Watching a drama performance in an ancient Greek theatre
By Spiros Tzelepis
The audience have started taking their seats in the Ancient theatre of Epidauros
On July 7th, I left Athens for a 3-hour trip in order to watch an ancient Greek drama performed in one of the ancient Greek theatres that are preserved till today all around Greece. Every summer, it is a tradition for famous directors from Greece and from all over the world to present their work on ancient drama in these theatres. This mainly happens on an annual basis in the theater of Epidauros while there are also occasional performances in other ancient theaters all over the country. The directors prepare their work for a long time and as a rule the tickets are sold out about a month or even earlier before the performance. Actually, it is a great honor for a director to have the chance to present his work in one of these theaters and the audience that comes to the area in order to watch the plays are both Greeks from all over the country and foreign tourists.
Before presenting the performance I had the chance to watch, I shall introduce the reader to ancient Greek drama and what it used to be in the ancient years.
The theatre in ancient Greece was considered a major educational institution. It was because of this belief that in Ancient Athens poor citizens were granted with financial reimbursement in order to pay for the ticket. No financial barrier should prevent people from this major cultural and educational event. The educational dimension of the ancient drama gave an ever-lasting value to it and due to this it continues to be performed until today. The messages that come out of the ancient plays appeal to modern people more than ever before. Issues like human fate, human - God relationship will never stop to challenge people's mind.
The ancient theatres were open spaced. One of the better-preserved theaters is the one located in ancient Epidauros. The theatre is famous for its acoustics; it is known that even the viewers sitting in the higher seats and who are far away from the orchestra can hear the words of the performers. The seats are made of marble.
The Dionysus theatre in Athens which is located on the hill of the Acropolis. It is the oldest theatre in Ancient Greece (© History of the Greek Nation)
In Ancient Athens, the performances were given in an ancient theatre on the hill of the Acropolis which was named after god Dionysus. The performances lasted for the whole day and the audience watched 3 dramas of the same poet one after the other. At the end of the third day the best performance was awarded. The material value of the award was very low but the honor for the winner was great.
A view of the Ancient theatre of Epidauros (© History of the Greek Nation)
Nowadays some directors adopt a modern approach to the ancient drama experimenting with the means modern theatre has while others follow the known classical paths. The audience most of the time is divided as some viewers think that the directors should respect the drama as it has been passed down to us from our ancestors while others prefer a more modern approach. Directors from all over the world come here to show their approach to ancient drama. Generally going to Epidauros is considered a major challenge for them.
The setting of the performance Orestia and the theatre's orchestra
We arrived at Epidauros in the late evening. The performance we watched was Aeschylus' "Orestia". The story comes from the ancient Greek mythology and it has to do with what happened after King Agamemnon, the leader of the Trojan campaign, returned back to his palace in ancient Mycenae.
The poet's message is that when you do something you have to accept the consequences of your actions. Queen Klytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, killed her husband as soon as he arrived in his palace. She had never forgiven the fact that he had sacrificed their daughter to the Gods in order to convince them to give a favourable wind for his ships to sail to Troy and thus make the campaign feasible. Soon afterwards her son, Orestes, killed her to take revenge for his father's death. Immediately after the crime and as remorse follow him, he leaves their palace and runs away until the Gods decide to forgive him. The scheme action-consequence-knowledge is the predominant idea in the whole drama.
The performance lasted for 3 hours. Actually it was a classical approach and it is strange to say that the audience praised the director and the performance. After the midnight, when the performance was over, the audience started discussing; no one seemed to want to leave this magic place. The silence of the night, the messages that came through the heroes' words, the magic of art had created a unique atmosphere. During the return trip to home, in the car we were discussing about the role of art in our life, the part an artist should play in society and we all accepted that art is the unique thing that can offer deliverance to our soul and to mankind as a whole. When we reached our home in Athens it was almost morning but none of us were tired.
Photos by Spiros Tzelepis unless there is any other note below them. Info on the ancient theatre from my general knowledge on the issue as I have taken ancient drama courses for a whole year.
Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002
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