BACKSTORY

Learn more about Oedipus Rex by reading the articles below.

Approaching a Classic

Three actors talk about the process of acting in Oedipus Rex

 

Moderated by Sean Hargadon, Producing Director, Janus Theatre

February 10, 2009

 

When talking about classic theatre, we usually think of William Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, or even some of the plays of David Mamet. These playwrights seem familiar and approachable, because we hear about them so often.  But what if we decided to go way back in time, almost 2,500 years, to unlock one of the great classic works: Oedipus Rex by Sophocles? Saying the title of the play and its author correctly is enough to make one shy away. Still, the play has been produced many times since it was first performed during the annual outdoor festival in ancient Greece. It ranks up next to Hamlet as one the great classic plays. But acting in something so old can present challenges to the contemporary actor, so we decided to ask Tony Aiello (Oedipus), Aaron Thomann (Creon) and Lynn Wirth (Jocasta) how they approach a classic like Oedipus Rex.        

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

How has it been working on the play so far?

AIELLO: I think it’s been very interesting. I enjoy working organically and seeing where the moods, music and pace take the rehearsals and characterizations.

THOMANN: As an actor you don’t often get the chance to work on the classics.   I don’t think you really know one until you perform it.  Plays are meant to be performed, there is only so much that can be gleaned from reading.  Not to thumb my nose at simply reading, but to feel it is a whole different experience. 

WIRTH: The entire cast is very talented. I’ve worked with Janus before this, so there’s a trust there that you don’t always have the first time you collaborate artistically with a group. 

 

How do you prepare for a classic role?

WIRTH: I think preparing a classical role is no different than preparing for any other role.  You have to understand your character inside and out–all that person’s wants and needs.  In Greek drama, the outcomes are quite dramatic–so you have to make sure your private character work is enough to sustain the character’s actions on stage.

THOMANN: Most of all, by not treating it like a “classic” role. Motivations and emotions don’t change over eons, and those emotions are what make the role accessible.  I just attempt to think of the person in a modern context, that I can live and bring that to the stage.

AIELLO: Generally I try to understand the time period in which the play was written. That can give away a lot of clues for the original intent in the lines and why the scenes are structured the way they are. More importantly, I make sure that I understand what is being said as the language is typically structured differently than modern American speech. Even this “modern” adaptation of Oedipus is structured in a classic form so understanding what you are saying is usually a huge indicator of how you should be saying it.

 

What challenges do you find playing a part written so long ago?

THOMANN: The real difficulty is to understand the urgency or depth of a specific need.  In the case of Creon or the show itself, what does it mean to be sent to the Oracle? What does it mean to be accused in public?  Some of these things mean different things now then they did in the times they represent or were written.  I attempt to give it the weight it deserves.

WIRTH: Honesty.  People are people–their base emotions are the same–they need to be loved, to be understood, to have purpose in life. 

AIELLO: There’s so little that we have in common with people from 2,000 years ago.  It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the time gap.  So what you’re left with is the understanding of the character types as a way to bridge the gap. Everyone understands what Kings and Clowns and Romantics are supposed to do – the challenge is trying to get behind those stereotypes to find the humanity written into the original piece.

 

What is different about this production from others you might have read or seen?

WIRTH: I was in a production of Oedipus Rex when I was in graduate school at Purdue University.  We all wore costumes of the period and the chorus actually had written music to sing.  Of course, we were on a large stage so it was a completely different experience than this show–where the audience is so close they’re practically a part of the experience. 

AIELLO: The idea of making the plot short(er) and tight really brings this into the modern age.  And having the audience around in a “town hall” style is an exciting prospect. I hope that the audience really takes advantage of the freedom of movement. I’d love to see people even sitting on the ends of our raised platform.  

THOMANN: This production is very accessible for a modern audience, while keeping some of the pomp of the original format.  The walkabout idea is something that I have not done before, so I am interested in experiencing it from an actor’s perspective.  Personally, I believe that art should grab attention and hold it for the length of the production.  I think this production will do that, which is no small challenge.

 

What can we expect to see when this play is performed?

AIELLO: Man…hopefully you’ll see a spectacle. Awesome acting, great drama, this show is written to be quick and unforgiving. Really, the show is a 2,000 year old gritty crime drama and hopefully that’s what we’ll be able to deliver. We’ve boiled it down to something very quick and exciting and I think we have the cast to pull it off.

THOMANN: I think you can expect to see a level of passion on the stage (both due to the work and the performers) that you might not get to see in all productions.  I think audiences are in for a real pleasure.

WIRTH: I think the audience should have a good time.  It’s an opportunity to see one of the most famous plays of all time.

 

Do you see value in presenting classic plays?

AIELLO: YES! EVERYTHING comes from the classics. I’m still amazed at all the catch phrases and sayings that come from Shakespeare and Aesop. It’s said that there’s no such thing as an original plot idea. Well these shows are where ALL the modern plots come from and it’s a blast to watch and perform them.

THOMANN: I think presenting plays is absolutely critical.  There is value is presenting classic works of art, classic works of music, classic operas, theatre should be no different.  The fact that they are accessible and apropos in these modern days is exactly why they should be performed.

WIRTH: Absolutely. If we do not learn from the past, we are destined to make the same mistakes over and over again.  We may think we’re so advanced in this age of technology, but the basic concept of what it means to be human hasn’t changed all that much in the past few thousand years!

 

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