Ancient Greek Theater, Lysistrata

Last class period, we had our first real session–filled with fun facts and close reading! Instead of a lecture, I wanted to encourage students to participate in their own learning by “specializing” on a question from the reading guide for Oliver Taplin’s essay on ancient Greek theater. I handed out key questions from the guide that touched on broad themes that will be relevant to all our study this term, including the role of theater and festivals as “civic spectacle”; the central characteristics of tragedy and comedy; the material conditions of performance; and important terms for use in our study. Students organized into groups, and their goal was to present their answers to the questions to the class as a whole in discussion. This approach worked well enough, I felt, but it was hampered by the fact that many students did not have books or had not read the assignment; as a result, it took far longer than I’d planned, which meant we had little time to get into our reading of Lysistrata.

We watched a few clips, including an amateur video of the theatre at Epidaurus and a contemporary performance in a similar space, and a clip from the 1957 Oedipus Rex, which employs many of the stylistic features of Greek tragedy. These clips gave us a sense of the scale of early performance spaces, as well as what the material conditions of those spaces meant for performance itself.  I’d cued up a modern Greek film dramatizing Lysistrata, but as we had so little time in the second portion of class we didn’t get to watch it; instead, that will be our first screening of the term–next Monday at 12:30 in the library auditorium.

We also discussed the research presentation, and several students signed up for theirs–we’ll need to go over the film/performance review project next class, as well as the parameters for the live performance of Dog in the Manger at the Shakespeare Theatre. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get a good group of students there on February 14th, for the matinee showing, and perhaps we’ll even go out for snacks and discussion afterwards. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that other groups of students will also see ‘Tis Pity in Baltimore and Lysistrata at Georgetown later in the term!

Weekly posts seem to be going well, though several students didn’t complete the assignment, and as we ran out of time, I didn’t get a chance to address my concerns. Several posts were quite good, and addressed the spirit of the prompt–Amanda’s was particularly relevant, about the role of drinking and drunkenness in the play, though others were less than satisfactory. This first week, though, I see as a test run, so that the necessary questions can be asked, hurdles overcome. Ideally, these will form the spark for our discussions in class, so for next week, I’m asking students to write on how their knowledge of Medieval staging practices may have impacted a performance of Everyman. That should help avoid the problem I encountered in the first class, with many students not getting through–or attempting!–the contextual and historical essays. As always, though, we’ll see!

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