Dr. Christine Plastow (Open University) reports on the latest phase of a new project from By Jove Theatre Company.
From 22nd-26th July 2019, By Jove Theatre Company held a week of research and development work partially funded by the ICS Public Engagement small grant scheme. The research and development was towards the company’s ongoing interest in producing a new piece of theatre exploring queer interpretations of the myth of Orestes, and culminated in two work-in progress showings.
The R&D sessions were held at Centre 151 in Hoxton, London. The sessions were attended by members of By Jove including actors, movement practitioners, writers, dramaturgs, directors, and stage managers, and also by our external collaborators, academic Nancy Rabinowitz and musicians Vivienne Youel, Gemma Storr and Sam Blenkin. The ICS funding contributed to paying all of the creatives for their time.
Prior to the week’s work, the company had produced a pack of text with which to work, curated by head writer Wendy Haines. On the first day’s session, the company explored the story of the myth of Orestes, working with the narrative of the myth itself, improvised storytelling exercises, and boiling down the texts we had produced to the most crucial scenes for telling the story. On the second day, the company began working with movement, led by movement director Susanna Dye. The musicians also arrived and began to respond to the work we were creating. Two scenes were strung together to form a short narrative. On the third day, we continued movement work and staged further scenes, identifying a structure for our piece built around three sections, each focusing on Orestes and Pylades, Iphigenia, and Electra. We also identified necessary props and costume pieces. On the fourth day, we constructed and worked on the central narrative of the show; we also sourced necessary props and costumes. On the morning of the fifth and final day, we finalised a few aspects and ran through the entire piece.
The piece that we produced was about 45 minutes long, and blended movement, music, and text to explore the lives of Orestes, Pylades, Electra, and Iphigenia in the aftermath of the trauma they all endured – the ‘sacrifice’ of Iphigenia, the murders of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, and Orestes’ encounters with the Furies. The piece made it explicit that Orestes and Pylades were in a romantic relationship, and also portrayed queer aspects of Iphigenia’s relationship to the goddess Artemis, as well as exploring the queering of family dynamics more broadly. The narrative was designed to occupy the spaces in between the Greek tragedies that depict the myth of Orestes, exploring the more everyday, human moments that the characters go through between the heightened, tragic events of their major myths. At the end of the piece, the characters reflected explicitly on their use in later history, arguing for the importance of (re-)inserting queer characters into Greek mythology in order to foreground a shared history and genealogy of queerness.
In the afternoon of the fifth day, we hosted two sharings of the work we had produced. These sharings were very successful and well-attended, with around 40 audience members attending across the two shows, including representatives from academia, theatre, the press, and the LGBT+ community, as well as friends and supporters of the company. Both sharings were followed by Q&A/feedback sessions, during which we received comments from the audiences on the successes of our piece and areas which we could develop further or improve. This was extremely valuable for working out where we want to take the project next. Moving forward, we intend to develop a full-length production on the back of this work, as well as producing a piece of collaborative academic writing between Christine Plastow, David Bullen, and Nancy Rabinowitz on the process of working in the rehearsal room as academics and the value of theatre for public engagement in Classics.
by Christine Plastow
Image credits Christine Plastow
You can find out more about By Jove Theatre Company’s work via their website or by following them on Twitter @ByJoveTheatre.