The moments of “Antigonick”
Antigonick, directed by Ianthe Demos, the artistic director of One Year Lease, is poet Anne Carson’s translation of Sophocles’ classic tragedy. Demos is currently in residency as this year’s Visiting Director, a program sponsored by both the Office for the Arts and American Repertory Theater. I spoke with David Manella ’14, one of the producers of Antigonick, as well as Demos, about their thoughts on the rehearsal process, production intentions and audience takeaway.
On the new translation:
Anne Carson’s version is a translation, not an adaptation. She does remain very true to the original text in so many ways, although it is severely cut down. She hasn’t adapted any of the storyline. The chorus is even the same, but she has paraphrased it at times and greatly shortened it. I think what’s so interesting for me about her is that she is both telling us the story of Antigone and commenting on it from a modern perspective. One of the notions that the script, for me, revolves around is this idea of a “nick of time.” Potentially, do we have the chance to change these events in a single moment? I think Carson says we do, although at the same time, it’s pretty adamant that we never would.
Anne Carson is very interested in efficiency of language. The language used is very different and self-referential. It has a more contemporary and poetic tone. It is much more sparse: Carson will take a single passage of Sophocles’ text and convert it to a word. Carson is interested in themes of familial and societal decay and destruction. She shows this by adding a literary device in the form of a character called Nick. Nick is onstage the entire time measuring the action of the play. She is discovering those points of time when a character makes a decision or goes down a path that then becomes irreversible towards the destruction we see at the end of the play. In Carson’s version, the audience is cast in the role of Nick.
On the rehearsal process:
It’s a very open rehearsal room, but it’s also geared towards the final product. It’s an interesting mix of keeping the room open to new ideas, and also picking and choosing through those ideas. There’s a selection process that’s happening as the ideas flow into the room. The focus gets sharper as we keep going because we start speaking the same language. I knew I wanted to explore Greek dancing, painting, lacrosse and sports. It is a very open process in the beginning couple of weeks. We have a sense of the ideas we want to explore, but where they’ll take us is unknown.
Ianthe comes from a background of very experimental and movement-based work. She does not believe in coming into the rehearsal room on the first day with this single-vision for staging in mind, and then impose that on the cast. Her method of staging is not only to bring her own thoughts of the piece, but also use the actors and their unique tones and abilities to craft a new understanding of the piece to then revise the staging as the cast and crew’s understanding of the text develops. They use a lot of movement-based exercises in the beginning to develop a stylistic tone for each of their characters. They spent a lot of time in the rehearsal room just discussing the text and to develop their own meaning of it. I think it’s been a really special process for the cast to do something entirely new than what is normally done by Harvard student directors, and I think it just brought to them a new perspective on the rehearsal process. It can be much more dynamic than just learning staging from a single scene.
On audience reception:
I hope audiences will see this ancient story as a story throughout time, that we are constantly examining and still examining, and the puzzlement of why we keep returning to Antigone. Carson tries to answer this by saying actions keep happening not in a cyclical fashion, but that the story repeats itself throughout history, and that in itself should be a lesson.
The running time is about 55 minutes. It’s funny to think of that number in contrast to the hours and hours spent in the rehearsal room. The whole cast has been asked to be at every rehearsal so that they’re making decisions together, not just character by character, scene by scene. I hope the audience can see that there are intentions behind the movement and staging.
On the design:
Something that Ianthe was inspired by was this image from the New York Times that shows the destruction in Syria, and we see a bunch of bodies wrapped in white fabric. We can see their faces. That was one of the reasons why we have the white fabric. What is our relationship to the dead? Especially, what is our relationship when we were never familiar with the dead? How we treat the dead is a central question in Antigone. Her desire for a proper burial for her brother is what initiates her entire conflict with Creon. That’s a question from the text that aesthetically we tried to address, and that we think makes this text relevant for the modern day.
Antigonick runs 8 p.m. Thurs. Oct. 31- Sat. Nov. 2 on the Loeb Theater main stage. Tickets are $8 for students, $12 for the public at the Harvard Box Office.