Abstracts

Dr Anastasia Bakogianni, Massey University, New Zealand
“Antipodean Antigones: Performing Sophocles’ Tragedy Down Under”

‘Why Sophocles’ Antigone in the Antipodes?’, was the leading question I posed to the theatre practitioners I interviewed for a project on the performance reception of one of Greek Tragedy’s most popular and oft-performed plays. Down Under there is no established tradition of staging ancient drama. The Classics do feature in some school curricula, but on average are limited to selected topics. Greek Drama is performed in Australia and New Zealand, but usually by smaller, innovative theatrical companies or amateurs. Productions are designed with specific audiences and dramaturgical, pedagogical and social agendas in mind. This paper investigates three very different versions of Sophocles’ Antigone that were staged down under within the last two decades. It analyses how the specific contexts and aims of the practitioners involved shaped their approach to adapting and staging the tragedy. Jane Griffith’s controversial Melbourne production (2015) set out to interrogate modern gender politics and was created in association with the University of Victoria. New Zealand dramaturg Harry Love also worked in collaboration with a tertiary institution, the University of Otago, but his production (1998) was filmed with a pedagogical agenda in mind. His version of the play (in his own translation) deliberately sought to balance a desire to remain close to its source text with the need to render the drama accessible to its student audiences. My colleagues at Massey University, Rand Hazou and Derek Gordon worked with a group of prisoners from Unit 9 of Auckland Prison to perform an abridged version of the drama (2017). Performed with puppets standing in for the female characters and before a select audience, this Antigone was a social project with therapeutic underpinnings. These three very different approaches to staging Sophocles’ Antigone testify to the richness and distinctiveness of the reception of the Classics in the Antipodes.


Malika Bastin-Hammou, Université Grenoble-Alpes
“Staging Menander in the Francophone world”

Since the end of the XIXth c., many discoveries have been done concerning Menander’s comedies and it has thus become possible to stage Menander. Yet, while Ancient Drama is very often performed nowadays on the Francophone stage, Menander is almost absent. Not much has been said on the modern stagings of Menander: Kritsi has written on stagings of Menander in Greece in the 80’ and Flynn & Sheldon on the first performance of the Dyscolos in Sydney in 1559. But nobody has considered the very first staging of Menander’s Dyscolos, in French, performed in Geneva in June 1959. The aim of this paper is to consider the Geneva Dyscolos, which gathered academics, students and professionals around an unexpected overwhelming success. We will more broadly examine the role and the influence of modern performances of Ancient Drama to the stagings of Menander in the Francophone context. Is Menander staged as Aristophanes, or, instead, as the poets he is said to have been influential on ‒ Plautus, Terentius, or even Molière? We will also address the reasons of this lack of interest from directors concerning a comic poet who is in many respects considered less difficult to understand than Aristophanes or Greek Tragedies. Is Menander doomed to oblivion?


Monica Centanni, Università Iuav di Venezia
“Did Osama Bin Laden’s mother read The Persians by Aeschylus?”

The staging of The Persians by Aeschylus, which took place in 472 BC in Athens, probably caused shock among the Greek spectators of the tragedy at the Theatre of Dionysus, on the slopes of the Acropolis, and in particular among Athenians. Indeed, the dramaturgic montage puts the naval battle of Salamis (479 BC) at the centre of the plot, in which the Athenians played a crucial role in defeating the enormous enemy army. Nevertheless, from the parodos up to the exodus, the main mood of the drama is not the edifying rhetoric of the winners, but the tonality – first distressed and then mournful – of all actors interpreting enemies, seen from the point of view of the defeated Persians. Aeschylus – not famous for his pacifist inclination but better known as a heroic fighter in the battle of Salamis – is capable of developing a tragedy by not staging the pride of the Greek winners but rather the grief of the vanquished Persians. In this way, Greece wins twice over the Eastern ‘barbarians’. In particular, the main character that stands out at the centre of the dramatic composition is the Queen: a mother that is anguished for the fate of her son Xerxes, justifying his errors and presenting him as disturbed and neurotic being, stretched out in an attempt to emulate his father, and moreover misled by bad companies that – the Mother says – have instigated him to perform the insane military campaign against Greece. Two thousand and five hundred years later, with regard to the attack to the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001, we have detected the evidence of an involution of the self-consciousness of Western culture, with respect to its Greek origins, in the absolute taboo of the idea of staging Enemy ‘reasons’, in any way – maybe even on Ground Zero itself, as Athenians did under the Parthenon’s burnt ruins. But now, 17 years after the event, the voice of Osama Bin Laden’s mother, in an interview published by The Guardian, distantly evokes Xerxes’ mother’s accents and arguments, with an incredible consonance.


