by Hugh Denard
University of Warwick
This issue marks the tenth anniversary of Didaskalia, and is the first to be published in association with the Open University. Both the practice and study of ancient drama in performance have been transformed almost beyond recognition since our first issue was published in March 1994, so it seemed like a good time to take stock. We will be publishing three issues this year. Following the current issue, 'Developments and Trends in Contemporary Research', a second issue will survey and assess the several 'Contemporary Electronic Research Initiatives' that have gradually been changing the ways in which we research, teach and learn about ancient drama as theatrical and textual phenomena in antiquity and since. The final issue of 2004 will examine 'Responses to Ancient Drama in Contemporary Performance', asking directors, performers, playwrights, designers, critics, academics, and theatre-goers to contribute their perspectives upon the uses to which ancient drama is, or could be, put in performance today. (Further details are available in the Call for Papers.)
Is ten a good age to be? These are the high days of childhood, when we can run faster, jump higher, shout louder than ever, and when the growing pains, the painfulness of self-consciousness, and the terrors of the teens have yet to touch us. There is certainly a lot of running and jumping going on where ancient drama is concerned - as the articles in this issue attest, we live in exciting times. Not only is the stage unprecedentedly packed with new stagings, translations, versions, and variations on the themes of ancient drama, but scholars have been doing their fair share of shouting too: new books on ancient drama in performance are veritably hopping off the press, and the research circuit is spinning with ever more dizzying rapidity, from conference to colloquium, and symposium to 'star'-lecture. The 'classics' are no longer just demanding to be taken seriously, they are in demand.
But with expanding boundaries may come a loss of one's accustomed sense of security. As Pat Easterling writes: "the challenge for everyone with an interest in ancient drama is to get used to the notion that an art form which until recently has been the preserve [...] of elites is becoming a popular medium..." It seems as if we are already, somewhat precociously, approaching a 'coming-of-age'. Freddy Decreus poses the dilemma of classicists, trained to regard the world within a tradition that owes more to nineteenth-century philology than to the epistemes of the late twentieth- and twenty-first-centuries, but who are also called upon by their own age to make sense of what tragedy and the tragic might mean for cultural politics and identity for a postmodern worldview. Warning that contemporary classicists are often constrained "from discussing art, culture and society in a fundamental and enlighting new way," he throws down the gauntlet to classicists to consider "integrating contemporary visions on aesthetics, philosophy and ideology into our curricula."
A common chorus in this issue is a call for researchers urgently to apply themselves to the creation of a methodology for performance reception that is sufficiently supple to accommodate itself to the shifting contours of ancient drama as it moves across time, language and culture, but firm enough to provide a shared point of reference for international and interdisciplinary communication. Pat Easterling surveys a number of recent publications, noting that "the challenge is to find a systematic way of discussing and evaluating" the vast range of materials, issues and perspectives that we encounter today. Marking important critical and archival milestones in recent years, as well as developments in electronically-enabled exchange, she cautions that there are many areas in which our efforts are nevertheless still immature: "there is still much to be done before we can systematically debate fundamental issues like the status of the 'original' text in modern performance, or refine our definition of the guiding principles of reception studies." The long tradition of "the study of all aspects of the culture of antiquity that might throw light on performance", has produced a remarkable outpouring of publications in the last decade, augmented by innovative approaches including the use of 3-dimensional visualisation technologies, and research through performance. If, as mediators between antiquity and the present, scholars have more than a little in common with translators, we should be glad that our progeny has now outgrown us and decided to make its own way in the world (and perhaps try not to be too disappointed if it returns only on the occasional weekend clutching a bag full of dirty washing).
The exchanges now taking place amongst scholars and practitioners have acquired a new degree of maturity in recent years, no longer perceived as a barely concealed territorial dispute between two ostensibly polite neighbours over a garden fence, but rather something more akin to a "bring-and-share" neighbourhood barbeque - collaboration has replaced mere civility. Didaskalia is a case in point, jointly edited by a theatre historian and a classicist, both of whom also actively explore the intersection between practice and research. Nevertheless, Lorna Hardwick here rightly identifies "an urgent need for empirical and theoretical research frameworks to be more closely linked and for practice-based research to be better integrated with the work done by classicists and theatre historians." As research priorities for the future, Hardwick proposes attention be given to: "the way in which the ancient texts have moved through translations and performances in different times, places and cultures," and "the impact of non-Western theatrical traditions on modern performances and on how relationships to the ancient theatre are perceived."
