A Wake for the Trojan Women
On ANZAC DAY 1983 165 women were arrested
in Sydney having marched under the banner of
women against rape in war.
It was a collective group called Sydney Women Against Rape Collective. It was formed in the early 1980s in memory of women, all women, who were raped in wars. What began in Canberra in the late 1970s reached its height of protest in the early 1980s. After the 1984 ANZAC DAY protest march in Canberra, Victorian RSL President Bruce Ruxton claimed, “If one looked at them, I wonder how rape would be possible.” Some male commentators suggested the women should be pitied because they were not "endowed with any sexual attraction whatsoever."
So while this alone would be a fascinating subject for a play, at a deeper level it gives rise to our cultural denial regarding war, female sexuality, male and female misogamy, rape as a war crime and the shadow of reductionism surrounding virginity as a commodity. And we must see this in light of Australian and twenty-first century postmodern and traditional cultures. Who or what are the gods of our social construction of reality? How can they be revealed? Is this the prerogative of art and theatre? How is this related to education and contemporary entertainment vehicles such as popular music and theatre as presented by young people?
So how to proceed in order to develop our production of "The Trojan Women"?
Euripides wrote "The Trojan Women" for its first performance in 415 BC. It has had at least fifteen major productions (including film versions) of it over the last hundred or so years. I am currently working on a production with DTC in Canberra as a theatre cinema hybrid involving cinematic and live performances. In many respects, it is a Wake. Not the most fun of events ... though strangely an ironic celebration of lives lost; revering the ghosts of often heroic figures who were dehumanised, raped, murdered and forgotten. And it is a necessary event.
As Meryl Streep commented when asked what was her role as an actor, she responded with:
"I am the voice of dead people. So I'm the interpreter of lost songs ..." Naturally an audience will ask: "But what's in it for me?"
So if we are giving voice to dead people who suffered and were forgotten, can this relate to contemporary sensibilities and experience? If it can't, then chances are the play will only serve to enhance the prejudices of a coterie of "theatre snobs" who care little for the content but all for the recognition of themselves as being somehow above those plebs who simply wouldn't understand! The fallacy of "high art" being only appreciated by those in the "know" should not be a justification for presentation of a work that needs to touch the hearts and souls of those living in today's world. This isn't Disney and it's not designed with an M rating for five-year-old spectators. But it needs to excite the imagination while allowing each audience member their own doorway into the universe it creates and activates.
THE TRANSFORMATIONAL EFFECT OF A WAKE
If you have attended a good Wake after the death of a relative or friend, you will know how the sadness and uncontrollable feeling of loss is somehow transformed into a new recognition of loved ones, friends and new relationships. The transformation of extreme emotions through sometimes wailing or crying or howling or simply drinking oneself into a stupa at the bar paid for by the close relatives of the deceased; those conversations about the one who passed and the choices of music that permeate through the space ... are they all somewhat surreal and yet transformative! The arguments that are inevitable and the illicit
emotions that stimulate forbidden relationships somehow transform and lead to those emotional infections that may have lasting consequences. Sometimes for better or worse!
But the Wake is a real event unlike a Rave party or an after-party following a show: such parties might celebrate death but without the real sacrifice that has occurred to initiate the Wake. So with this in mind, I see the development of Euripides' most significant play in light of contemporary sacrifice, death and celebration giving way to renewal: a WAKE!
BILLIE EILISH, AND CONTEMPORARY RECONSTRUCTION
Developing such an event will call for a reconstruction of the original "Trojan Women" text. If we seek a contemporary tragic feeling, nothing is more relevant than the music of Billie Eilish. Her voice, music and intonations create, what Arthur Miller called the "tragic feeling"; though I doubt Eilish would have ever heard of such an expression ... and certainly not related to her music! She evokes a sense of tragedy and loss in almost everything she does and this is what makes her so powerful and appealing; the appeal is to the youth who sense a feeling of disconnection or ennui. The appeal of the bad guy with the female voice saying "bruises on both my knees for you" is part of the ironic and dialectical relationship between desire and danger that is part of the Eilish deep knowledge that defies current agendas and descriptions. The tragedy isn't the event; rather it is the inevitable!
The difference with Euripides is that no female character has any real choice. Twenty-first century Narcissism and Euripides might seem to collide, yet they link with sounds and sentiments that can travel through time into ancient sensibilities. If in our production, we can find a way to forge this link, we can make a difference. Eilish's music is essentially different from almost everything around it; yet it touches the hearts of so many. Why? I can't answer that, but it is something real and substantial ... even if time proves it to be fleeting ...