Jakub Čechvala, Centre for Classical Studies, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague
“Appropriation through Gaps. Czech Reception of Greek Tragedy in the 19th and the Beginning of the 20th Century”

In my paper I will focus on not yet discussed Czech reception of Greek tragedy and theatre in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. In this period, the ideology of the so-called National Revival, which was influencing the discourse of all levels of the Czech society, also shaped a highly exaggerated image of Greek tragic art. This was effected through an idealized image of the Greeks, in contrast to the Romans. The prevailing image of the tragic art was not considered to be just a simple antiquarian explanation of a particular artistic form in its historical context, but became a vital precedent for the emerging Czech theatre and political culture. The resulting notion of the Greek tragic art is apparent not only in interpretations of the three great tragedians and their poetics, but also in the interpretations of the theatrical space itself. In my paper, I will provide an overview of the common features of this image, as they appear in the scholarly and popular writing of the time.


Dáša Čiripová, Divadelný ústav Bratislava
“The pressure of exclusivity: stage productions of Classical Drama in Slovakia at the beginning of the 21st century”

Since the introduction of ancient drama is a part of the repertoire in European theater, in Slovak Theater, despite many efforts, we still do not know how to deal with the antiquity. At the beginning of the 21st century a number of productions were created, which signaled the change, but nowadays the Slovak theater is again dealing with antiquity under the pressure of exclusivity. The permanent pressure of exclusivity is subject to several factors ‒ the lack of current translations, creative conventions and direct political references, as finally in the last production of Antigone in the Slovak National Theater. Oresteia, The Clouds, Oedipus the King, Medea, Electra, and Antigone are other productions that have attempted to include an ancient drama into the usual repertoire of theaters. At the moment, the Bacchae is being prepared by the Slovak National Theatre. Through these productions, we face a direct confrontation with Slovak identity, roots, tradition, and at the same time we are able to see our presence. The same problem arises from the situation in which Slovak translations of ancient games are found.


Freddy Decreus, Ghent University
“The ritual theatre of Theodoros Terzopoulos, or How to stage a ‘bodymind’ as a special form of everyday life?”

From 1986 to 2018, more than three decades passed by, thirty three important years that worldwide initiated major (r)evolutions in many areas and on many levels and that led us into really transitional times. In Athens, an amazing and radical shift in the artistic awareness took place in 1986, since this was the moment that the Attis theatre was founded, the time and the place when Dionysos was reintroduced, lord Bromios, one of the oldest deities of our Western heritage. At that time, a young man, called Theodoros Terzopoulos, had the evil, but also the holy courage to stage one of Euripides’ sacrosanct tragedies, the Bacchae, in such an innovative (read: provocative) way that all spectators were puzzled, dazzled, bewildered. In this paper, I would like to sketch a brief portrait of Theodoros the way I see him, a visionary man, an actor, designer and director, a philosopher who introduced a whole new climate of thinking and feeling, especially concerning the body (‘the body is political!’) and the energy it generates (‘the body is pan-energetic!’). As it was still obvious in his latest production of the Trojan Women (Pafos, 2017; Delfi, 2018), he is a director who has been able, in his own humble and mysterious way, to present a new view on what it means to be human in often inhuman times and to be a body instead of just having a body. In order to do so, I briefly discuss four different types of bodies that are clearly present in his work, four types of bodies that each speak their own language, but when, put together, introduce us into a fascinating world that speaks of a new type of humanity and everyday life.


Evelyne Ertel, University of Paris 3 ‒ Sorbonne Nouvelle
“The Persians in the Gulf War”

The subject of my lecture is Peter Sellars’s staging of The Persians by Aeschylus, which is based on an adaptation of the play by Robert Auletta. Although the production dates from 1993 it is, in my opinion, an excellent example of how a contemporary director can use a Greek tragedy to speak of a modern war; namely the one led by the United States against Iraq between 1990‒1991 in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The production received negative reviews from critics and American theatregoers. It was indeed a very violent production both in substance and form. The audience was physically assaulted by sound recordings of bombs exploding, missile fire and the like, played at volumes on the threshold of bearable. In Auletta’s adaptation, the defeated Persians are equated with the Iraqis and the victorious Greeks with the Americans and archaic military means (cavalry and swords) are combined with modern ones (tanks, rockets, and missiles). In the end, Xerxes, the defeated king, appears on stage dressed in American military fatigues. A decision made by Sellars to inverse the meaning of Aeschylus’ tragedy which while expressing compassion for the misfortunes of the Persians, blames them on their king and exalts the heroism of the dawning Athenian democracy.


