Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
When approaching Antigone, I found myself becoming initially overwhelmed with the enormity of the play, both in the scope of the themes and in the tradition the play carries. As one of the most classic texts in the canon, Antigone presents a special challenge to theatre artists, calling them back to the roots of what drama really is. More importantly, the text speaks to audiences today because of the universal nature of the structure and the myth of the content. So when I began dissecting the Sophoclean text, I found myself tackling big ideas and making rash statements about what a modern production should say to the world. It was only in dialing back the range of emotions and examining the shape of the action that I finally found the heart of this play: family.
What we have in Antigone is a family drama. The royal house of Thebes confronts more than just the dialectic of the individual versus the state or of government versus morality. The family that is at the core of the play suffers because of choices that those related to them have made, tracing back to Oedipus and Jocasta. Antigone’s struggle centers on honoring her family, regardless of the choices they have made. Creon holds people accountable for their choices, making no exception for his family because of his desire to maintain civic order. At its core, the message of Antigone is personal, the characters real and reflections of ourselves. We are the result of those who came before us.
This play raises questions of loyalty versus justice. When are they the same? When are they incompatible? These were the questions I brought to the table at our first rehearsal. In discussions with the cast, we have begun to unwind how far these characters are willing to go for their family and how personal relationships color our view of justice. It has been humbling and deeply revealing and frightening. When we begin to look into ourselves, the mythic doesn’t seems so big and the larger-than-life characters seem more human.
The danger with Antigone is calling out any one of these people as the protagonist or the antagonist. The conflict at the center of the play divides people more than it defines them. Who can say if Creon is the villain or if Antigone is the martyr? Can we say with any definite surety that the world is that black and white? Thebes is a broken city, full of secrets and shame, where the lines between right and wrong get blurry. It is a city where everyone has a choice of how to confront their past, either to live in the decay of the world or to rise above it and act. We all have to bury our dead.
*Antigone will run in Hartke Lab, February 7-9.