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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ancient Greek Theater Is Alive And Well: A Dramaturg's Perspective

Second year graduate student (and Costume Assistant extraordinaire!), Lexa Grace has been hard at work over the summer preparing for her role as a dramaturg for ELECTRA. As she traveled through Greece she studied first hand the art and culture of ancient Greece! Lexa was kind enough to share her journey with us and how she has discovered the timeless universality in Greek tragedy. Check out Lexa's blog and learn more about Sophocles' ELECTRA which opens tonight at Villanova Theatre!

I found out I had been selected as the dramaturg for Frank McGuinness adaptation of Sophocles Electra back in May. I was eating dinner with one of my non-theater friends, when the email appeared on my phone. I squealed with excitement as I scrolled through the message.

Im going to be the dramaturg for Electra I told my friend.

Whats that? he responded, having never heard the term before. 

Its the person who does all the research for a production, I explained. I then gave him a laundry list of things a dramaturg does including, providing the cast and crew with relevant historical research, writing program notes, organizing speakers night, creating a visual file, and so on.

So, what do you do? he asked again, after my spiel. I looked at him, dumbfounded. Hadnt I just gone through all of the duties of a dramaturg for him?
I mean, what do you research? he asked. You keep talking about all these things you will do with your research, but what are you actually researching?
I froze with a piece of sushi halfway to my mouth, pondering this very simple, yet incredibly large, question. 

Greek Theatre? I suggested after a moment. Sophocles Frank McGuinness, mythology…” While I was correct in assuming I would touch on all of these subjects, I had no idea how deeply I would fall in love with all of these source materials, nor how much the research I would provide would affect the production.
One of the first areas of research I began to look into was the mythology surrounding Electra and her family. The stories ooze out of the ancient Greek tradition of oral story telling. While at first glance the story might appear to be an ancient relic, full of Greek gods and heroes whose names are barely recognizable; the more I read about Electra and her family, the more I felt as if I was reading a Game of Thrones spinoff novel. The myths of Electras family are full of brutal bloody murders, passionate love affairs, unbearable grief, and incredible joy. These themes and paradoxes are the backbone of all ancient Greek drama and the very ingredients that make these plays still relevant and entertaining in the 21st century.

After learning about the legend of Electras family, I began to research how Sophocles version of Electra would have been performed in ancient Greece. I found that while the themes present in ancient Greek drama remain universal, performance styles have varied greatly over the past several years. Ancient Greek performances were full of spectacle. The plays were traditionally presented during City Dionysia, a six day festival in March, usually right after a sacrifice to the gods was made. Choral songs and dances were interwoven into the plays and represented a huge aspect of ancient Greek theater. My favorite aspect of the Electra process has been getting to see how my research on this ancient form of spectacle has entered into and been interpreted by the design team. Our director, Father David, has done an excellent job of interpreting ancient Greek traditions and mythologies in a way that greatly benefits our production.

As we get closer to opening, I can see the importance of Electra’s mythology and the traditions of ancient Greek theater has on the play. The performance does not demand that the audience have an intense understanding of Greek mythology or theater, nor does it attempt to imitate the ancient Greek tradition. However, the actors have used the research I have provided to inform their performances in a dynamic way that transcends the specificity of a traditional ancient Greek drama. It has been an absolute joy to watch the cast and crew create a performance that uses the traditions and legacy of the play, without making it feel like a history drama. I am incredibly excited for the actors to perform their work and show our audiences how exciting and universal these ancient stories still are.

Villanova Theatre's production of ELECTRA runs September 20-October 2nd. Get your tickets at or give us a call at 610-519-7474.

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