Maddalena Giovanelli, Università degli Studi di Milano
Onomastikomodein? Political Aristophanes in Italian productions”

In the prologue to his earliest surviving comedy, Aristophanes alludes to the unpleasant consequences he faced for attacking the powerful Athenian general Cleon. Since its birth, political satire has “posed threats” for writers. In contemporary productions of Aristophanes’s comedy, the corrosively political aspect of the play is often mitigated: translations are usually quite old, and puns on names (which are pivotal in ancient comedies) are incomprehensible to spectators. In Italy, a crucial standpoint is the Ancient Drama Institution in Syracuse, Sicily, an institution which has been organising a festival centred around ancient drama for the past century. Their audience is “multifoliate”: one the one hand, there are students and specialists from all over Italy; on the other, there is an active and engaging local community. In such a context, the corrosive, sometimes unpleasant comicality of archaia can recall fresh, unsettled matters, which can engender political reflection. In this paper, I will consider egregious examples. Sometimes onomastomodein is reinterpreted and reabsorbed within the scenography: in his production of The Frogs in 2002, Luca Ronconi enclosed the scene within walls upholstered with campaign-posters of known members of the leading party. Local political censorship was immediate. In a 2014 production of the Assemblywomen the adaptation accused politics: the script, translated in close cooperation with the director, it presented puns on Sicilian and Italian politics. Recalling these (and other) instances, we will shed light on how Aristophanes’s bravest productions often spurn mixed reviews, especially concerning the original’s translation and how names are adapted.


Edith Hall, Kings College, London
“Ezra Pound, Performing Euripides, and Modernist Poetics”

Ezra Pound’s aesthetic development as leader of Modernism in poetry was informed by his early encounter with Euripidean song. He performed in a Greek-language production at UPenn of Iphigenia in Tauris in 1903 as a Greek maiden in the chorus. He used metrical analyses which lie behind his two most famous statements:  (1) “To break the pentameter, that was the first heave”, and (2) “Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music”.  Pound’s seminal experiments in Modernist poetry were affected by the Euripidean choral lyrics’ short lines in non-iambic metres, and some of his finest aural effects may be analyzed as Greek prosody. But he did not talk much about Euripides. As his work evolved he developed an increasing admiration for Sophocles, especially what he perceived as Sophoclean hallmarks of economy in diction and intensity, an admiration which culminated half a century after his Euripidean performance in his 1954 version of Sophocles’ Women of Trachis. But he was wary of talking about Euripides because Professor Gilbert Murray’s Euripides translations became, notoriously, the target of T.S. Eliot’s most vitriolic criticism. The fact that a writer like Murray was attracted to Euripides would make any praise of this Greek tragedian by anyone in the vanguard of Modernism hazardous. But that does not mean that Pound’s encounter with Euripides at the age of seventeen did not affect his poetry forever.


George Harrison, Carlton University, Ottawa
“Choral Reconciliation in the Octavia and Hercules Oetaeus: modern sex scandals for the ancient stage”

The connection between Greek tragedy and Roman tragedy is obvious and more recently the connection between imperial Roman drama and Republican drama has been receiving attention.  What this paper wishes to explore is the connection between Roman tragedy and Greek and Roman comedy, something raised by Fantahm but not pursued. Examples with focus on plays with double choruses, not unknown in Greek tragedy, but a much more frequent feature of comedy. This paper raises the point that comic genres (comedy and satyr drama) were more openly referential to contemporary events and post-Senecan drama can be seen and should be seen as more immediately political. The subsequent history of productions and adaptations of post-Senecan drama confirms the pattern. There are tremendous implications for staging, particularly for productions in modern dress and updated to modern events, which are considered by looking at two possible ways to stage the end of  Euripides’ Cyclops.


