I had a good conversation this morning with my friend J from Q School, where I’ll be co-leading a week-long workshop on choruses in the play LYSISTRATA in September. J was one of my classmates at Harvard-Westlake, and she played the part of Lampito in the production of LYSISTRATA which I directed. She’s been teaching drama at Q since we graduated, four years ago, from college, and she’s directing LYS as their fall play this year.
We are going to try, in the course of a week, to touch on the following things:
– choruses in unison: how to do this without losing emotion
– choruses in variety/harmony: how to do this without losing the meaning of the text
– building a variety chorus by adding one person at a time to a single speaker
– a separate day of work on the men’s choruses
– a separate day of work on the women’s choruses
– having them show their work to each other
– adding movement in to a selected chorus from each group
– building by the end of a week to a men’s vs. women’s dialogue chorus.
I’m also doing some dramaturgy for J, helping her find the references for various things in the text. It’s really fun to work on this play again, which was the first full-length show I ever directed, and the source of my obsession with choruses.
To return to each of its choruses again is an interesting challenge, and a way for me to check in with how my thinking has developed since 1999. I can hear my seventeen-year-old self commenting and saying things like “You should just cut that!” I am trying to honor J’s intention of sticking with one translation (we are using a really lovely older one, by Patric Dickinson, which has a nice idiomatic flavor despite being Britishized) and, when possible, justifying text rather than changing it. I like Dickinson’s loose use of rhyme and meter – this excerpt below is a good example.
CHORUS OF MEN
Let me tell you a little story
I heard when I was a boy:
There once was a youth named Melanion, who
Was so appalled at the prospect of women he flew
To the mountains rather than marry.
And he hunted hares
And he set his snares,
With his dog there,
And never came home for anyone!
That was the way
He detested women
And we’re no less
Wise in our ways than Melanion!
The variation between short and long lines is a nice nod, too, to what would have actually been happening in the Greek.
Although I usually get frustrated with chorus translations that try to maintain the historic varying line lengths, because they become completely free-verse and lose their sense of rhythm, unison, and dance, this is a really good take on the idea. You can imagine it with music. It could work in unison. And so on.