Performing Ancient Greek Literature in a Time of Pandemic

Performing Ancient Greek Literature in a Time of Pandemic

Conference

23-24 June 2022

Organizers: Anastasia Bakogianni (Massey University, New Zealand) and Barbara Goff (University of Reading, UK)

From left to right: Stefano Scherini, Nicola Ciaffoni, Giovanna Scardoni, Francesca Botti and the Chorus (on screen), Mitmacher Teatro, Gli Uccelli – un’Utopia, Première at the Ancient Roman Theatre – Verona  (27 August 2021). Photo: Courtesy of Studio Brenzoni

The Department of Classics at the University of Reading and the School of Humanities, Media, and Creative Communication at Massey University, New Zealand warmly invite you to attend the ‘Performing Ancient Greek Literature in a Time of Pandemic’ conference co-organised by Dr. Anastasia Bakogianni (Massey University, New Zealand) and Professor Barbara Goff (University of Reading). The conference will take place via Zoom on 23rd and 24th June 2022. Below you can find a programme, a registration form, and a list of abstracts. For more information or if you wish to register after 22nd June, please contact: A.Bakogianni@massey.ac.nz

Keep an eye on our social media for relevant announcements closer to the dates!

All welcome!

Link to registration form: https://masseyuni.wufoo.com/forms/m1a9sd7t0474vxv/

Programme

Day 1: 23 June 2022 (Northern Hemisphere) / 24 June (Southern Hemisphere)

London:  Thursday evening 1900 hours
Auckland: Friday morning (24th June) 0600 hours
Rio de Janeiro: Thursday afternoon 1500 hours
Madrid: Thursday evening 2000 hours

Welcome (Anastasia and Barbara)

Chair: Anastasia Bakogianni

Panel 1 on Brazil (90 minutes)

  1. A Brazilian Illustrated Chronicle of Classical Theatre during the Covid-19 Pandemic
    Renata Cazarini de Freitas, Professor of Latin Language and Literature at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), Niteroi, Brazil.
  2. Performing Antigone in the Land of the Unmourned: Tragedy and Spectacle
    Beatriz de Paoli, Professora de Língua e Literatura Grega, Faculdade de Letras – Departamento de Letras Clássicas, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
  3. Tragic and Epic Aspects of the Mini-Opera Penélope 19: A Mixed-Genre Performance during the COVID-19 Pandemic
    Prof. Maria Cecília de Miranda Nogueira Coelho, Philosophy Department, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brasil

Break (15 minutes)

Panel 2: Conversations with theatre practitioners

London:  Thursday evening 2100 hours
Auckland: Friday morning (24th June) 0800 hours
Rio de Janeiro: Thursday afternoon 1700 hours
Madrid: Thursday evening 2200 hours

Gabriela Geluda (actress and soprano)

Armando Lôbo (composer, musician and independent producer)

Luis Sorolla (actor and playwright), Teatro de la Abadía, Madrid

 

Day 2: 24 June 2022 (Northern and Southern Hemispheres)

London: Friday morning 0800 hours
Auckland: Friday evening 1900 hours
Lagos: Friday morning 0800 hours
Cape Town: Friday morning 0900 hours

Chair: Barbara Goff

 Panel 3 on Africa (90 minutes)

Conversations with academics and theatre practitioners

1. Rites of Mediation: Medea/Medaaye in a Season of Plague
Tunde Awosanmi, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

2. Medaaye: Making a Play in a Global Pandemic
Kunbi Olasope, Department of Classics, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

3. Mandla Mbothwe, Founder and Artistic Director at Mud and Fire Parables; Lecturer and Researcher at University of Cape Town, Co-Artistic director at Magnet Theatre, co-Artistic director at Mbothwe and Doni Collectives, on his production of of iKrele le Chiza. based on the Odyssey.

4. Mark Fleishman, playwright and director, University of Cape Town, South Africa, and Co-Artistic Director at Magnet Theatre, on directing Medaye as an online performance.

