Ilium

. . . at the end of the wine-dark sea . . .

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Learning Latin and Greek

Since last week, the actors have improved tremendously. Their singing and articulation during the Latin songs is much better than I expected, and their intonation suddenly changed, and they were in tune—something that was an issue at the end of last week. Their memorization of both their Greek and English lines has improved as well, and they are speaking Greek almost as quickly as English now, even in the newer Act 2.

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At the beginning of Tuesday’s rehearsal, Alyssa had all the actors sit in a circle and discuss how they felt about the Greek speech in Act 2. I found this gathering to be really heartwarming in a way; everyone was so open to suggestions and interpretations that only one person was talking at a time. Silence is difficult to attain in a group this large, and getting everyone to listen to each other is another achievement altogether.

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Overall, it is nice to see the actors in the swing of things and ready to learn the material well. I’m not used to working with students who are so motivated, even in my previous theatre background. I’m impressed by this group and their capability to have fun and get things done at the same time. Although the run-though in Tuesday’s rehearsal wasn’t their best, I think that they will come with refreshed minds after spring break.

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Words and Photos by Jenna Frenzel

Filed under Dionysia Ilium Latin Greek

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The Texts of Ilium

Our adaptation of the Iliad consists of layers of song and story, of chant and lamentation.  Tercets and sonnets tell of children playing near Troy, of soldiers hunkered down on a beach for war.  Narratives chart the experiences of gunning down an enemy in World War II, fleeing Vietnam, grieving for an uncle who dies exiled from Iran, hearing of your father’s death as you sit in a camp in Germany for Bosnian refugees.  Ilium also speaks in Ancient Greek the lamentations of Andromache, Hecuba, and Helen for mighty Hector slain by Achilles.  Finally, Ilium sings a Latin Requiem composed by Alyssa Weathersby.  Our actors memorize poem and story, transfer ancient tongues into the International Phonetic Alphabet, and chant and craft their voices into a choir singing a mass for the dead.

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Filed under Erika Skeele Falvia de Moraes Michi McNahon Jacob Wagner Josh Hundl Erika Skeele Archie Parks Cory Kendrick Michi McMahon Alyssa Weathersby Flavia de Moraes Dionysia Ilium

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The End is Only the Beginning

The focus of this past week’s Ilium rehearsals was to finish the staging of Act 1. Personally, I found this to be both the most amusing and (unfortunately) awkward of situations as we staged parts 7 and 8.

As the scene changes, towards the end of Act 1, coming from different areas of the room, we all watch as the ladies bring out the men from their self-imposed exile and into the center area of the room. This alone is no cause for concern; however, when Jen said to me, “Pull him along with you like a lover, flirting and smiling,” I got a little scared for my ability to act flirtatiously and to keep a straight face during the lines that follow. When we finally got staged to Jen’s satisfaction, we were arranged both around, draping off of, and literally pressed to one or more people.  If I could express in words the positions and expressions that we had by the end of that part of the process, I could do no justice of the true feelings inside us compared to languinity that we showed as we played the gods.

Moving into the final scene of Act 1, we broke out of the guise of gods and instead became the sea and a ship traveling across it. The transition from a being to a piece of an object was a little disconcerting at first.

Coming into Thursday, those who were there participated in a run of the first act in front of Dr. Harvey, who, it turns out, was greatly surprised by the amount of personal work we had put into memorizing our lines and the tongue twisters that are our lines of Ancient Greek.

Of course, there is still much work to do before we are ready to perform for all. I must say that with the positive attitudes and hard work, this Dionysia will be one to remember.  Signing off,

Erika Skeele

 

Photos by Jenna Frenzel

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The brain trust: Alyssa Weathersby (composer, music director), Jen Sommers (director, choreographer), Caitlin Lowe (production manager).
Photo by Jenna Frenzel

The brain trust: Alyssa Weathersby (composer, music director), Jen Sommers (director, choreographer), Caitlin Lowe (production manager).

