After three years of intense focus on therapy and personal growth, I'm finally hitting the keys again and will be jumping into NaNoWriMo on November 1st, 2016. Stay tuned for updates!

Tuesday 22 January 2013

OEDIPUS REX - Αρτivities Company / Volos Regional Municipal Theatre at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus

This week I have actually been putting pen to paper and getting the first draft of My Mother’s Daughters down.  Well, actually, it’s more like marker to scrap paper and then fingers to keyboard, but you get the picture.  My greatest struggle was how to present all the sides of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in an effective way.  Much of what I had written previously didn’t lend itself to traditional reality play format.  This is when I decided to steal!

What did I steal?  Well, thank you for asking!  I stole the Greek Chorus.  If you had asked me this time last year if I would ever incorporate a chorus into anything other than a musical, I likely would have said: not in this lifetime – but we all grow and learn.  I thought that because I had not seen a chorus used effectively before, nor did I truly understand the purpose of the chorus.  Both are things that would change after touring three shows to Greece in July 2012. 

While on this trip, I was lucky enough to see a production of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus from the Αρτivities Company / Volos Regional Municipal Theatre.  It was the most effective and beautiful use of a chorus that I have ever seen.  On top of the magic of sitting in a nearly 2000 year old amphitheatre with seating for 14,000, the show was simplistic (with 2 panels used as doors to the palace, a trunk of costumes, a wheelchair and a giant rug as the only “set”) yet it was incredibly well performed and captivating.  Also, did I mention, it was performed in Greek.  Since I don’t speak Greek, I found it even more amazing to be able to clearly follow the story without the ability to understand the words.  A tremendous feat achieved by the entire company.  This may also be the reason I was able to pay such close attention to the chorus and their performance.

Me at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus before the show

Before I go into specific detail about this particular performance, I feel like I need to speak to what I learned about the purpose of a Greek chorus in general.  While staying at Hydrama on the island of Hydra, I had the privilege to attend a workshop with the legendary Greek actress, Lydia Koniordou.  Ms. Koniordou took us through the meaning and art of performing Greek drama.  The entire workshop was an inspiration, but that is detail for another time.  What sticks with me now is how Ms. Koniordou spoke about the chorus.

The purpose of the chorus in a Greek drama is to fill in the blanks of the story.  They do NOT forward the plot or elicit any change in the course of events.  They tell the information that is not otherwise known.  They may comment on the action and foretell coming doom, but they are observers.  They are the masses.  They represent the polis, or Greek city-state.  The people.  To over-simplify, they are like the town gossips; they can see what is happening, often before the tragic hero, but are helpless to alter the course of events.  The chorus is the voice of “the other”. 

In the production of Oedipus Rex, the chorus embodied just that.  They were like a single being moving around the stage.  The movement was so specific, so precisely choreographed and so well executed that it was hard to tell one from another (other than the chorus member in the wheelchair [as an acting choice], but even he blended remarkably well).  Some of the chorus members played other roles as well, and it was magical to see how they stepped out of the chorus and immediately became a distinct new character and then…
The actor playing the Servant of Laius did a beautiful job performing his speech, and afterwards, he returned to the chorus.  I watched his every haggard step back to where the chorus was standing frozen in tableau and saw as he disappeared before my eyes.  Now, clearly he didn’t evaporate into thin air, but once he reached the rest of the group, his character affectations feel off, he stood up straight, struck the pose and was immediately indistinguishable from anyone else.  It was as if he vanished.  He was now part of a greater whole.  It was remarkable!  I had never seen anything like it.  No illusions or theatrical tricks, just brilliant performance and a commitment to the idea of the chorus as a whole.  That moment sold me on the beauty of the Greek chorus forever.

Now, My Mother’s Daughters explores one family dealing with a mother with BPD and the effects that have rippled through all their lives, but that is not the entire story I want to tell.  Yes, it is sad that this thing happened to one family, but that is not the case.  It doesn’t just happen to one family; it happens to millions of families across the world.  Enter the Greek Chorus!  Is this not the entire purpose of the chorus; to represent the masses; the voice of the people?  Bingo!  How do you show that this is an issue and these are things faced by many people everyday?  With a chorus!

So, in case you haven’t already inferred, I decided to utilize a Greek style chorus in the writing of My Mother’s Daughters.  It has been soooooo helpful in the story telling.  It has given me a freedom with the writing because there are just some things that it doesn’t make sense to have the individual characters say, but the chorus can say them easily.  It takes the pressure off trying to fit in a lot of abstract concepts in a realistic way.  The other thing is: they are extra bodies onstage.  You can create movement in the piece by the simple movement of the bodies.  As a visual learner, I like the idea of being able to have visual representation of some of the more conceptual moments.  All in all, they have become the cornerstone of the play.  No wonder Greek plays have been performed for thousands of years!  Choruses are so useful!!

For more information on the things discussed in this post, go to:

Hydrama Theatre & Arts Centre -

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