“In Athens when the world was younger,
Harmony with the flaxen hair was born…”
It seems a very long time ago that I attended the auditions for this production back in dark and dank December. The two preparatory workshops were arduous yet fun; a crash course in the dynamics of the Ancient Greek chorus.
Unlike the all singing all dancing ensembles that make up modern chorus lines more familiar to a contemporary stage, the ancient Athenian Chorus embodies the moral compass of the plays, a unified voice that both observes and challenges the actions of the protagonist. In this instance, Medea, the iconic woman scorned who enacts a revenge more terrible than any other; the fierce intellect who had irrevocably betrayed her home for the love of Jason, and then when he at last abandons her for a more profitable match, utterly destroys her remaining family for the hate of Jason. Medea reclaims the power that is taken from her in the only avenue that is available to her.
I am immeasurably pleased to be a part of this production. I have been fascinated by the legend of Medea ever since studying the Greek Classics at uni. I always felt that, although undoubtedly guilty of a horrendous act, the character behaves in the only way she can. She is the tragic hero who is manipulated by the gods to further their agenda, then forgotten about when she has served her purpose and left to rot. Although she is by far the most intelligent, skilful and determined of all her peers, she is rendered powerless by virtue of her gender. I think the play, although over two thousand years old, is still highly relevant to today’s audience as it explores themes of gender disparity and discrimination, plus the effects that total alienation can have on a proud person.
Anyway, I’ll try and stop gushing about the play or this entry will run into the thousands of words instead of hundreds.
“If daylight breaks and finds you here,
The Chorus was initially written for fifteen male actors; we began with ten women, falling to eight within the first month. Luckily our numbers have remained the same since the initial streamlining and overall attendance has been good. Life commitments means that not everybody has been available to attend each rehearsal and that can complicate matters and slow things down somewhat. In the circumstances, I’m impressed by how much we have achieved and how little grumbles have occurred.
It is a very physically demanding role; extended periods of stretching and holding tension in your body at a slightly different angle than you’re used to, long periods of attentive stillness, being present throughout the two acts. We always start with vigorous physical and vocal warm ups, sharing the lead in the horizontal way that we have worked together from the outset. To be fair, we sometimes skimp on these vital warm ups and so it’s hardly surprising that often we are aching all over. A bug bear of mine though is the tendency to stop after warm ups and spend five or ten mins discussing the format of that session’s rehearsal. Grrrr!
To be a part of the Chorus is to be as a head on the Hydra. We are all individuals yet also part of a unified whole. This aspect is one of the more challenging parts of the role, how to portray a cohesive chorus whilst not succumbing to a monotonous recital of endless dialogue? As amazing as it would be if we were truly speaking with one voice throughout, practically this would require a level of intense rehearsal that is impossible to achieve at a non-professional level. Hopefully we have struck a good balance between unity and uniqueness, passivity and activity, reportage and opinion.
“The one who gave life should be the one to take it.
That is only right…”
Overall, the process of rehearsing Medea has been immensely enjoyable. As a group we all seem to have bonded well, there are no unchecked egos and no fall outs over artistic differences. Considering that we have all committed five months of our lives to this production, and often had to rehearse in freezing conditions, the camaraderie and support has been refreshing. I think that the culture of Burjesta promotes this; Julian is always open to hearing our point of view and, even if it’s wrong for the scene, never belittles an idea or otherwise elevates his own.
Personally, I would prefer a bit more strictness, but that’s just me and my penchant for rules. It’s probable that the relaxed working atmosphere has contributed more to our efficiency when trying out new ideas. At first, when we were given a scene to dramatise, we would spend half the time chatting about it, the other half perfecting the first stanza or two, and the 30 seconds before performing it, agreeing to collectively wing it for the final lines. Luckily now we’ve reversed that trend and now produce workable ideas about fifty percent of the time, (as opposed to a tight dozen lines followed by some intense shuffling!)