Özlem Hemiş, Kadir Has University, Istanbul
“The Historical Encounter of East and West in Aeschylus’ The Persians

Aeschylus’ The Persians tragedy has a different textual strategy than the other Ancient Greek tragedies. Turkish-Greek co-production The Persians, directed by Theodoros Terzopoulos, staged at the historical St. Irene museum (2006) tactfully underlined this difference. In the production, the ‘dionysiac’, on one hand, and another dimension of the elegy format, on the other hand, were apprehended and the common denominator or synthesis between two cultures was attained. The objective of this article is to study Terzopoulos’ interpretation of The Persians from the viewpoint of Taziye which can be qualified originally as a traditional Persian elegy-formatted performance yet it is possible see Taziye performances in Turkey, as well. Taziye, by definition, means ‘condolence, sympathies’ in Turkish, still being used, as a loan word from Persian.


Efthymios Kaltsounas, Tonia Karaoglou, Natalia Minioti and Eleni Papazoglou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
“Imaginings of Antiquity and Ancient Drama Performances in Greece (1975‒1995): Between Ideology and Style”

For the best part of the 20th cent., and despite the ‘continuity’ idea between Αncient, Βyzantine/Folk and Modern ‘Greekness’, the imagining of Antiquity in the context of Ancient drama ‘revival’ (at least as far as ancient tragedy is concerned) remained classicist, recycling, under a Greek garb, ideas that flourished in Europe during the previous century. The National Theatre –which essentially monopolized ancient drama performances until the Metapolitefsi – strongly resisted folklore and byzantine performative codes, claiming its classicist ‘tradition’ as ‘native’, ‘authentic’ and ‘deeply’ Hellenic. At the same time, this was a ‘Greekness’ that aimed at Greece’s ‘Western’ integration. After the junta, Greece faced consecutive challenges: the Metapolitefsi, the entrance to the ECU/EU, its position in the ‘new’ Balkans – challenges that provoked recurring negotiations of a diachronic ‘Greekness’, as the Greek cultural identity oscillated between West and East, between integration and ‘particularity’. During the same period, ancient drama productions proliferate (1975: 10 productions; 1980: 18; 1985: 19; 1995: 25) as open air theatres, summer festivals and touring companies (state/municipal, subsidized, commercial) multiply, putting an end to the ‘hegemony’ of the National Theatre. Performances now address popular audiences too, and the performative codes split between classicism, folklore, modernism and even post-modernism, reflecting broader cultural developments: – To the more elitist spectators, the ‘tradition’ of the National Theatre appears exhausted. Yet attempts to break new ground meet with steadfast resistance. – A markedly outdated classicism, however, is now disseminated to and applauded by wide sections of the public, as it permeates the majority of productions by both state/municipal, subsidized and commercial companies. Such a classicist imagining of Antiquity continues to be cultivated in Education too, achieving the status of a cultural dogma. – At the same time, though, the idea of an anti-‘Western’, more ‘genuine’ and ‘spiritual’ diachronic ‘Greekness’ rooted to ‘our own East’ (kathimas Anatoli), finds its way into ‘alternative’ productions of tragedy, which adopt performative codes based on byzantine and folk culture. Such productions are greeted as ‘legitimately’ innovative. – Finally, during the same period, the solidification of the country’s European profile provokes also ‘cosmopolitan’ performative approaches, which cause uproar.


Athina Kavoulaki, University of Crete, Rethymno
“The challenge of ritual: exploring ritual dynamics in 5th century drama and modern stage productions”

Ritual is integral to ancient Greek drama; it fueled its development and articulated its structure and function. The interpretation of ritual, however, poses serious problems, as it belongs to the structures of traditional societies that are distant from modern realities. The study of ritual in Greek drama is necessary for a better understanding of the plays and their productions and re-productions. In my paper I shall draw attention to an important ritual sequence that recurs in Greek tragic plays and relates to festive ceremonies in Antiquity. I shall use Euripides’ Bacchae as a test case for the exploration of this ritual sequence in a dramatic context and for its contribution to an effective theatrical communication. My approach will touch upon the interaction between private and public and will also include some theoretical (in this case textual and critical) issues. The theoretical discussion will attempt to shed some light on the way in which this ritual sequence tends to be interpreted in some modern stage productions.