Fiona Macintosh considers both transmission and reception: how the ancient play-texts and 'classical learning' have come down to us, and how theatre artists, audiences and academics have received ancient drama. She offers a timely, and poignant, reminder of how an "uninterrupted tradition of 'classical learning' [...] was sustained in Byzantium and the Arabic and Syriac scholarly traditions, especially Baghdad," arguing that modern performance reception is incomplete without an understanding of these earliest chapters in the transmission of "Western" culture. She goes on to advocate "a rigorous and systematic study of operatic and balletic treatments of the ancient plays" if we are to be able to appreciate "the sheer breadth of influence exerted by Greek drama throughout the entire modern period." She challenges us to question both how and why we undertake to study the performance reception of antiquity.
While Alan Sommerstein reports on exciting new developments at the Centre for Ancient Drama and Its Reception (CADRE) at the University of Nottingham, including two major new projects, on oaths and masculinity in ancient drama, in the last article in this section of the issue, Angie Varakis discusses developments in research on the ancient theatre mask, and gives an impressive account of the increasing range of theatre practitioners and researchers who have turned their attention to the effects of the mask upon performers and audiences, ancient and modern. Varakis reminds us that "the insistence of our culture on facial acting is a peculiarity of the modern world." We are currently discussing a future issue to be dedicated to this crucial area of research - hopefully many of the names and projects that appear fleetingly in Varakis' invaluable survey here will appear fully clad on these pages in due course.
Steve Wilmer contributes an article on the figure of the Watchman in Thaddeus O'Sullivan's 1991 film In the Border Country, and Seamus Heaney's poem sequence, "Mycenae Lookout", published in 1996. The themes of vigilance and the impossibility of innocence when subjected to a world of viciousness are overlaid onto ancient myths, and juxtaposed with the seemingly inescapable reciprocity of violence in Northern Ireland. One might add that O'Sullivan's film could be seen to imply that we become more, rather than less, complicit in savagery when choosing to observe present crises through the violent myths of antiquity. Heaney's "Mycenae Lookout", by contrast, extends the possibility of a deeper "spiritual cleansing."
The Reviews listed here were also published in the Didaskalia-APA Listings when first received. Individually and collectively, they provide a vivid record of some of the most important and fascinating productions yet reviewed in Didaskalia. Finally, Paul Wignall publishes the full script of his new play, Bursting the Grape, first performed at The Eden Project in Cornwall last October, and reviewed by Elizabeth Stewart in this issue.
Didaskalia has come a long way since its birth as a series of text-only files to retrieved by using such FTP software as "Gopher". For those of us who seem to spend much of our lives entangled in the world-enveloping Web, it is salutary to recall that, as recently as December 1994, an editorial was required to explain the concept of the Web:
WWW files are connected to one another through hypertext links: by clicking on highlighted text you can move back and forth between documents, making for easy cross-referencing. (Editorial, Volume 1, Issue 5)
The Editor at that time rightly predicted that: "even those of you presently restricted to retrieving Didaskalia by ftp or asking for files by e-mail should be able to get onto it within the next year or so."
Along with the changing format came an expanded sense of what Didaskalia might be, growing out of Oliver Taplin's original proposal for an electronic notice board, collecting and disseminating news and information, and Sallie Goetsch's vision of providing, through an online journal, a place in which people could be "exposed to one another's ideas." If some of the other early aspirations for Didaskalia now seem overly ambitiousthe intervening years have educated us in the pitfalls, as well as the possibilities, of the Information Agein other ways, we and others have exceeded the expectations of those infant days. Now, for the first time, Didaskalia enjoys a secure, technical and administrative infrastructure, enabling us properly to plan and coordinate our activities, and to consider from a less beleaguered position how we might best serve our community. A small indication is the new form on the home-page, allowing readers to sign-up for a regular e-mail bulletin of listings of performances, conferences, and publications of interest. Behind the scenes, too, is an ever-increasing level of activity as word spreads, and a greater volume of new articles, reviews, listings, and enquiries flows in. An outline of the range of Didaskalia's current activities can be reviewed at the online Guide to Didaskalia, while a News page keeps readers informed about current and future activities.
Our thanks go to Lorna Hardwick for sharing in our vision of Didaskalia's role in helping to connect and to support the expanding international community of researchers, practitioners, educators and students who share an interest in Greek and Roman drama in performance. We also owe a considerable debt to Carol Gillespie, our expert Administrator and Assistant Editor, working with us as a result of our new association with the Open University. It has taken fully a year of hard work and extensive consultation by many people to establish the relationship, move the website to its new home, and consolidate our work.
What will the next ten years hold for Didaskalia? Age ten may be a time of vitality, anticipation and incipient coming of age, but the greatest achievements and discoveries, still lie ahead. Who knows but that the World-Wide Web itself may be transformed into a three-dimensional spatial metaphor - a kind of networked, parallel universe. By the time we bring our second decade to a close, perhaps we may even be performing with one another in the ancient theatres of the future.
Rome, March 2004