I would like to hear some of Eilish's music in the production; however I feel that copywrite restrictions would apply and prevent it. This said, there is a young composer who is attempting to reproduce something of the tragic feeling contained in Eilish's music. I am confident we can thus produce a contemporary sensibility within the work that will reach audiences.
The point is that Eilish is a real inspiration. The music forces us to recontextualise Euripides and the translations of his work.
THEATRE OF RITUAL AND EVALUATION
While very influenced by the work of Bertolt Brecht, our work must elevate the human spirit while recognising the darker and more insidious elements that all of us have to cope and grapple with. People might say our production focuses on too much darkness. Yet within every social contract and social construction, there is light and shade.
Critics of this notion should look to the Catholic Mass! The elevation of a man beaten and ritualistically slaughtered under Roman rule and then forced to re-enact this deadly slaughter with a suggested rising from this moment is the very basis of Christian and Christian educational premises and ritual. This ritual is repeated hundreds of thousands of times every day throughout the world.
To somehow then suggest it is wrong or misplaced that our focus on such a dark element in human history and psyche as revealed by Euripides with "The Trojan Women" and then enacted by young people is somehow uncalled for or even wrong is absurd and suggests a neurosis on the part of the people making the criticism. This is what needs treatment. Fundamental to theatrical and artistic expression is the notion of going deeper into truth and deeper into the reality of culture and history. Only by this can art and theatre have any real effect on our cultural and social activity.
Yet we must acknowledge that there are those amongst our families and social acquaintances who would suggest that people considering the inherent attitudes to rape in war and even in social situations is somehow off-limits for revealing through artistic presentation. There are those who would propose that all art should serve in Vespasian's Colosseum; it should provide distraction and spectacle that takes away human empathy and replaces it with thrills and base instincts; a kind of cultural pornography without the sex!
GROTOWSKI AND THEATRE OF RITUAL
Grotowski's poor theatre serves as an inspiration and starting point in achieving our aims. To bring historical and distant themes close to the audiences experience, we are trying to bring the actor and the audience into a very close proximity. The time period of our work is NOW! The moment of its creation is the setting and the theme. NOW! By changing the actor/ audience dynamic alone, we provide not only context but also content. Just imagine for a moment what the actor is going through when the audience is up in their face and critically examining what might be going through the headspace of the actor?
Even the use of cinematic techniques will not diminish this intimacy. All our pre-filming of scenes will be echoed and resonated through heightened performance on the stage. By integrating professional actors and tertiary trained students of performance, the humanities and arts along side college aged student performers, our work will seek to enhance the creative openness of youth with studied and challenging perceptions. All of this will be encased within the recognizable rituals of a Wake, of a recording studio and of playing on an Australian beach ...
While COVID19 casts its own sense of death and anxiety over the very notion of performance and entertainment, we are all thrown into the chaos of ancient gods: COVID19 being a god of itself; governments being the lesser gods and servants of the prime god; the Media being creators of themselves as gods of fakery and illusion; the statistician being the god of all knowledge; and the climate being the dual god of destruction and favour ... and there are many more that the Greeks might have created and embraced. The actor is then the conduit through which the gods speak. As in the Japanese NOH, the actor is more than a presenter. Rather the actor is the mouthpiece of the gods and all they represent. In Grotowski's paradigm, the actor is an offering of the body and spirit for the very well-being of the audience. This is achieved through rigorous rituals of self-effacement and body/mind discipline.
AND NOW FROM HERE
To become the voice of dead people and to accurately evoke a sense of deep awareness for, not only the real Trojan Women, but also for all the victims if insidious attitudes leading to crimes against humanity in war, our production must first sink into the deep knowledge and spirit of the very notion of ethical guidance. This is not a semantic game. The straitjacket of ego and vanity is secured tightly for all of us. The blindfold of our cultural inheritance is well fastened. It was with this awareness that Euripides wrote works that irritated and defied the society that spawned him and his creations. Yet buried within the semantics of the texts can be found both the seeds and remains of understanding and actions that can be discovered in anthropological excavations.
And this is where we are ... This is our task ...
"The Trojan Women" adapted from "The Trojan Women" by Euripides, directed by
Joe Woodward will be presented by DTC in The Old Chapel Studio, Daramalan, 23 - 30 April 2022.
3 January 2022
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