By Mattia Roveri
This post captures the analysis and observations of a combined military and Greek scholar on the activities of Warrior Chorus during the creative phases of the project. These scholars worked with the groups to assist in textual interpretation and associations. Thoughts are shared with the teams to add perspective. These are some of those thoughts:
On our third meeting the focus started to shift slowly from the classical texts (Euripides, Aristophanes, Shakespeare) to our own text – the play that is starting to emerge as a result of the meetings and discussions. What should and could we take from these influences, and how? Where to break free from authors, who have dominated our minds for so long (both literally as we’ve been thinking about them for the majority of the project thus far, but also through cultural history where all three loom large and provide crucial background for understanding theater as it develops through history). How to bring innovative and new insights into this convoluted theatrical world (a question with which Euripides and Aristophanes struggled too!)? From reading and thinking about this history, we now move to writing and performing. These are the two themes that this session was organized around. I noticed that the biggest challenges revolved around the question of language and the question about structure or plotline of the play. In the remainder of this post, I’d like to focus on these two in more detail.
The question of language is really essential to the project. There is the obvious fact that we’re reading plays in translation, a fact which already in itself contains layers and layers of meanings. For names like Sphinx or even Phaedra and Hippolytus do not come naturally from our (primarily English-speaking) mouths and have an air of foreignness to them, which would have been absent for the Greeks. On stage, played to contemporary audiences, this foreignness probably cuts two ways. On the one hand, there is a sense of suspicion about foreigners (Who are they exactly? Why are they here? For how long? What are their true motives?), and on the other, there is a sense of privilege and elitism that is associated with some foreign speech. The latter is what we could imagine the effect of foreign Greek names will have when put on stage. The audience is invited to think about the intertexts when they hear these names; it is undeniable that they will get more out of the play if they’re familiar with the original stories. And they’ll be familiar with the original stories if they’ve had access to these stories through good education or leisure, both of which remain the privileges of the elite. But perhaps things are less clear-cut in New York City, a cultural melting pot where any name and every imaginable cultural group is somehow represented?
And then there are technical, and in some sense, deeper issues related to the question of language that overlap with the second theme, the question of structure. How do we write this play and aim at a sort of homogenous outcome if we have polyphony of voices? What kind of style, register, verse, prose to use? Include all and have a mixture? That might be fun to do and read, but would it be performable? Make it all uniform? That might prove detrimental to the creative powers at work. There is no formula for this and the group proceeds in, what I think is, the best possible way – by postponing though not ignoring the question. It remains in the background throughout all our conversations, but the idea is that all material will have to come together first and through various rehearsal and practice sessions the play will emerge. This sounds very exciting. The idea that everything, including the basics of language, will be up for debate and change based on its ‘performability’ (is that a word?) is invigorating. In fact, the very session itself proved that this will be a successful path to take. The performance of a section in Euripides’ Hippolytus (note that the title is Hippolytus and not Phaedra as in Racine) by two group members (and the performance was truly mesmerizing – I wonder if it would be good to have part of that conversation as a voice-over without seeing the actresses, so captivating were their voices alone) had an immediate effect on the group and their writing. Some said the performance confirmed their sense of characters, some said they’d need to make revisions based on this performance. We don’t think about this often enough, but texts really come to life when performed and assume a life quite different from the one imagined in one’s head when read. I wonder if the group would agree with drawing a comparison here with the military experience: civilians think and imagine, assume and argue, but the reality of a lived experience – that is something different altogether.
The second theme that was often talked about concerns the structure of the play with all its individual parts and details. Members of the group were drawing on their own experiences, thoughts and ideas, but often wondered how their musings and creations might relate to the play as it all comes together. Is Phaedra already dead when we’re developing a dialogue including her? And what do we need to know about the specifics of the plot in order to create a character. Much as in the Greek originals, every character that will appear on stage in this play will have a carefully constructed identity. But, unlike in the Greek original, characters might be composed by different writers. Now it might be because of all the Pirandello I’ve been reading recently, but it’s fascinating to think about a character who is not uniform throughout the play, who is not quite as she appears to be from the previous scene. A character who acts in certain ways in a dialogue but seems to have a completely (or somewhat) different way about life when on her own. I guess we’re all like that a little bit and so perhaps there is really something to the idea of involving multiple people in sketching out the details of the plot and character? Or think about Luis Bunuel’s ‘That obscure object of desire’ (1977 film, now a cult classic among cinephiles), where two completely different actresses (different in looks but also in temperament) play Conchita.
The spring 2018 iteration of Warrior Chorus concluded on 11 April 2018. Follow Aquila on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog for more information. Help this critical program grow and develop: if you attended a reading, please review your experience here. If you are a NYC Warrior Chorus fellow past or present, share your experience here.