Break (30 minutes)

Panel 4: Italy and Greece

London: Friday morning 1000 hours
Auckland: Friday evening 2100 hours
Lagos: Friday morning 1000 hours
Cape Town: Friday morning 1100 hours

  1. The ‘Emotion of Multitude’: Staging the Greek Chorus during Italy’s Covid-19 Response
    Prof. Martina Treu, Greek Language, Literature and Drama, Department of Humanities, Università IULM, Milano, Italy
  2. Greek Drama Goes Online: Theatre as Consolation in Modern Greece
    Anastasia Bakogianni, Massey University, New Zealand

Closing remarks (Anastasia and Barbara)

 

Detailed programme (with abstracts)

Day 1: 23 June 

Welcome (Anastasia and Barbara)

Chair: Anastasia Bakogianni

Panel 1 on Brazil

A Brazilian Illustrated Chronicle of Classical Theatre during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Renata Cazarini de Freitas (Universidade Federal Fluminense)

This paper offers an analysis of the two-year absence of physical theatre in Brazil due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which sparked a debate about the very nature of theatre itself. Is theatre only possible when actors perform before a live audience, or can its specific dramaturgy be transplanted online either in the form of recordings or live transmission? In Brazil, like in many other countries around the world, theatre companies initially offered free access to recordings of older productions that had been filmed, the so-called “pandemic movie plays”. But theatre practitioners soon started to offer audiences performances via Zoom and Instagram. Live performances were reformulated to enable actors to perform from their own homes giving rise to many solo shows during the initial stages of the pandemic. Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ Medea proved particularly popular in this new format, especially in free and innovative adaptations. The story of Troy and Cretan narratives, were performed as monologues, featuring Odysseus, Clytemnestra, Kassandra, and Pasiphae as narrators. Covid-19 and the many challenges it posed brought about innovations that made it possible for smaller theatre groups to gain access to a national audience. In a large country like Brazil this is an important development that will have long-term impacts on Brazilian theatre.

Pre-recorded presentation, illustrated with stills from several productions.

Approx.15 min. PowerPoint. English.

Renata Cazarini de Freitas is Professor of Latin Language and Literature at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), Niteroi, Brazil. To learn more about her research on the reception of Greek and Latin theatre in Brazil see: http://palcoclassico.blogspot.com/

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‘Performing Antigone in the Land of the Unmourned: Tragedy and Spectacle’
Beatriz de Paoli (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro)

How should I Mourn Them? premiered online in the first half of 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Brazil the hardest. Directed by Marina Viana, it is an innovative adaptation of Antigone that combines elements of a theatrical performance with audio-visual material, as well as text and the visual arts. The distinctive dynamics of this play made it stand out among other online theatrical offerings. The Brazilian public was granted access to a website and allowed to navigate it freely for four hours to view a series of multi-media fragments. These fragments were presented on the website in a set order for viewers to follow, but the audience could, if they so wished, jump from one fragment to another, creating their own narratives. An e-book of the script was also made available for download. In it the producers dedicated the work to the victims of the pandemic whose families could not properly mourn their dead relatives and friends, in large part due to the Brazilian government’s mismanaged response to COVID-19. A clear connection can be traced back to Sophocles’ tragedy, the story of Polynices’ unburied corpse and his sister’s desperate act that resulted in partially completed/aborted funerary rites. Like the ancient Theban character, the many victims of this twenty-first century pandemic were deprived of full funeral honors, with many buried in mass graves, virtually unmourned by their loved ones apart from in private. However, How should I Mourn Them? offers viewers more than a surface level connection with its ancient model. Its multivariate and multi-media format and the opportunities it offered for audience participation allow us to unearth different layers of meaning and multiple points of connection to the Greek drama, which this paper explores in detail.

Beatriz de Paoli, Professora de Língua e Literatura Grega, Faculdade de Letras – Departamento de Letras Clássicas, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

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Tragic and Epic Aspects of the Mini-Opera Penélope 19: A Mixed-Genre Performance during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Maria Cecília de Miranda Nogueira Coelho (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais)

The mini-opera Penélope-19 received its first and only performance on 19 September, at 19hours, on Chanel CO.MO (Company of Micro Opera) during the height of the pandemic in the 2020 Brazilian lockdown. A recording was made, because its creators like other theatre practitioners working in 2020 and 2021 wanted to make their production available to a wider public. Currently, it is available on YouTube, with English subtitles (length: 14m, 91s). There is not much dialogue which makes it accessible to a wider audience. This micro-opera was written and directed by the musician Armando Lôbo, and performed by Gabriela Geluda, a well-known Brazilian actress and soprano. It was not the first time that Gabriela performed a character related to Greek mythology. She played Medea in the opera Kseni, the Foreigner (2006) based on Euripides’ famous play and directed by Jocy Oliveira, a famous contemporary composer, pianist, and multimedia artist. In the context of the pandemic Lôbo created a second opera, entitled The Last Day (June 2021), which combines the ancient concept of the moirai with the mourning traditions of the Northeast of Brazil. He created an operatic version of the ritual vigil for the dead. The classical connection is not the focus of this work, but it is another example of his fascination with the ancient world. In Penélope19, the main theme is quarantine, the physical isolation so many people around the globe have had to endure since March of 2020. In the program that accompanies the opera (available only in Portuguese), “the theme is us, in our homes, redesigning what we are and what we are looking for…”.

