The Performance!

April 30, 2007

The long awaited performance took place a couple of weeks ago. The performance itself was comprised of several different ‘skits’. Skits is a bad word but each one was played by different people, making it hard for the audience to get a sense of character. However, people created a sense of character with things such as accent, dress and manner. The audience responded to these, especially those with a comic side.

When it was time for my performance I had to remember the wise words spoken by Mr Kerr – when in doubt, stop moving. Bearing this in mind I stood impassively, listening to my partner’s long speech as if it was the first time I had heard it. I felt that my performance was all the better for it, however, as it added a depth that had previously been lacking. The sense of realism that was (I hope) conveyed, was probably created by this.

Line retention. The key part of any performance. I felt that mine was quite good. Spectacularly so. I felt that I was much better than my dress rehearsal. This was possibly with the addition of my actual costume (jeans and T-Shirt), as I no longer felt confined by my school uniform. However, the extra effort I put into learning my lines after slipping up several times at the rehearsal was justified. I felt that my performance was the culmination of a chunk of good effort.

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Antigone: Interpretations

April 11, 2007

Antigone, in some ways, is more than just a play – it is a document of the human condition – it is the classic story of right versus might. Whenever somebody who is powerless has to face tyranny and oppression – Antigone is the story that they are re-enacting.’

Over the years there have been many, varied, interpretations of Antigone. These range from operas, to plays – even to a comic book. Jean Anouilh re-wrote it in French, during WWII – when it was performed to the public, France was under Nazi control. Comparisons have been drawn with Antigone and Creon – Antigone represents the French Resistance, whilst Creon is the Nazi soldiers. Notably, Anouilh did away with the Chorus, replacing it with a single character. This is consistent with other interpretations – the Chorus is considered unnecessarily large. However, he also removed Tiresias from the play – a large plot change.

Only 5 years after Jean Anouilh wrote and produced his version a German, Carl Orff, created a ‘musical setting’ for the tragedy. He doesn’t take the controversial option of omitting Tiresias, but stays relatively true to the plot – working from a German translation of the play. However, he exaggerates the rift between Haemon and Creon – when Antigone dies, Haemon dies with her. In Orff’s opera Haemon throws himself at Creon, in a wild attack, before taking his own life. The delivery of the lines is also important – they are almost like a Gregorian Chant, thus being monophonic and almost like a dirge.

Jean Cocteau, a prolific filmmaker and author, also wrote a play based on Sophocles’ classic. He also produced a trilogy about Orpheus – another Greek myth. His play fits the general mould of Antigone interpretations, which have ranged from ‘An African Antigone’ to Peruvian and Spanish translations.

What is Greek Tragedy?

April 10, 2007

Our word ‘tragedy’ comes from the Greek word ‘tragodia’ – the goat song performed to honour Dionysus. In Ancient Greece tragedies were always serious plays with sad endings. They were usually based around famous legends or significant events in Greek history. The main character would be beset by ‘terrible events’ – either because of fundamental flaws in their character or because the gods were punishing them. The Chorus in tragic plays numbered either twelve or fifteen – they would comment on the action and the motives of the actors.

The tragedies contained a ‘tragic cycle’ – the events that occurred in each play fitted into one of these categories: Olbos, Hubris, Phthonis, Ate and Nemesis. These are arranged into order – Olbos is at the beginning, Nemesis at the end.

  • Olbos refers to the prosperity or happiness that the protagonist has at the beginning of the play.
  • However, he will display Hubris with his good fortune and because of this the play enters the stage of Phthonis.
  • In the stage of Phthonis, the gods are jealous of him, as well as angry – they create a warning sign, a portent.
  • However, the protagonist, in the stage of Ate, will ignore this warning due to a ‘reckless impulse’.
  • Nemesis is the calamity that finally befalls him due to the gods’ anger

The ‘moral’ of these stories is that the if you show anything other than respect for the gods, they’ll come and get you!

Sophocles: This is your life

April 9, 2007

You were born in 496 BC and grew up to be the second of the three, great Greek Tragedians. Over the course of your life, you wrote more than 100 plays, few of which still survive today. With the play Triptolemus you won the Dionysia for the first time (around 466 BC). Your innovations in Aeschylus’ established ‘dramatic technique’ were some of the most important:

  • You increased the Chorus from 12 to 15 people
  • You introduced scene-painting
  • You added a third actor!

For more than 50 years you were the dominant participant/competitor in dramatic competitions – such as the Dionysia. This was partly attributed to the fact that you developed your characters more than earlier playwrights, such as Aeschylus, and used female characters.

As a young boy you won various awards in wrestling and music and have been described as ‘graceful’ and ‘handsome’. After the defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, you were honoured with the role of leading the Chorus of boys at the victory celebrations. Despite the fact that your contemporaries didn’t consider you a great politician or general, you were elected as a Hellenotamiai or Treasurer. The people of Athens also elected you as one of the 10 Athenian Generals, during which time you participated in crushing the revolt of Samos.