Photo by Jenna Frenzel

Filed under Dionysia Ilium

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The cast and crew gather at the Harvey/Maya compound for our first day of tablework: Erika Sekele, Flavia de Moraes, Monica Arredondo, Ananya Sen Gupta, Kayla Duggan, Kristen Rodgers, Alyssa Weathersby, Jen Sommers, Caitlin Lowe, Erika Lai, Patrick Mullarkey, John Harvey, Archie Parks, Michi McMahon, Hayder Ali, Phoebe Dantoin, Bita Aminian, Sidonie Sturrock, Josh Hundl, Laura Shreck, Jacob Wagner, Corey Kendrick.

Photo by Jenna Frenzel

The cast and crew gather at the Harvey/Maya compound for our first day of tablework: Erika Sekele, Flavia de Moraes, Monica Arredondo, Ananya Sen Gupta, Kayla Duggan, Kristen Rodgers, Alyssa Weathersby, Jen Sommers, Caitlin Lowe, Erika Lai, Patrick Mullarkey, John Harvey, Archie Parks, Michi McMahon, Hayder Ali, Phoebe Dantoin, Bita Aminian, Sidonie Sturrock, Josh Hundl, Laura Shreck, Jacob Wagner, Corey Kendrick.


Photo by Jenna Frenzel

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Dionysia: Greek Life? By Hayder Ali

The best part of rehearsal is experimentation, and I feel that we certainly did quite a bit of it this week. I was impressed by Director Sommer’s interpretation of Part 4 of Ilium (the soldiers scene). Now the most striking feature of her directorial interpretation of this scene is the division of narration. This underscores what I interpret to be a fundamental message of Ilium - the universality of war; the fact that war touches many lives and evokes many voices. Additionally, the choreography of movement during this scene keeps the action moving and, admittedly, I do find it challenging to speak while at the same time engaged in intense physical action. But the scene works - and it works well; and it is a challenge that I welcome. 

I’m impressed by the progress that we have made so far. But I have to be brutally honest here: learning the Greek is an especially frustrating challenge. It is hard to memorize speech when you don’t understand what you are actually saying; and when you have to struggle with pronunciation. But I do understand and agree that it would be a fantastic addition to the performance of Ilium; it will be ambient and mood-setting; there is something about listening to chants in foreign languages that evokes a sense of wonder and excitement in people. 

Singing, too! What delight! Now I will admit that I am not gifted in this regard, but I do feel myself becoming more and more comfortable with my own voice and, thanks to Alyssa, I can read the music a little better than I initially could (which, by the way, was not at all). We spent part of Monday’s rehearsal vocalizing together, and while it was a simple and steady “oh”, the sound that we produced was incredible - so grand, so regular. 

I’m happy with the progress that we have made in the Dionysia and I think my next goal is this: to quit putting the Greek off and to just roll up my sleeves and confront it. I think that that is my weakest area and it definitely needs to come together more. 

Filed under Dionysia Ilium Greek Life

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An Office For The Dead by Kevin Cook

            “The horrible,” Harvey says, “shouldn’t be hidden.” And as I browse through the 32-page script for Ilium, the 2013 incarnation of the Center for Creative Work’s Dionysia project, there is much that is horrible and little that is hidden. Throughout the text, a collage of contributions regarding the nature and effect of war, children die, fathers and uncles die, a little girl is dropped off in a field ICU by Medevac only to die of a gunshot wound to the head. This is horrible, I think to myself, and it is. Why not hide it? Why embrace the darkest and most troubling aspects of humanity, and not just embrace, but broadcast them, shout them even?