My presentation analyzes this “micro-opera” with reference to four key thematic areas: 1) the reception of the myth of Penelope, especially the composer’s sources of inspiration (including exclusive material from my interviews with him and Gabriela); 2)  the changes made to adapt a traditional long genre (opera) into  a micro one, with particular attention paid to the piece’s rhetorical strategies; 3) the close connections between the genres of tragedy and opera, as they apply to this production; 4) cinematic intertextualities, for example, Fred Astaire dancing with a hat hack (in the 1951 film Royal Wedding) or  Gene Kelly with a mop (in the 1943 film Thousand Cheer) and the effect these produce on the viewer; 4) and finally, the transposition, due to Covid, from a traditional theater to an online performance focusing my discussion on the impact of mixed genres and virtual performances on audiences.

Prof. Maria Cecília de Miranda Nogueira Coelho

Philosophy Department – Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brasil

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Panel 2: Conversations with theatre practitioners from Brazil and Spain

Gabriela Geluda (actress and soprano)

Armando Lôbo (composer, musician and independent producer)

Luis Sorolla (actor and playwright), Teatro de la Abadía, Madrid

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Day 2: 24 June   

Chair: Barbara Goff

Panel 3 on Africa Conversations with academics and theatre practitioners

Rites of Mediation: Medea/Medaaye in a Season of Plague.
Tunde Awosanmi (Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan, Nigeria)

In the making of humanity, three ancient sub-structures have persisted, symbiotically forming a mutual front in mythology. The three – ritual, religion and art – concurrently signify means, forms and goals of mankind’s mediation of existence. For enduring, therefore, as a strategic rite in humanity’s existentialist adaptational procedures, mediationism is relevant to a discourse on the permanence of the performance of the classics through one of its spin-offs during the latest global pandemic (Covid-19). Mediation is often connected to the materiality of theatrical production such as technology and other tangible aids and effects and not in relation to the more organic immaterial aspects such as writing, adaptation, cognitive conceptualization and creative interpretation. The paper, therefore, proposes a critical reflection on the pandemic performance of Medaaye, Osofisan’s re-reading of Euripides’ Medea, directed by ‘Tunde Awosanmi, at the height of the Covid-19 scourge in 2021 with the view to determining the stages and forms of mediation involved in its process.

From a directorial/practice-led research standpoint, the production’s appraisal is meant to elicit and contend the following: mediation is both consciousness and act, thus it traverses and unites mankind’s psychical and psychomotor dimensions; the modified presentational approach imposed by the pandemic ecology is a hysterical mediation of humanity’s pathological status; Euripides’ Medea is one of the numerous sub-texts of the dramatic variance of the Greek megatext of which Osofisan’s Medaaye is a recent re-construction; while Medea is Euripides’ mediation of a Greek myth, Medaaye further mediates Medea through Osofisan’s intentional cultural interweaving practice; dramatic adaptation is both scriptive and cultural mediation; the directorial art is interpretive textual mediation; while a text’s full performance is creative mediation via theatricalization, the ‘performed reading’ – modified/altered performance – formula adopted for Medaaye confers on it a rite of mediation in the global pandemic; digitally, virtually and manually mediated performances during the pandemic are signs of an existential hysteria; the pandemic rehearsal and performance spaces are censored/gagged spaces of mediation; pandemic audienceship is therapy-seeking spectatorship; though circumstantial, pandemic theatre has emerged as a special nomenclature, a new performance genre with certain peculiar characteristics whose durability appears to be encroaching on a post-pandemic era.

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Medaaye:  Making a Play in a Global Pandemic
Olakunbi Olasope (University of Ibadan, Nigeria)

Medaaye is the latest adaptation of a Greek classic by the eminent playwright, Femi Osofisan. This play is a re-reading of Euripides’ Medea. The Pandemic dictated the mode of performance of this play, and Osofisan was able to experiment with several perspectives and ambivalences. The play had multiple framing, storytelling, and rehearsal format. Thus, all this gave it a taste of the provisional. It also provided the opportunity for the dramatist to keep modifying the script based on the audience-response feedback that he received before the play was eventually published in February, 2022.