Your most famous works are the Theban Plays or the Oedipus Cycle. This cycle consists of the plays:

  • Oedipus Rex (or Oedipus Tyrannos) which won second prize at the Dionysia
  • Oedious at Colonus which won first prize at the Dionysia
  • Antigone

These plays were not written as a trilogy, but they are related in plot and characters. The powerful theme of people who have been trapped by fate & their own flaws runs throughout these plays and your others (Ajax, Electra, Philoctetes).

Oedipus & the key elements

April 7, 2007

There are two different sets of ‘key elements’ in this myth. The first are the literal elements; what supposedly happened. The second are the elements that would have held meaning for the Ancient Greeks. The general gist of the play is of a man who can’t escape Fate. Oedipus, and others, attempt to avoid Fate, but nothing they can do is enough. This is a common pattern in many Greek tales.

The exchange between Oedipus and Tiresias is an important one. Tiresias is blind in an earthly sense but a seer in spiritual matters. Oedipus is the reverse – seer in earthly matters but blind for the ‘hidden truth’. When Oedipus demands to know what Tiresias can tell him about the death of Laios, he is creating a cliche. The dialogue between the two is the ‘breathtaking dialogue’ between someone who is demanding advice but then refuses to heed the answer given.

After Oedipus and Jocasta realise the truth, Jocasta hangs herself. Oedipus then stabs his eyes out with brooches from her dress – what he doesn’t do is kill himself. He realises that to kill himself would be the ultimate act of hubris – comparing himself to the gods. He punished himself, without pretending that he is worthy of the responsibility of choosing death.

Oedipus & the key elements

April 7, 2007

There are two different sets of ‘key elements’ in this myth. The first are the literal elements; what supposedly happened. The second are the elements that would have held meaning for the Ancient Greeks. This post also contains an amusing video interpretation of the story of Oedipus.

The myth starts with Laius and Jocasta. They are the king and queen of Thebes, happily married, when they receive a warning from the oracle at Delphi. The warning is simplicity itself – their soon-to-be-born son will kill his father and marry his mother. After their son is born, Laius and Jocasta have his feet ‘pierced and bound’ and he is abandoned on the slopes of Mount Cithaeron. However, the shephard who was ordered to abandon the child takes pity on him, instead giving him to another shephard from Corinth.

Polybus and Merope, the king and queen of Corinth, are not quite happily married – they are childless. So, the shephard from Corinth takes the baby to them, to be brought up ‘as their own son’. They name him Oedipus, which means ‘swollen foot’. Many years later, when Oedipus reaches adulthood, he learns from an oracle of the original prophecy – that he is destined to kill his father and marry his mother.

In order to avoid this fate, Oedipus leaves Corinth planning to never return. However, in his travels his chariot and another’s meet at a crossroads. Neither chariot is willing to cede the right of way to the other and a fight breaks out. Oedipus, being a hot-headed youth, kills the man in the other chariot. This man was, unbeknownst to Oedipus, King Laius of Thebes – his biological father.

‘Sometime later’ he reaches Thebes and is confronted by the Sphinx. This mythological creature has the head of a woman and the body of a lion. She has been terrorizing the city for weeks, by asking any who would pass through the city gates a riddle. None have managed to answer it so far, and have all been killed. Of course, Oedipus answers the riddle and the Sphinx dives from a cliff in agony. Oedipus is declared the saviour of Thebes and proclaimed king – as their old king had recently been slain by ‘bandits’. He married the old king’s widow (his mother) and had four children with her. Those four children (Antigone, Ismene, Etocles and Polynices) are the subject of Sophocles’ Antigone.

Unfortunately, a great plague broke out in Thebes. Oedipus, in his role as saviour of the city, sent Creon to speak with the Oracle of Delphi, in order to determine the cause of the ‘divine punishment’. The Oracle told him that the wrath of the gods was upon Thebes because the murderer of Laios had not been punished and exiled. Oedipus, ignorant of his part in Laios’ death, ordered anybody who knew anything about it to speak up. He also sent two messengers to the blind seer, Tiresias.

When Tiresias arrived in Thebes he was asked to point out any clue that could lead to the discovery of the old king’s murderer. Tiresias, knowing the truth, told Oedipus, ‘Gruesome is the knowledge, which only brings disaster to the knower! Let me go, oh King!’ He remained silent until Oedipus charged him with being an accessory to the ‘evil outrage’. Tiresias then pronounced that, ‘you, yourself are to blame for the disaster that has hit the city, because you are the king’s murderer and you are living in great shame’.

Oedipus grew angry. He accused Tiresias of preying on his throne and seeking his ‘ruin’ in partnership with Creon, before ordering him to leave. Jocasta was also ’embittered’ at the seer. She claimed that such prophecies had no value because it was once forecast that her first husband, Laios, would be killed by his son. Their only son, ‘with his drilled feet’, had been abandoned in the woods and Laios had been killed by robbers at the crossroads.

Naturally, this shocked Oedipus. He ‘grew pale’. He asked Jocasta what Laios had looked like, how old he was, with a voice full of emotion. Jocasta answered him and then Oedipus exclaimed that ‘in that case, Tiresias has said the truth!’ Jocasta, in horror, procedes to hang herself (offstage). Oedipus (also offstage) puts his eyes out with the two brooches from her cloak.

