There is something of the divine, its like touching into something of the divine working at the Getty Villa. For an actor at least. And so making an ancient play is an evocation of sorts. The tasks are no longer pouring honey and oil in libation to contact the powers over heaven and earth. Our tasks rather take the form of simpler things, practical, necessary. But they are to evoke the things that have power over our world nonetheless. Our imaginations.
We place security swipe cards over our necks, we pack lunches, we ride along the Pacific to arrive at the gate. We stretch and put our gear in unspoken, quickly decided upon spots in the green room, in the theatre.
Head this morning banging around with Victor’s beats and music. The ancient Greek verse, the opening of Persians, that Shelby taught us, that we’ll begin with, is trying to hang in there too. It sticks then falls off like a bad magnet. I keep going over the sweep of the play, the majesty of it, and it keeps becoming more and more mysterious. I cannot remember facing a more secret document. Looking at the words that have been assembled, this time by Aaron Poochigian, over the centuries to capture something of what Aeschylus created. Shelby takes us deeper into the mystery, and as I suspect we’ll all point out as the weeks unfold, its impossibility. “Fifty percent song and dance” she says shaking her head-and all that is left is conjecture. “Its complexity is beyond comprehension, the rhythms and meter, the spectacle of the thing when it was performed. We just can’t imagine how complex this is…” She shakes her head at the end of the table late in the day. I shiver. From trepidation? From excitement?
From the feeling that sweeps over me that we are trying to touch the divine. The birth of tragedy.
I had what I consider two omens, and I’ll take them as good. One was on the plane coming here while studying. The man next to me asked if I was going to give a lecture. When I explained what we were coming out to do, and showed him the script, he looked at me and said, “I’m Persian”. Then, as he read the names silently, he started to cry. We spoke then, for over an hour, about his journey to leave Iran, the poets killed in the revolution, the loss of these names for his kids. He lives in Raleigh NC now. Software. He spoke too of the wealth still present in Iran, and the squandering, the heedlessness and maniacal inflation, how his friends who stayed are millionaires many times over. How there is such poverty. “Religion has only brought suffering to mankind” he concluded with such ferocity and touched my arm when we deplaned. ‘Good luck’ was all he said.
Later walking on the beach, I saw a pod of dolphins close to shore, in their own time zone, slowly cresting up then dipping down. Everyone held their breath to see where they’d come up next, to trace their trajectory. Even the bronzed ‘I’m comfortable in my bathing suit’ types seemed touched by their magic appearance. So I took that as an omen too.
I don’t have a group of elders to consult what these mean. Atossa, the Queen I’m playing, (though her name is never evoked) can consult the elders that Xerxes her son has appointed to take care of the kingdom in his absence. She sees an eagle intercepted by a falcon, then she has a dream so vivid that in the retelling it’s as if she is possessed. I envy her recall. Its astonishing poetry, and so modern-telling her tribe, her shrink, her dream.
So yesterday was Day 2. We trained and I led, trying to play with the template of our training in new ways, experimenting with structures. The world we have to create needs to be of such extremity, and whatever you think you know about acting has to be reexamined it feels to me.
And we worked on the music compositions that Victor (Zupanc) is teaching us. Costumes were presented, fittings for the women. Out in the hot sun I pulled a 50-foot muslin train around to see if its rig would work. The museum was closed and these special days allow for that kind of interaction with the space-though there was a crane over the Ranch House and we couldn’t work on stage. Safety here at the Getty, no small subject… Shelby, as noted before, started to teach the ancient text.
And finally we had a photo call, dressed in black, made up, on the grounds with the fantastic photographer from Trojan Women. We got in the pool, now empty because of the drought in California, and sunglasses on, lounged, and walked with attitude. I doubt those will be usable, but I sure wish we could get a few copies for the office. My god. The best were posed in on the terraces, elegant. So otherworldly, looking like we are comfortable there, of the place itself. We aren’t yet.
But in those spaces, with his skill, and the team to support the shoot, and us all in black on a sparkling evening above the ocean, there was something of the divine. And I thought, how remarkable everyday here is working at the Getty. The eye rests on such beauty, all of it evoking the past, telling stories. As the days pass you become part of it. Like the fig trees and mosaics-another stone or tree to evoke the need for humankind to make artifacts of beauty, and meaning, and reach to touch something of the divine.