Persians Diary July 29, 2014

Leon Ingulsrud's picture

This last weekend I had the distinct and singular honor of officiating at the wedding of SITI Company’s beloved Vanessa Sparling’s wedding. I missed rehearsal on Saturday to fly up to Monterey Bay/Carmel by the Sea to say words and sign documents that add up to the official, legal part of Vanessa and Miguel being married. It was amazing. It was beautiful. It was an honor. It was a joy. It was a trip. The two of them wrote vows that blew the top off the whole place. And the place we’re talking about here is Point Lobos. This means, that they wrote vows that blew the top off the entire pacific ocean. It was cool. It was hot. It was real. I loved every moment of it.


However, it did take me out of the world of Persians and The Getty Villa for a weekend. I still feel like I’m playing catch-up a little because, as you are perhaps picking up from my colleagues’ missives, things are moving very fast.

Tuesday was an unusual day schedule-wise. Rather than beginning at noon, we offset the day by two hours and began at 2pm. And rather than beginning our day on our feet with training in the Getty’s indoor theatre, we once again were taken into the museum proper for a guided tour.

This time the subject of our attention was a bit of a side-bar in terms of our focus on Persians. It was the current main attraction at the Getty Villa, the Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium exhibition. The museum is closed to the public on Tuesdays so we were given a private tour by the inimitable Mary Louise Hart. Mary had curated The Art of Ancient Greek Theatre exhibition (as well as editing the excellent book that accompanied it) that we soaked up during the Trojan Women process. It was very nice to be back with her.

If you are not already getting this impression, the curators at the Getty exist for us as a kind of Pantheon of gods, each with distinct and awesome powers.

The exhibition is truly mind-blowing. Curated by Mary, based on a show that was curated by the Greek ministry of culture, it is a truly once in a life-time chance to see Byzantium presented from the perspective, not of a distant colonial cultural perspective, but from the point of view of the culture’s own legacy. Many of the icons and other objects are on display outside of their home regions for the first time in history.

Mary was involved with this show from it’s inception, so she was a font of knowledge and stories about each object. Her sense of perspective about the artistic significance of what we were seeing was stunning and eye-opening.

 


A marble head of Aphrodite which was literally de-faced with a cross carved on it’s forehead. Mary pointed out that the technical process of this desecration is not only difficult, it logically requires belief in both the pagan power of Aphrodite, and the christian power of the cross.

Defaced AphroditeDefaced Aphrodite

The Icon with the Man of Sorrows depicting a slackly dead Jesus, while rhetorically pointing towards the resurrection with the declaration of his dominion in the sign atop the cross and the tiny “ember” of warmth on his lips. Mary called this one of the most significant objects in the history of art.

 

Man of SorrowsMan of Sorrows


None of this material connects in obvious ways to the work that we are currently engaged with. But it’s power is undeniable and it influences us all in subtile and direct ways. 

For me, I came away with a strong sense of how art speaks across time and space. How a current Greek government can look to these works from antiquity to speak to the world about their values.

How history and culture evolves and progresses in complicated ways. Christianity didn’t simply replace or displace paganism. It melded and morphed and transformed itself as it came into contact with stories and beliefs in which it found echoes and rhymes and resonances.

And I was deeply inspired by Mary’s close reading of the objects. How much she was able to see in each thing. It made me think that I must open my own eyes and mind more.

Brian Scott is with us, and as we headed back into the theatre we were called out to the amphitheater to see what he has been working on in the realm of hanging fabric. Part of the scenic design plan is that the front of the museum (the back-drop for the theatre) will be festooned with saffron fabric. So Brian is experimenting with how that’s going to work.


 

 

After some messing around with this material we headed back to the theatre and trained.

 

I find myself still struggling to keep up with the mountains of text that we are taking on. I am a slow study and am daily humbled by my colleagues’ talents in this area. Even though Persians is a relatively short play, it seems that we are trying to learn the entire thing all at once. Like we are approaching the entire thing from the side rather than working it out from the beginning as we usually do. This is partially because of the way that the music is spread through the play.

So we worked on the ancient Greek. Since last week, we have doubled the amount of Greek that we are speaking and exploring how the meter of this text can live in our production has become an interesting avenue of investigation.

As difficult as it is, the ancient Greek is deeply satisfying. There is something oddly familiar about some of the sounds.

I’m Nordic, and so on a certain simplistic level of cultural history, ancient Greek speaks to me only through my education in European culture. However I have become somewhat obsessed with the rather dreamy thought that although little is known about it, there is evidence that the Vikings had trade routes that connected Scandinavia with classical Greece. So when I peer back down into the inky well of my genetic past, perhaps, just maybe, there’s a big red-headed guy who spoke ancient Greek. And perhaps, just maybe, there’s some kind of epigenetic imprint on my own DNA that carries an echo of these sounds inside my body.

It strengthens the sense in me that in doing this play, we are not simply connecting to the amazing brain of Aeschylus, but to the bodies of the actors who originally performed it.

After working for a bit in the indoor theatre we went outside to spend time working in the glorious space where we will ultimately perform this play. The first stage of this was to simply improvise. We use the principals of the viewpoints to guide us into simply encountering the amazing environment that is this theatre. This amazing venue. This miracle of stone and metal and glass and air and color and smell and temperature that is the Getty Villa’s amphitheater!

It is simultaneously smaller than I remember it and MUCH bigger. It is more intimate and more epic. It is simply what it is. It is untrammeled by my memory or impressions of it. It asserts it’s own strong presence.

We sing. We play with ideas of entrances. We come up with cool idea’s about the Queen’s train for Ellen. We mess with the materials that we will try to make into a play in the coming weeks. It is joyous and scary. It is hard and soft. It is light and heavy.

It comes from deep in the past and lives in the present.

We bring all we have, and all we are to this process. It strips us naked and asks us if we really know anything at all about this thing called theatre.

What is a chorus?

What is it REALLY?

What is acting?

What is it REALLY?

hmmmm…