Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes
Directed by Carminda Mendes Andre
Macunaima Drama School
Sao Paulo - Brazil
July 12th to 17th (1994)
By Ricardo Montenegro
Aeschylus in this tragedy tried to express all the feelings and sufferings and anguish of people facing powers that are beyond human control. He used theater, the most 'modern' art form of his time, to do so. That is exactly what this production tried to do: recapture the essence of the Greek tragedy and interpret the same feelings of panic and terror using the 'vanguard' of the art of acting, daring and experimenting new ways of expression.
Our goal was to build a performance that touched people's subconscious and unconscious. We believed that even if the audience did not consciously understand what was happening on stage, they should deeply feel all the sensations of the tragic dimension of the play.
The production faced the dual challenge of telling a story without using objective or realistic scenes. The departure point of this work was the 'Physical Actions' part of Stanislavski's system, and the intuitive universe of each actor. The idea was to create a choreography, just like a dance, but with a stronger dramatic expression. Rhythm, the speed of movement, density, and precision were the key points. We did some research on the Japanese classical Drama ('No' and 'Kabuki'). With regard to voice, we believed we should follow the pattern of opera. We wouldn't use natural voices. We had to work with tones and rhythms, even though the text would not be sung except in very special moments.
All the scenes were inspired by stories from Greek and non-Greek mythology: the legend of Narcissus, rituals of sacrifice, Afro- Brazilian mythological entities and even some Brazilian fanaticisms like Carnival and Soccer. Other key points of this creation were based on Antonin Artaud's views on theater. We took some of our ideas from the book Le Theatre et son Double.
Only when we had the scenes properly defined and dominated did we start to focus on the meaning of the text we were saying.The conflict generated by this chaotic mixture of meanings led the scenes to a new dimension, and we finally found the tragedy.
The play begins as a ritual. The first scene opens with the people of Thebes lying down on the stage as if almost dead and singing a monotonous murmur marked by the arhythmical beat of a drum. This is the point at which the audience enters, right onto the stage. Because of the cabalistic references of number seven, and also to accommodate the audience among the actors, we restricted the number of persons in the audience to 49. As people entered, the director asked them to take their shoes off because they were going to enter on sacred soil. They had to form groups of seven and then enter the theater and find a place on stage among the actors. After everybody had gotten in the ritual began. It consisted of separate scenes where each actor said a part of the chorus text but as if they were desperately asking help of the gods, in which role the audience had been cast. This scene lasted 10 minutes. Afterwards the audience was instructed to retrieve their shoes and go back into the house. The rest of the story was related through different presentations of images and sounds.
We were expecting all kinds of reaction from our audience, which was a mix of highly technical theater students and teachers and people who had never seen a Greek tragedy before. The actual responses were really exciting. The majority of the comments were much like this:
In all the comments everybody told us how powerful the play was emotionally even when they did not understand what we had done. It was a very interesting experience and we are seriously thinking of continuing this work and turning it into our first professional production.
- 'I actually didn't understand what you did but it was so exciting that took my breath away.'
- 'At the first scene I was absolutely in panic. I was afraid that somebody attacked me or something.'
- 'That girl that was crying beside me made me so sad... I felt like I should help her. I wanted to help.'