            As the players, mostly fresh-faced undergraduates between the ages of 18 and 21, are gathered to rehearse the script, dig into its brutality – learn to engage it even – I am reminded of the oft-quoted penultimate line from a Robert Burns poem about “man’s inhumanity to man.” The title of that poem is not as often remembered or alluded to as that line. Burns titled it, “Man was made to mourn: A Dirge.” Ilium adapts the Iliad in attempting to converse in a meaningful way about war, and both Ilium and The Iliad are, I realize, dirges. The first line of The Iliad reads, “The wrath sing, goddess, of Peleus’ son, Achilles, that destructive wrath which brought countless woes upon the Achaeans, and sent forth to Hades many valiant souls of heroes, and made them themselves spoil for dogs and every bird.” Why sing of such things? What about war, about death and destruction and horror and ultimate inhumanity, should inspire song?

            We derive the English word “dirge” from the Roman Catholic (also Anglican and Lutheran) Office for the Dead, from the first antiphon in fact, which reads, “Dirige, Domine, Deus meus, in conspectus tuo viam meam,” which translated means, “Direct my way in your sight, O Lord my God.” In the Bible, many Psalms – the quintessential song of the ancient Hebrews – are songs about sorrow, songs about death. Jeremiah’s poetic lamentation of the destruction of Jerusalem, aptly titled Lamentations, is afforded its own book of the Bible. It, in turn, was influenced in style and form by the Mesopotamian “city lament,” of which the oldest and best known is the Lament for Ur. It was written (it is estimated) roughly 2000 years before the birth of Christ. One can browse through literature, poetry, and song back and back and back in time, and there is an indisputable omnipresence to the lamentation, to an examination of sorrow and brokenness – and especially the aftereffects of war – through song. Why? Why do we sing about these things?

            In browsing through the Ilium, poring over its brutal (but in no way gratuitous) descriptions of mayhem and violence, I think back to a man I knew, Aaron. He was in his mid-twenties, and he had done contract work – IT stuff, I think, connecting networks and satellite equipment and such – for organizations contracted by the US Government in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a personable guy, made friends easily, always quick with a joke (or to light up your smoke, as the Billy Joel song goes) and we spent many hours playing poker and drinking merrily at his house before I ever heard him speak about his experiences in the Middle East.

            Then one day, he hooked up his digital camera to his television, and proposed to show us (most of us young, college-aged noncombatants who had never seen a gun or a corpse in person, much less fought a war) what “things were like over there.” He clicked on a video file, one of dozens if not hundreds it looked like, and the screen was filled with grainy footage of desert, a fence visible in the short distance. Aaron was filming as his coworkers laid some sort of cable, and there was casual conversation and joking, and the sun shone brightly, sparkling off of the infinite grains of sand as though each were a tiny jewel. It was a beautiful day.

            Then there was an indescribable noise and the picture went dark for a moment, which Aaron explained to us was him dropping the camera into the sand as he threw himself onto the ground. Suddenly, there was shouting, screaming, wailing, bustling activity, two or three loud pops of gunfire, and Aaron picked the camera back up. It was as though the camera had been transported to a different world altogether.

            I wanted to turn it off. I asked if we could turn it off, but I was hushed by Aaron, who watched, not the television, but us watching the television intently. The camera panned over the scene, and the first thing I noticed was that there was blood. It was not the crisp, bright catsup-red of the “blood” I am accustomed to from Hollywood movies. It was a dark, mottled, brown and not so much liquid as gravy. Some soldier – or contractor in a military-style uniform with a rifle – confusedly lifted a ball, but of course, it wasn’t a ball. It was the head of the man who had just rushed at the group, shouting in Arabic as he triggered a bomb he wore like a vest, filled with hundreds of cruel ball-bearings. It had ripped him to shreds, to literal shreds, which afterward lined the fence, the wall of the building, the sand, and the clothes and skin of almost every man who flashed in front of the camera.  I didn’t cry, nor did my stomach necessarily turn as I would have expected, nor did I have any response I could have expected. I was angry.

            “Why would you show us this?” I asked, furiously.

            “Because this is what’s happening. This is all happening now,” he replied.

            I didn’t get it. Harvey does, and I realize it was this line that had spurred my memory of that scene in the first place.