Dana LaCourse Munteanu, Ohio State University, Newark, Ohio
“Woody Allen on Aristotle on Greek Tragedy: the ‘Poetics’ Meets Hollywood”

Since the award-winning movie Mighty Aphrodite (1995), it has not escaped critics that Woody Allen can make Sophocles’ Oedipus the King amusing and can have a ‘Greek’ tragic chorus utter advice for modern parents. However, Allen’s engagement with Aristotle’s Poetics has received less attention. In this essay, I examine how Allen pokes fun at the Aristotelian treatise, looking at his early play, entitled God (1975) and, thereafter, at his recent movie Wonder Wheel (2017). The former, God, begins from the premise that, to be whole, a plot must have a “beginning, a middle, and an end,” which strikes us as a rather strange specification in the Poetics (7.1450b27‒28): one of Allen’s main characters, Hepatitis, a writer, is unable to think of a good end for his drama. This one-act comedy contains a parodic feast, lampooning not only several features of Greek classical drama (e.g., messenger scenes, deus ex machina, and the ambiguity of oracular language), but also the history of Western theater, with some of its famous hits and figures (including Brecht and Tennessee Williams). The deeper question remains: can we live without closure in the theater and beyond? The latter, the recent movie, explores among other themes the complex Aristotelian concept of tragic hamartia (Po. 13.1453a10), through a dialogue between an aspiring playwright, Mickey Rubin, and his lover, from a very naïve and misunderstood interpretation of it as “flaw from weakness” to more sophisticated nuances, involving the problem of free will, which still preoccupies contemporary philosophy and neuroscience. First and foremost, Allen’s approach is entertaining for anyone with basic knowledge of drama theory, but parody may help us understand why Aristotle’s ideas about tragedy may be still relevant to 21st century audiences. Spoof does not necessarily lack deeper meaning when the Greek philosopher meets the failed, fictional writers of the Hollywood director.


C. W. Marshall, University of British Columbia
“Performing Tragedy in The Brazen Age”

Thomas Heywood’s five-play cycle on Greek mythology – The Golden Age, The SilverAge, The Brazen Age, The Iron Age parts I and II (1611‒32) – was one of the seventeenth-century’s most ambitious and extended engagements with classical literature, presenting a grand mythological survey from the rise of Zeus to the aftermath of the Trojan War. Aggressively innovative in his adaptation of classical sources, Heywood presented important stories from Greek mythology to London playgoers at a time when English translations of classical literature were not widespread. These plays can therefore be seen alongside Heywood’s translations (Sallust, Ovid, Lucian) and adaptations (Plautus, Apuleius) as part of Heywood’s overall project to popularize classical material. The idea of tragedy is itself ambivalent in Heywood’s Ages. First, though the mythic narratives feature figures familiar form the ancient playwrights, none uses classical tragedy as a primary source. This is surprising not only because of the Athenian and Senecan tragedies were available in this period, but also because the genre was popular on the contemporary stage. At the same time, Heywood can present an individual narrative sequences as “tragedy,” even if the structure of a larger play is episodic: the term suggests a narrative pattern and not only a dramatic genre. Both of these issues will be explored through examples from the central play of the cycle, The Brazen Age (1613). The play details the life and death of Hercules, and draws explicitly on Homer and Ovid, but not Sophocles, Euripides, and Seneca, despite the fact that Act II of The Brazen Age is identified as “The Tragedy of Meleager” and Act III “The Tragedy of Jason and Medea” (as counter-narratives to the Hercules story). Heywood’s engagement with “tragedy” mediates both his relationship with the classical past and his alignment with contemporary dramatic practice, as performed by The Queen’s Servants at the Red Bull Theatre.


Hallie Marshall, Department of Theatre & Film, University of British Columbia
“Ruins and Fragments: The impact of material culture on the plays of Tony Harrison”

