Reconstructing the Classics: Performing History
Good theater artists have a good working knowledge of theater history. Excellent artists know how use history to enliven and deepen their productions. This course brings artists into contact with theater history experientially, giving them the skills not only to understand the original intentions of the author and the effects of the play on the original audience, but also to render those intentions meaningful today.
For each unit, we read a representative play and study it as “an artifact…a hieroglyph whose meanings are layers and threads of history, cultural practice, spectator point of view, location of production or publication” (Jeffrey Richards). This artifact can be decoded as instructions for performance using information about the original circumstances of production:
- Playing space: size and shape, relationship between performers and audience, backstage;
- Composition of the audience: social, economic, gender, political configuration, their reason for going, their behavior during;
- Style and conventions of performance: acting styles and visual elements;
- The texts: who wrote them, who is represented in them, their subject matter, structure, recurring characteristics, and ideology.
Groups will rehearse two versions of a scene: one according to the original circumstances and one that translates those ideas into modern realities. An in-depth understanding of the classics factors in these original circumstances, and a contemporary staging created with these factors in mind can live as firmly in the here and now as the original did in the past.
Units could be created to fit the needs of any curriculum and range from Greek Tragedy to Spanish Comedia, Roman Comedy to Expressionism, French Neoclassicism to American Melodrama, or Brecht’s Epic Theater and the Federal Theater Project’s Living Newspapers (in which we would deal first with the original plays and secondly with new texts of our own creation). A one-semester course could include two to three in-depth units, or could range more broadly by surveying a series of periods or topics.