            “It’s all happening now,” Harvey says to the actors and musicians and writers who are gathered to rehearse the Ilium. That is why The Iliad, a poem first sung nearly 2,900 years ago about an event 400 years prior, is not simply an interesting, archaeological-type curiosity about a long-ago people and their long-ago concerns and affairs.

            “The Iliad,” Harvey says to me later as we discuss the production, “is a poem we’re constantly living.”

            The last time that the United States Congress declared war, “formally” authorized war, was June 5, 1942 against Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Yet we have been more or less constantly at war since: a “cold” war against the Soviet Union, wars against Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan, and Nixon even declared war on drugs, as though he weren’t battling on enough fronts. We are a warlike people, perhaps simply because we can be. The end result is that we, the American people and many others that we welcome within our borders, are touched by war.

            “Always,” Harvey continues, “whatever you bury doesn’t stay buried. We should see the coffins.”

            In Ilium, we will. Nothing is hidden; nothing is buried. Just as Aaron felt driven to show me and my friends, untouched by the sort of bloody and unimaginably violent conflict he had witnessed, Harvey is driven to show the world man’s inhumanity to man, just as the students and other contributing writers were driven to show their stories. Ilium will show everything, I gather, unvarnished and raw.

            And because we can’t hide it, because what is buried never stays buried, we mustn’t hide it. We must sing it – as Homer exhorted the goddess to “sing the wrath” – because it exists, and because in existing, it touches us. And those touched by war, like Aaron, need and deserve to tell their story, just as the rest of us – who may never have seen a man explode or a child shot through the head – need and deserve to hear their stories told.

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Briseis’ story? / Casey Dué Hackney, Professor and Director of Classical Studies at the University of Houston

Briseis’ story?

Because Briseis only speaks ten verses in the Iliad, one might be tempted to think that she is not a traditional character, or to put it another way, that she does not have her own story. Briseis’ role in the Iliad is indeed enormously compressed from the standpoint of both the Iliad as a whole and the entire tradition of the Epic Cycle. In the Iliad she does not even have a name—her name means simply “daughter of Brises.” Yet elsewhere there are hints that her name was Hippodameia, and that she was part of another story—or other stories. It is important to understand that the Iliad is a narrative about the anger of Achilles in the tenth year of the Trojan War. Much earlier as well as much later events are woven into a story that takes place in only a few days’ time. Even though at over 15,000 verses it might take as many as three days to perform, the Iliad is nevertheless a compression of the potentially full extent of epic poetry about Troy—what we might call the ultimate expansion of the Iliad. I suggest that one result of this compression is that the Iliad only gives us a glimpse of the figure of Briseis, whose role in the larger epic tradition must have been much greater.

It seems likely that there were at least two variations on the story of Briseis in antiquity, because of the two-fold pattern she fulfills in the surviving ancient references. In at least one tradition she is very much a young (or at least unmarried) girl, the daughter of King Brises of Pedasos, whom Achilles receives as a prize along with Diomedeia, the daughter of King Phorbas of Lesbos. But according to Iliad 2.688-694, 19.295-296, and elsewhere she was captured by Achilles in the sack of Lyrnessos, and in her lament for Patroklos (Iliad 19.292-302) Briseis says that she was married, and that Achilles killed her husband, who may have been King Mynes. Our Iliad alludes to multiple variations on these two basic themes. 

There are also number of ancient vase paintings that depict Briseis. Here is one that shows her being taken from the tent of Achilles: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Akhilleus_embassy_Louvre_G146_n3.jpg. This event is narrated in book 1 of the Iliad, where the text says, tantalizingly, that she went “unwillingly.” In Iliad 9 Achilles proclaims that he loves her as a man loves his wife, even though he won her in war (ἐκ θυμοῦ φίλεον δουρικτητήν περ ἐοῦσαν 9.343). In Briseis’ lament for Patroklos in Iliad 19 we learn of her hope to become Achilles’ wedded wife in Phthia. And so we see that compressed but not entirely hidden within the Iliad there is also a love story.