"How do you transgress boundaries? How do you dismantle polarities? How do you manoeuvre a system that’s being operated by opposing poles?" These are the questions Dennis Gupa, MFA directing student, is seeking to discuss in his production of The Bacchae 2.1.
Gupa’s production brings this reimagining of Euripides’ The Bacchae, adapted by Charles Mee, into context for a contemporary audience.
A dynamic, physical piece, Bacchae 2.1 draws on Gupa’s Filipino roots, and his views on equality, spirituality and testing the limits of the body.
"I react to contemporary issues, but am guided with my traditional spiritual practice, and my values are very much traditional," said Gupa on the juxtaposition of Greek and contemporary theatre.
Through rehearsal, the actors have focused on the contemporary issues and polarities through themes of excess and movement.
"It has led me to the conclusion that this is a play about emotions, it’s a play about feelings, and it’s a play about excess," said Thomas Elms, who is playing the role of Dionysius, on the exploration of both Greek tragedy and Gupa’s style of directing. "It’s about making people feel things, and it’s about the connection that kind of transcends language."
Ghazal Azarbad is playing the Orange Woman, a member of the traditional Greek chorus. The individuality of the women in the chorus is something unique and different from Greek tradition.
"I think it is an ensemble piece," said Azarbad. "It requires a lot of group mind, a lot of group decision making, especially when it comes to furthering the story along and making sure that the focus is in specific places. It takes a lot of generosity from everyone."
In Mee’s version, however, the Greek tragedy is made much more anachronistic, sexual and perhaps more feminist. "We discussed a lot about the individuality of each of the women in Bacchae," noted Helena Fisher-Welsh, BFA acting student playing Agave. "There’s qualities to them that are not really quite human, but they do take on human qualities. Much of the rehearsals were finding out how we move, because it’s such a big part of who the women are."
The separation of the women’s individuality is brought to light largely through the innovative costume design of student Kiara Lawson.
"They have a certain anonymity to them, because they are all [initially] looking the same, and that’s kind of what a Greek chorus does to its members -- they’re one entity," said Lawson. "So as the play progresses, they remove that costume and underneath you find these crazy, wacky costumes that don’t have any particular base in period or time or place."
Lawson has been designing the costumes since the summer, and has relished the freedom and creativity with this position.
"It gave me a lot of opportunity for creativity and designing things from my mind as opposed to conforming to a specific period," said Lawson when asked about the originality of her designs.
Like in many Greek tragedies, the essence of the play lies in the tensions of opposites. Gupa questioned throughout the process "how do you dismantle that, how do you understand man and woman … I feel that this play will give me an opportunity to breathe a new knowledge into these two opposing systems."
The production is layered with live music stemming from Gupa’s Filipino heritage, influencing the movement of the actors. Azarbad noted how the use of movement and music ensures the actors rely on more visceral stimulation, rather than deep analysis of the text. "We’ve just allowed the text to be in our bodies and through our voices, so the rehearsal process has almost been reversed."
As a production with endless levels, Bacchae 2.1 is not something to be missed.
"We’re still trying to decide what this play is really about," said Azarbad. "There’s so many different things to think about, which is what makes this play so dynamic and incredibly rich to work on. It will just keep unravelling and will never have an end."
The Bacchae 2.1 opens on January 22 at the Frederic Wood Theatre. Tickets are available online and at the door.