Persians by Aeschylus is the earliest known extant play in the European cannon. A deeply mysterious play written in a time when theater as we know it was still being born, about a hubris riddled civilization that was being destroyed by the culture which created the play.
After the success of both the Getty Villa and touring versions of SITI Company’s Trojan Woman (After Euripides), the Getty Villa was keenly interested in having the company back to Malibu to create and present another classical work in the late summer of 2014. So in the spring of 2013 members of the company were invited to spend two weeks at the Villa reading plays, discussing them with the villa’s cadre of curators and classical scholars with the intention of choosing a play. There were also three evenings where the public was invited into this process and heard readings of the plays. The plays under close consideration were The Bacchae, Ion and The Persians.
Read SITI Company member blog entries from the Getty Villa!
- It is the earliest extant “play” in the European cannon.
- It contains within it the “problem”/challenge of a chorus and how to put one on stage in the 21st Century.
- It deals with the relevant themes of war and it’s consequences on communities.
The three days of Creative Lab for our Persians project was enormously helpful to me as I hope that it was for you. I had been studying the play and investigating Persian culture and the play’s journey through time and its production history, as well as the phenomenon of Greek chorus. The research did help a great deal but it was really during our discussions and our composition/viewpoints sessions that I began to truly envision the world of our production. I came away from the three days with a far better understanding about how to launch our rehearsals and how to think about the design. …allow me to share here some of my reflections based upon our time together:
I learned that rather than starting by introducing a strange, bizarre unrecognizable culture, we should begin with a very simple, recognizable and yet graceful and stylish palate. In this way the audience can “read” into the play more easily. We, the audience, meet three women in long gowns and seven men in pants and elegant, perhaps open-necked shirts. Barefoot. The one bit of design extremity may be that the trains of the gowns are extra long. Perhaps matched by some long fabric hanging from the balcony of the Getty Museum.
I do not imagine that we “play-act” the events and actions of the play, especially not in the beginning. What is enacted is a series of group rituals inspired by music. We will create the group choreography separate from the text. How the choreography links up with the spoken text is co-incidental.
At least for as long as we can, I imagine that we embrace a division between the “reading” area (downstage) and the enacted/embodied area (upstage). Reading does not necessarily mean that we read from a book, but the text in English is spoken in its actual order, directed to the audience, linking the listeners to the logic and imagery of the text, from a downstage position. We do not embody the imagery and story directly, only co-incidentally. Our responsibility in the “reading” is to make the story and the text as comprehensible as humanly possible, as clear and as exact as we can.
I imagine that we will explore choral speaking, duets, trios and singular speaking. Upstage the vocal sound is not in English, at least in the beginning, as long as we can manage; abstract sounds, ancient languages, guttural and percussive.
There is probably a third stage where the “reading” and the embodied ritual converge. This can only be discovered in rehearsal.
I look forward to our shared adventure, I am enthusiastic that we can find a way for contemporary audiences to access the lessons and pleasures found in the play…
The next step for the development of Persians was the composition work by the participants of the 2014 Summer intensive in Saratoga this June.
SITI Company is currently in LA. The Show is in previews. You can view cast member journal postings at siti.org/blog