Practise & Character

April 3, 2007

Thinking of all the practise we did in class, I can see in my mind how this scene will work. Creon will be seated at his desk, working on misc. papers, when I enter. There are a lot of little things we both need to do – in our speech, the way we stand etc. Because of the many lessons we spent reading through our script, I find it easier to remember when to pause, when to retreat and when to speak louder.

My character is not vital to the outcome of the play, but Haemon does play an important role in attempting to convince his father. At the conclusion of our scene, Creon declares that he will have Antigone put to death immediately – thus speeding up the play and reaching the conclusion more effectively.

In all of this, my character’s story can easily be forgotten. Haemon is a supporting member of the cast and, therefore, his character is not explored in any depth. There are minor descriptions of what he believes, feels and thinks, but these are usually included to flesh out other, more central characters.

One example of this is when he tells Creon, ‘I have to be your watchdog…I hear whispers spoken in the dark’. This does reflect on how Haemon feels about his father and the way he is forced into a role he doesn’t want to play. However, it also shows the way that Creon, as the new king of Thebes, is not handling the pressure well – making decisions the people are opposed to.

Many of Haemon’s lines could be considered unnecessary – the ~7 line section towards the end of his main monologue is one, giant analogy. This section displays his customary cajoling speech and descriptive manner.

Conveying the Story

March 31, 2007

One of the key aspects of any dramatic production is the use of stagecraft in outlining the story. In my scene there is limited use of stagecraft, mainly because it’s a ‘casual’ production. However, Creon will be seated at a desk, which will enhance his image of a bureaucrat. At certain moments in the scene he will be ignoring Haemon and filling out, signing, reading forms. This will, hopefully, emphasize the emotions that the two characters feel – Creon is ignoring his son’s feelings and forging his own path.

The argument between the two men is verbal only, however, we are planning to add a physical altercation to ‘spice things up’. At the height of the argument – to help heighten, and then release, the tension – Creon will push Haemon to the ground. We hope that this will serve to break up the long speeches nicely.

Another way we could convey the tension between these two characters is through costume. Creon, hopefully, will be wearing very formal attire – jacket with dress pants. This will highlight his character and motives nicely. Haemon will be wearing much more casual clothing, such as jeans with a T-Shirt. The difference created by the costumes will (hopefully) show that these two characters – despite being family members – are at odds.

Interpreting my Character

March 28, 2007

Haemon is an interesting character. He is split between his love for Antigone and his respect for his father, Creon. In his lone appearance (in our presentation)* onstage he wavers between persuasive, intelligent language and threats. After he exits, declaring that Antigone ‘will not die alone’, we discover that he is dead by his own hand.

His father, throughout this, has to deal with several large issues. Not only has son died but he died in defiance of Creon’s order – not to bury the body. Creon may be a ‘bad’ father for failing to support or understand his son, but he is attempting to hold together the city of Thebes. Haemon throws this in his face, declaring that he is tyrant and is creating a ‘one man state’.

*In the full version of Antigone, Haemon’s other appearance is at the beginning of the play. He displays he customary indecision – when Antigone tells him that she will never be able to marry him, he just leaves. No shock, just emptiness. His death occurs offstage (like all Greek Drama, the greatest things happen offstage. The Romans had the right idea though, with brutal deaths performed live, to the audience) and he is reported to have died next to Antigone.

Who would I cast and why?

March 25, 2007

My scene is an interesting one. Haemon enters and attempts to persuade his father, Creon, to spare Antigone’s life. He tries everything to persuade his father, but in true Hollywood style, her death is pronounced. So, Haemon immediately runs off, threatening to kill himself.

If I could cast any actor I’d need to choose 4. These would be Haemon, Creon, Chorus and Antigone. The Chorus has minimal lines but needs to deliver them with gravity and poise, whilst Haemon and Creon need to be able to switch from polite conversation to an argument. Antigone, considering she has no lines, is basically eye-candy.

So, onto the tough decisions. There are several actors who fulfill the requirements for the Chorus. George Clooney, based on his role in Ocean’s Eleven, can merge a serious character with lighthearted conversation. However, he is discarded in favor of Colin Firth who displayed exceptional gravity in his role as Jane Austen’s Darcy.

Haemon is being played by myself. I far prefer my acting to that of the so-called ‘professionals’. But, as my understudy, I nominate Brad Pitt. He displayed, in Troy, the fiery qualities that Haemon needs, as well as a cooler, logical side.

The role of Creon is going to Hugh Laurie. He’s fantastic as a flawed, paternalistic figure in the television series House. Combined with Brad Pitt he could really create a great, onscreen performance.

Ah, Antigone. We need someone who is capable of looking good whilst being dragged on and off-stage. Angelina Jolie springs to mind instantly. However, because I don’t want my set flooded with ‘Brangelina’ papperazzi, I can’t sign her on. Keira Knightley looked fantastic in the rain, in two different films – Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and Pride and Prejudice(2005) – so it looks like it’s her.