There was the need to revive the culture of theatre-going in the city of Ibadan, Nigeria. Osofisan’s play therefore arrived on the scene at the nick of time. However, the pandemic made performance in the theatre impossible because of the non-pharmaceutical regulations. Therefore, a totally different approach was explored. The play was taken round prominent hotels, guesthouses and bookstores in the city of Ibadan where dramatised reading performances were held outdoors. This type of performance was novel to the actors, and it was mutually challenging and enriching for all involved in the maiden production.

Olakunbi Olasope

Department of Classics, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

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Mandla Mbothwe on production of iKrele le Chiza based on the Odyssey

Mark Fleishman on directing Medaye as an online performance

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Panel 4: Italy and Greece

The ‘Emotion of Multitude’: Staging the Greek Chorus during Italy’s Covid-19 Response
Martina Treu (Università IULM)

The title of my paper is borrowed from an essay by William Butler Yeats: “The Greek drama has got the emotion of multitude from its chorus.” (Essays, 1924: 265–67). The role and function of the tragic and comic choruses in our surviving corpus of ancient Greek dramas remains a key theme in scholarship. How to stage the Greek chorus on the modern stage is also a challenge for theatre practitioners who adapt, re-write, and perform these ancient plays. How the chorus is utilised in a modern performance of ancient drama tends to reveal both the strengths and weaknesses of a production. The success or failure of the chorus on the modern stage is determined by several factors, and in the past two years these have included the restrictions imposed by governments to combat the spread of Covid-19.

In the past thirty years, I have been working on the Greek chorus and its reception as a scholar and translator, a theatre practitioner and dramaturg. My analysis, therefore, draws not only on recent scholarship but also on theatrical practice, and my close collaborations with playwrights, directors, and actors in modern productions. Working as a dramaturg in the past two years allows me to testify to the impact of the pandemic especially on the difficulties involved in staging the chorus with specific reference to Italian adaptations of Aristophanes’ Birds and Frogs I was involved in, and of Euripides’ Trojan Women. The paper will address the solutions offered by such recent productions within the wider Italian context, which not only offer fresh perspectives, but might also be foreshadowing the theatrical trends of the future.

Prof. Martina Treu
Greek Language, Literature and Drama
Department of Humanities
Università IULM, Milano, Italy

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Greek Drama Goes Online: Theatre as Consolation in Modern Greece
Anastasia Bakogianni (Massey University, New Zealand)

The world-changing period of deep crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic presents us with a unique opportunity to reflect with fresh eyes on the value of Greek drama and its importance for our communal and individual wellbeing. This paper seeks to address the question: ‘Can watching a performance of Greek drama help audiences find a measure of consolation?’. The performance reception of Greek drama in Modern Greece in 2020 and 2021 serve as my case studies. As early as spring, the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation produced Under the Glow of the Light (17 April 2020), featuring well-known actors performing short passages from ancient Greek texts and modern Greek adaptations as a means of reminding us of the importance of theatre in society and its power to console us in times of crisis.

The Athens and Epidaurus Festival decided to proceed with its 2020 and 2021 programmes, adapted to observe the health regulations mandated by the Greek government. Katerina Evangelatou, the first female artistic director in the history of the festival, played a key role in bringing ancient drama live to the stage of Epidaurus in the summer of 2020. This paper will focus on the signature Greek tragedy staged at Epidaurus in the summer of 2020 and the first comedy in the summer of 2021. Dimitris Lignadis’ production of Aeschylus’ The Persians featured extended scenes of lamentation and socially distanced staging. Aristophanes’ The Frogs directed by Argyro Chioti brought welcome comic relief the next year. Both performances were livestreamed worldwide. This was one of Evangelatou’s innovative initiatives that enabled the festival to reach new and wider audiences. The historic appointment of Evangelatou, coupled with the unprecedented challenges she faced, allows us to reflect on how Modern Greece broke several boundaries in staging Greek tragedy this summer, including harnessing technology in the service of theatre to bring audiences that are physically distanced together for a communal theatrical experience.

Dr Anastasia Bakogianni
School of Humanities, Media, and Creative Communication
Massey University, New Zealand (Auckland campus)

Closing remarks (Anastasia and Barbara)

The End