Discussion of Tony Harrison’s classical plays tends to focus on the text; both Harrison’s text and the classical texts with which he is engaging. This paper, on the other hand, seeks to explore his engagement not with the literary remains of the ancient world, but rather its physical remains. In 1981 the National Theatre production of Harrison’s version of Aeschylus’ Oresteia was staged at the ancient theatre at Epidauros in 1982 (the first English language production to be staged there). The classical plays that followed—both those that were staged (such as The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, The Labourers of Herakles, and The Kaisers of Carnuntum), as well as film/poems such as The Gaze of the Gorgon—became rooted in place and the physical remains of antiquity in a way that his earlier classical plays (The Oresteia and Aikin Mata had not been). In The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Harrison builds his play not just on the text of Sophocles’ Ichneutae, but the historical narrative of its excavation, the physical reality of the tattered papyrus, and, in its first performance, the physical and archaeological landscape of Delphi. The Labourers of Herakles and The Kaisers Carnuntum are similarly rooted in the physical ruins of the ancient world and their reception and recreation in the modern world. The Gaze of the Gorgon is likewise rooted the excavated remains of antiquity, both the narrative of excavation and the reshaping of antiquity in the twentieth century. While these works remain deeply engaged with ancient texts, their engagement with antiquity and its legacy are far broader than that of the earlier classical works. This paper will examine the ways in which selected works by Harrison from The Trackers of Oxyrhnchus onwards engage with the material remains of antiquity, arguing that the physical remains of antiquity increasing exert an influence on par with the literary texts.


Romain Piana, Institut d’Etudes Théâtrales, Sorbonne nouvelle University, Paris
“Greek and Roman drama on French stage in the database Théâtre antique en France”

For about ten years, a team of French scholars in the field of classical reception and theatre studies have gathered together their documentation and launched a research program in order to collect the widest information possible about the staging of ancient drama in France, from the 19th century on, and to release it for the scholar’s community through a database. This paper aims at exposing the method and results of this enquiry, inspired by similar experiences, such as the pioneering Oxford APGRD, the Arc-Net base, or, last but not least, the Antika database of performances of ancient drama in the Czech Republic. The statistical approach of productions should convey a renewed perspective of the great trends of the mise en scène of the classical repertoire on the French stage, including venues of foreign companies which sometimes have an important influence on later domestic productions.


Eliška Poláčková, Czech Academy of Sciences – Masaryk University Brno
“A Glimmer of Hope With Plautus. Frejka’s Pseudolus in the National Theatre, Prague, 1942”

On 15 March 1939, then Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi Germany following the Munich Agreement of September 1938 that saw parts of the Czechoslovak Republic, the Czech Sudetenland, incorporated in the territory of Nazi Germany. The next day, on 16 March 1939, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was established which practically ended the existence of the independent Czechoslovak state, rendering it subject to the Nazi government. In months and years to come, inhabitants of the occupied country experienced all sorts of oppression from the Nazi occupants, including the ban of local political parties, harsh censorship of the press and radio and vast mobilisation for labour, as well as harassment, incarceration and extermination of the Czechoslovak intellectual elites. In the atmosphere of fear and despair, theatres were one of the rare isles of freedom where people could seek relief from the perils of the day and gain hope for change. Jiří Frejka’s production of Plautus’ Pseudolus in 1942 became one of the theatrical events that strongly affected the public consciousness to the effect of becoming legendary even after the end of the protectorate in 1945. The story of a humble slave, who overpowers his master not by force, but by his wits, is recorded to have inspired spectators to question their defeatist stance and adopt a more optimistic and engaged approach to their situation. The paper concerns with the ways these subversive meanings were generated in the reception of the production, and the dramaturgical strategies that enhanced this particular reading of the play.


Cleo Protokhristova, University of Plovdiv, Bulgaria
“Bulgarian stage productions of Medea in the twenty-first century”

Ever since the early decades of the twentieth century, Euripides’s Medea has commanded a traditionally intensive reception in Bulgaria. Theatrical interest in the tragedy, however, has peaked tremendously in the new millennium. It is not only that the number of productions is considerable; the range of interpretations is multilayered as well. It would be relevant to draw attention to the fact that a Bulgarian production of Medea (2006, directed by and starring Diana Dobreva) was staged successfully in a French-language version at the Strasbourg theatre festival in 2010, and at Festival d’Avignon in 2011 where it was granted the best performance award. Currently, a new experimental and highly provocative dramatization of Medea is underway (directed by Desislava Shpatova, starring Snezhina Petrova), which is to be staged in 2019 within the framework of Plovdiv – European Capital of Culture. It is of particular interest as it reflects a re-occurring trend to interpret the tragedy politically. In this version professional actors are on a par with children of diverse ethnic groups (Roma, Turkish, Jewish, Armenian and Bulgarian), university students, as well as trainees in the field of Humanities.


