Studying ancient Greek theatre in Greece: a PhD student’s experiences

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Summer school in Epidaurus offers exciting performance opportunities.

PhD student Jess Alexander-Lillicrap is pictured front centre.

Conjoint Professor Michael Ewans andCentre for 21st Century Humanities Deputy Director Marguerite Johnson’s PhD student, Jess Alexander-Lillicrap recently spent time in Epidaurus in Greece, workshopping Greek theatre.

Jess was part of the program called Epidaurus Lyceum, a summer school for theatre practitioners with a focus on ancient theatre. It is a two-week program with 100 participants from all over the world.  It is run jointly between the Athens-Epidaurus festival and the University of the Peloponnese.

“Every morning everyone participated in a dance-based workshop, run by Sine Qua Non Art, in the stadium. For the main part of the day we worked in separate smaller workshops, mine had a focus on the role that music and the chorus played in both ancient drama and modern work,” Jess said.

Jess' PhD focuses on translating Euripides’ Helen and Iphigenia Among The Taurians, then working with actors to develop the translation for the stage and to explore the staging opportunities in the play. She says the summer school offered context to her practice and study: the context of tragedy on a modern stage and how that is playing out world wide, and the context of the physical space of the ancient stages.

“I had read about the stage at Epidaurus when I was a teenager and have wanted to see it ever since. Performing on the stage was an incredible experience, both emotionally, but also to hear for myself how the famous acoustics sounded in different parts of the stage. It was a privilege to work with artists from all over the world, I learned so much from them both in improving my artistic practice and being a better person,” she said.

Jess says that the study of ancient theatre is still relevant today as it is all about telling great stories.

“These stories span experience that is familiar to all of us today, adventure, betrayal, heart ache, ethics and love. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I believe the telling of stories is essential to human experience and that the study of these stories helps us to keep telling them well.”

The video below is from the final workshop, where the students were able to present on the ancient stage at Epidaurus. It is a selection of musical pieces from Thesmophoriazusae that they had worked on through the two weeks.

The summer school performances echo the recent performance of Love Magic, an ancient Greek poem that was translated into a play by Conjoint Professor Michael Ewans and Professor Marguerite Johnson. It was performed on stage in Newcastle in August.

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