ Seven Against
Thebes at the Frankfurt Schauspielhaus. (Fischer-Lichte
2005). In my production. as Alcestis is injured on stage within the
office setting, I want to place various member of chorus throughout the
audience, in seats, on steps on banisters, to represent people on the outside
of building and as the shots rings out the lament and says chorus dialogue in
interchanging lines, costumed as police personnel, shopkeepers, taxi drivers,
plain clothed pedestrians etc. This will be contrasted on stage as I want to
use the chorus and masks on stage to highlight the notion of danger and deceit that
is attached to the masks in Polytheism-The mask is a mode of deceit. The subtle
serpent is the devil in the mask of a reptile (Cf. Revelation xx.2,10.) and the dominant
mask in medieval theatre was that of the polymorphous devil. Chorus in building
can turn to face side on looking at Alcestis as she is killed, in slow motion
and in sync, some in a cluster huddled, other spaced evenly in lines under
desks/cover some standing- chorus members can turn and be masked to link to the
gang and emphasis the potential danger of everyday- appearances can be
deceiving and create an element of unity between the chorus.  Admetus dives to ground for cover. High
pitched ringing on stage before the lament starts, crying wailing, some
repeating oh god, Apollo, death etc. some start to shake heads and move in
rushed pace. This will again create a feeling of disillusion and claustrophobia
as the audience is trying to understand the motives of the characters on stage
and question their roles as negative or positive figures, which will further
symbolise the unknown dangers around us. I want to also draw the audience into
the possibility that characters from a similar background to themselves can be
both victim and aggressor, challenging stereotypes for terror attacks.

In the scene as Alcestis finished
her entering monologue Admetus moves towards Alcestis, he removes his shirt and
jacket and folds before reaching out and caressing her face, he then leans his
body lightly on her and apologises as he sits up there is blood on his chest
from Alcestis. This will use costume to show the audience the height of
Admetus’ material importance and heavily contrast her appearance to his. Much
of the dialogue will be cut due to the lack of familiarity of modern audiences
with Greek verse as Greiggs previously did in his Greek adaptions explaining,
‘Some of the references to Greek mythology were removed where it was felt they
would confuse a modern audience because they are not part of modern cultural
frameworks of orientation and understanding. (Programme
notes)’.

The doors fly open and a bed
is wheeled in- cast dressed in paramedic costume. Alcestis dialogue returns ‘I
feel a hand.’ as they lift he onto bed and she is rushed to hospital on her marriage
bed from earlier in the play as it is a strong symbol. The somatic quality of
theatre means that it offers special evidence of a society’s approach to such
basic aspects of the human experience such as body, gender, sexual desire,
injury and suffering, in addition to the physical rites of passage (mating,
birth and death). (Hall. E. 2010). I have chosen
to utilise the rites of passage to facilitate the death of Alcestis and again
highlight her life which she has given to Admetus.

In the hospital blood is
poured in the bed in 3 amounts, the first small to represent virginity, the
second larger to symbolise childbirth and the third, larger poured by death who
is cloaked and waits at the bottom of the bed with flowers beside Admetus. Alcestis
can be awaking before death and says her dialogue with Admetus from ‘we who love you’ to Alcestis ‘They
failed you’ and in again at ‘Your own mother’ as
she addresses the Children who are there, crying holding onto her hands on each
side. Admetus can have a belt buckle with a sharp pin, death takes this from
him and use it to cut a small lock of Alcestis hair-linking to the original
death scene. The children will say chorus dialogue ‘You
need not…’ in scene. As she flat lines death gently places flowers on
her pillow and moves the two children away. He takes her hand, hugs her and
places a sheet over her. Admetus dialogue enters from ‘I
will, I will!’ to ‘my life’s delights vanish
with you’. Alcestis final words, ‘My children’.
to ‘It is for you I am going’. The rest will be cut as I want to let the
audience end with Alcestis words which I have been attempting the highlight
through the scene. In the hospital, there will also be sound from a news report,
talking about the war and the terror felt in Iraq and in the western world.
This will again remind the audience of the setting and feelings of pathos over
past events with Alcestis death. Emeleus dialogue enters, ‘I am young to walk alone.’ to show what Admetus has
willingly done and the feelings of the children as they are given little voice
and praise their mother. This will be the end of this scene and will return to
the palace for chorus dialogue ‘Daughter of Pelias’
as the chorus members gather in the audience to watch as if a mass, a lead
chorus member is dressed as a priest and recites dialogue as a hymn, to bring
modern death practice and Christianity to the death of Alcestis and relatable
for an audience who are now forced into the cast by the Chorus position in
their seats. 

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