Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Theatah, the Theatah....

 Three weeks ago my sixth graders shed their roles as classroom students and took on the roles thespians.  They performed Alice in Wonderland to multiple audiences in the span of three days.  Costumes, scenery,lights, curtains, exits, entrances, movement, monologue, dialogue: the forty minute production earned a standing ovation from me every time they took the stage!  The performances were a culmination of, perhaps, the largest undertaking these kids have done during their elementary school year.  As I reminded them time and again, they took words written on paper and transformed them into a living, breathing art form.  They were spectacular!

 You may not know it by looking at me, but theater is in my bones, in my blood.  My earliest memories of being in the audience of a theater are a jumble.  A trip to the ballet, local community productions.  Then there was the civic light opera with the family: The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady.  Stop the World I Want to Get Off with my Aunt Bea.  High school performances...everything from The Boyfriend to a Good Bye Yellow Brick Road (yes, written around the music of the Elton John album).  When I visited London for several days as a young single, I attended the theater every night; Starlight Express was my favorite show.  When it was time for my children to perform in their school plays, I jumped at the chance to be involved.  And now I am privileged to direct my own class in this classic endeavor.

My grandfather was a playwrite.  So it's probably not surprising that I am so fond of the theater.

And here I am, in Greece, where it all began.

Yesterday we visited Epidaurus. Specifically, we toured the theater of Epidaurus.  Not only is this theater the best preserved theater in the ancient world (what about Ephesus?  has that one been reconstructed?  I guess I'll find out when I get there....), but is the best preserved site of the ancient world.  At some point in its ancient past, a landslide filled and covered the theater, preventing the stones from being looted in the ensuing centuries for other building projects.

Must have been a huge landslide, is all I have to say!  The theater is simply enormous!  And with the exception of the skene (the stage, located behind the orchestra), the facility is perfectly intact.  Row upon row upon row of marble seats arch in perfect semi circles around the orchestra.   I can just envision a full house (50,000 people) filling the mountainside from which the theater was cut.

But its not the sight of the theater that brings modern visitors to Epidaurus; it is the sound.  The theater is a feat of engineering excellence.  After Staphis gave us our lesson on the theater, some of us scrambled up, to seats as high as we could get to listen, while others elbowed one another to be first onstage to perform.  I was among the former group, happy for the opportunity to do something about all of the food I've been eating on this trip!

Richard, the drama teacher from Berkeley, was the natural choice to be the first to perform.  He belted out what seemed like an entire scene from Shakespeare's Richard III.  Of course, I had to be told what the text was, having never read or seen that play.  But the sound was fabulous!  Richard certainly projected, ennunciated, and spoke with passion (and you would expect any drama teacher worth his salt to do), and the words seems to ring, almost like a bell, magnifying themselves as they bounced off the stone that rose and surrounded the player.  Staphis explained that this sound quality is not lost when the theater is full of people.  I find it hard to believe that 50,000 bodies would not, somehow, muffle or absorbe the soundwaves coming from the actors on stage, but our guide insited otherwise.

Julianna recited something, Maryann sang Amazing Grace, and Dunn's deep voice resonnated throughout the edifice with "Bring Me My Flowers Before I Die."  Finally, as we were getting ready to depart, Leeann stood in the center of the orchestra and began a cheery rendition of "You're a Grand Old Flag" which drew all of us around her, joining her in the song.  Wow!  What a sound from the stage!

But Dunn roused us for one final encoure: Lean on Me!  We belted it it out; our voices rocked the ages and overtook the canyon.  We gave ourselves a standing ovation, not realizing that we had completely annoyed the people who worked at the archaeological site, who had been waving at us to stop singing not long after the first chorus...

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