Martin Pšenička, Charles University Prague
“Aesthetics of Uncanny (Unheimliche): Re-Staging of Disasters War in Aeschylus’ Persians

H.-T. Lehmann in the final chapter of his now classical and worn-out Postdramatic Theatre expressed a very crucial idea relevant for the presented paper: “The politics of theatre is a politics of perception” (p. 185 of the English translation). Later on in the same chapter on the political dimension of perception shaped by the world of media which stands behind the “disjointedness between representation and represented, between image and reception of the image” (ibid.), he suggests that the major problem lies in the exclusion of the ‘uncanny’, “which Freud found in the merging of signs and signified” (ibid.). In the presented paper, I intend to discuss an aesthetic strategy employed by Aeschylus in his war drama The Persians in which the ‘uncanny’ explored by Sigmund Freud in his 1919 essay could be perceived as a ruling principle that organizes recipients perception. In other words, The Persians could stand for an artistic attempt by means of which Aeschylus strives to revoke or re-stage the traumas of war not in a noetic level but rather in an experiential, immediate or ontological level through which the reality of war is not only represented but materially manifested as a stage fact – signs merge with signified.


Alena Sarkissian, Czech Academy of Sciences – Charles University Prague
“Greek Tragedy at the National Theatre during the Nazi occupation”

The paper presents the approach of the first scene in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the Prague National Theatre, to the classical drama, esp. tragedy, during the time of Nazi occupation (1939–1945). The role of the ancient tragedy in the dramaturgy of the theatre will be discussed together with the concepts that the directors (Karel Dostal and Aleš Podhorský) conceived and applied in the individual productions. It must have been almost a superhuman task to set up such a demanding repertoire as the ensemble did in the difficult times of harsh political repression to keep the honourable tradition, historical relevance and aesthetic paradigm the Prague National Theatre represented at the time. The dramaturgs handled the situation with surprising skill and dignity. Classical drama and the tragedy, in particular, had had a solid position in the repertoire of the first Czech stage over the preceding decades, and the dramaturgs succeeded in drawing up on this tradition, putting on even such a politically-loaded play as the Antigone is. Its Dostal’s production, however, went beyond the concealed political commentary typical of the time while aligning the most topical questions of the day with those of the original play. The historical analysis of the production suggests that Dostal managed to set the pressing contemporary issues into the ethical and general religious framework of the Sophoclean tragedy in a highly aesthetic way. Another production discussed in the paper, the Ion (staged in 1944), appears to have been equally remarkable choice in relation to the current political situation. Innocent as the play might seem at the first glance with the theme of planning a murder of a ruler, it was chosen to be staged only a year after the killing of Reinhard Heydrich as a poignant, yet unprovable commentary to that political deed. It will be argued that the popularity of the idyllically stylized production was perhaps caused by the ability of the audience to read the political undertone.


Henri Schoenmakers, Universiteit Utrecht & Friedrich Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
“Re-contextualization as dramaturgical strategy”

Ancient Greek dramas were not classical in the time of the first performances. The performances  referred to actual social, moral, political and aesthetic debates or issues. Theatre makers who stage those old texts, are dealing with two contexts: the context of the  performance in the past, and the context of the performance in the present. To bridge the gap between these contexts many theatre scholars and directors project in those ancient dramas what they were able to see and what they want to see: examples of a general human condition. By means of these projection they become happily surprised that so much is recognizable, “eternal” and “classical”. The Network and the Summer course in Epidavros which Platon Mavromoustakos started at the end of the last century had as one of the aims to bring classical philology and theatre studies together in order to exchange expertise. That was necessary, because theatre makers and scholars often did not care about philological knowledge, while quite some philologists got upset in the theatre when not every word of the famous tragedians was pronounced. The most important information classical philologists can provide for theatre makers is which contextual and intertextual elements the intentions and experiences of the historical theatre makers and spectators could have influenced. Such results make theatre makers nowadays aware which elements from the historical performance would not work anymore nowadays. This may encourage them to think about creative solutions to compensate for the missing meanings and effects of the past. That process is what we have called re-contextualization, which in fact means finding new anchors and anchor soil in the present day context of the spectators. After the second world war,  theatre makers staging classical texts are often aware that the audience that will watch their performances are not ancient Greeks, and are not familiar with the many Gods and their deeds, neither with the genealogies of the famous heroes and families. Since dramaturgs got an important role in the theatre system, and voluminous program books accompanied often a performance, program books in which the background of the world of a play was explained in the hope to restore parts of the context for their audience. A quite different approach is followed by those theatre makers who restore, replace or compensate parts of the missing contextual knowledge of their spectators by theatrical means. Some examples of this practice will be given; first two film adaptations, one of Cacoyannis (Euripides Electra -1961) and one of Pasolini (Medea -1969). Also the theatre adaptation of Medea by Tom Lanoy Mamma Medea (2002) uses this strategy of recontextualization. Some more examples will be selected to show how theatre makers use this dramaturgical strategy of re-contextualization in performances and films of ancient drama in order to illuminate the wide variety of such a dramaturgical technique.


