Brief History of the Greek Theater Project at Montclair

Eurydike with chorus-lrGreek 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,

Chorus around Creonoutdoors 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

amphitheaterGreek 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.

We are continuing the project in April 2015 with a favorite suggested by student participants of the previous year, Euripides’ Bacchae. As before, there will be Mainade_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2645dancing, singing, and live instrumental music, including a small ensemble with percussion, flute, and violin; the Bacchae themselves will play hand drums and pan pipes in parts. We’ll give three performances, and we hope for a good turnout to the stone theater. This year we’ve become a bit more ambitious, but still all parts of the production are done by students. We have started this, our own website for production –; we are also reaching out to Montclair High School in town, to offer a workshop on Greek theater to high school students there–the high school has its own version of the WPA “amphitheater” structure.

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