Peter Swallow, King’s College, London
“Aristophanes in the Phrontisterion: Staging Old Comedy in Oxford and Cambridge 1883‒1914”

University productions of Old Comedy around the close of the nineteenth century were one of the most significant sites of Aristophanic reception in performance in Britain. Between 1883 and 1914, Cambridge produced four Aristophanes plays; Birds in 1883 and 1903, and Wasps in 1897 and 1909. Oxford meanwhile produced Frogs in 1892 and 1909, Knights in 1897, Clouds in 1905 and Acharnians in 1914. A contest developed in these productions between modes of performance. Whilst some productions, particularly at Oxford, adopted a burlesquing performance style influenced by popular theatre traditions to differentiate the performance of Aristophanes from the performance of tragedy, the majority of these productions took a more archaeological, didactic approach which I refer to as archaeologising. By ‘archaeologising’ I mean the practice of appealing to classical archaeology, aestheticism and materialism without any specific scientific attempt at accuracy. Archaeologised performances strive to appear legitimate but often reflect late nineteenth-century perceptions of Greek life and dramatic techniques rather than the reality. Both the humour and the politics of Aristophanes, so central to our modern conception of Old Comedy, are suppressed in favour of a sanitised ideal. This paper will try to account for this performance mode in the staging of Old Comedy on the late- nineteenth and early-twentieth century university stage.


Martina Treu, Università IULM, Milan, and CRIMTA (Centro Interdipartimentale Multimediale Teatro Antico), Università di Pavia
“Aeschylus’s heritage: Greek tragedy in Sicily”

In Sicily, Aeschylus spent his last days after he staged his Oresteia, and celebrated the birth of a brand new town, upon invitation by the tyrant of Siracusa: the same town, since 1914, has been hosting a famous festival of classical productions. Not by chance, Agamemnon (1914) re-opened the Greek theatre, andmy research will show how Oresteia was (and is) frequently chosen in order to celebrate the-foundation (or rebirth) of a community, all over Sicily. My first case study is the trilogy Orestea di Gibellina by the Sicilian artist and playwright Emilio Isgrò (Barcellona di Sicilia, 1937) whose complete theatre (including a Medea, 2002 and Odissea Cancellata, 2003) was recently republished with a selection of critical essays (E. Isgrò, L’Orestea di Gibellina e gli altri testi per il teatro, edited by M. Treu, Firenze, Le Lettere, 2011). In his work, Sicily appears as a crossroad and a melting pot of cultures and languages, and Greek heritage is still vibrant, and strong. Moreover, Isgrò’s example is followed by other artists who adapt and stage Greek tragedies (such as Aeschylus’s Suppliant Women) in order to reflect dramatic events, such as the mass movements which inundate and submerge Sicily. While tragedies are staged in theatres, the nearby coasts give shelter to thousands of people landing from the sea. Symbolically, the modern day ‘Odyssey’ of the refugees inspires not only productions in ancient Greek theatres, such as Tindari and Siracusa (Seven Against Thebes, 2017), but also performances and lectures held in the past years on the International Refugee day in Siracusa, near the ancient theatre, in the Latomie caves, where so many Athenian prisoners died in the fifth century B.C.


Dmitrij Trubočkin, Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS), Moscow
“Ancient Drama and the Russian Psychological Theatre”

In the Russian theatre of XX century (that is, in the period when it was deeply rooted in the tradition of psychologism) ancient drama was not often performed, nor was there any regular work done in Russian theatre schools about physical masks or choruses. In speech training ancient texts were used; but even in this sphere theatre teachers preferred to use epos rather than drama in order to train the ‘long breath’ and the feeling of rhythm. Therefore any new performance of ancient drama in the Russian theatre of XXI century remains a challenge. In the lecture a few problems will be raised concerning the work on the character and the chorus in most recent performances of ancient drama in Russia and, in more general sense, the artistic trends that lead directors from the tradition of psychologism to ancient conventionalism.