"The Conception of Drama within Theatrical Production" In Euripides' tragic play, Medea, the playwright creates an undercurrent of chaos in the play upon asserting that, "the world's great order [is being] reversed." (Lawall, 651, line 408). The manipulation of the spectators' emotions, which instills in them a sentiment of drama, is relative to this undertone of disorder, as opposed to being absolute. The central thesis suggests drama in the play as relative to the method of theatrical production. The three concepts of set, costumes, and acting, are tools which accentuate the drama of the play. Respectively, these three notions represent the appearance of drama on political, social, and moral levels. This essay will compare three different productions of Euripides' melodrama, namely, the play as presented by the Jazzart Dance Theatre^1; the Culver City (California) Public Theatre^2; and finally, the original ancient Greek production of the play, as it was scripted by Euripides.
The two contemporary productions of Medea were selected for this essay in an effort to contrast the ancient Greek version of the play with two modernized versions, which would demonstrate a wide distinction between the styles of production. Furthermore, both modernized versions of the play add their own innovation to the production, making for an even broader dissimilarity among the plays. Moreover, both recent productions are fashioned within cultures which have borrowed their political, social, and moral ways of life from Ancient Greek society, specifically, South Africa^1 (British Colonies), and The United States^2. Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Jazzart Dance Theatre is known today for its distinctive style and ingenuity in extending the boundaries of South African dance. Contrarily to the original production of Medea, Jazzart's unique approach uses dance (as opposed to music) to articulate emotion to the viewers. The dancers reinvent Greek tragedy, harbouring no artistic safety net.
The set plays a central role in dramatizing the theatrical experience of this particular production. As you can see in both figures 1 and 2, the set is purposely designed to resemble a metropolitan alleyway. This dramatic ambiance is created in an effort to parallel the harshness of the unforgiving streets of any particular conurbation. Normally, the audience would tend to construe this setting as a symbol of turmoil in the kingdom of Corinth. Thus, the set itself works as a device in developing a sense of political drama. The costumes which are used for this particular production are also essential in dramatizing the on-stage action.
In figure 1, Medea resembles a voodoo sorceress, insofar as she is wearing a headband with dangling shrunken skulls. Also, the golden serpent wrapped around her right arm adds to the voodoo-like appearance. This costume is obviously a South African interpretation, which was constructed to identify the characteristics which set Medea apart from the rest of the cast. This costume adds social drama to the play in that it differentiates her from the rest of the characters, unjustly labeling her as sub-human and barbaric. Acting (or in this case, dancing) is another aspect of theatre production which is vital in maintaining the play's dramatic disposition. As depicted in figure 2, the way in which the characters surrounding Jason seem to be physically deferring to him, conveys a sense of moral disorder.
This scene, which shows Jason holding himself high above the rest of the characters, could be interpreted as a signifier for Jason's complacent behavior. Thus, this production is able to use dance as a medium of expressing moral drama. Founded in 1998, the Culver City Public Theatre Company is a professional theatre company which annually presents free, outdoor theatre. The company's low-budget production of Medea differentiates from the others in that it offers a dry, seemingly tedious performance with no music. This production's two-dimensional set background is decorated with two signifies of political disorder.
The first being the painted images of Greek soldiers in battle, (as illustrated in figure 1), and the other being the large serpents wrapped around the set (as seen in figure 2). The latter could be interpreted as political disorder in that these serpents seem to be corrupting the city, by wrapping themselves around the city walls. Once again, the set is utilized as an indication of political drama. In evaluating the three images of this production, it becomes apparent that Medea is the only human character in the production who wears black. Taking into consideration her sorceress powers, the costume designers attempt to set her apart from the rest of the cast, hence creating a social prejudice; thereby prompting social drama.
As illustrated in figure 2, Medea makes a dramatic entrance, her hands covered in the blood of her murdered children. In this scene she uses acting as a tool to fuel the emotions of the crowd. Her exaggeration sways the audience to believe that she has actually killed her children, which, in reality, would be a moral outrage. Thus, acting is used here to create moral drama. What sets the ancient Greek production of Medea apart from the two others is that the original production was a melodrama. Singing was an important aspect of Greek melodrama, and each play was accompanied by a chorus, ranging in size from three to fifty men.
The chorus would underscore the main ideas of the play, establish the play's ethical system, and even participate in the action. The set, or more specifically, the stage itself, played a major role in the arousal of drama in the ancient Greek theatrical productions. Political drama was relative to the set in that violence and death took place offstage; thus, if characters went offstage, it was obvious that they were going to commit an act of violence, which could in turn disrupt political order. Hence, the set was indirectly used as an instrument in emphasizing the presence of political drama. The costumes in ancient Greek theatrical productions were essential in determining the identity or status of specific characters. Medea, for example, in original productions of the play, was always dressed in long purple and gold robes which swept the ground as she walked.
All other characters were to wear a chiton, which was a standard costume. The chiton was a sleeved, decorated tunic, which was derived from robes of Dionysian priests. Medea is always being unjustly set apart from the rest of the cast. Accordingly, the fact that Medea is purposefully meant to be seen differently from the other characters creates social drama in the play. In the original productions of the play, moral drama is relative to the literal "art of acting," in that some violent events are acted out and described by one person, instead of the events themselves being portrayed. For example, in the case of the deaths of Creon and his daughter in the royal palace (a moral catastrophe), there is no shift of scene.
These events are described in a speech delivered by a messenger, (Lawall, 666, lines 1110 - 1205), rather than enacted before the audience. The messenger's speech eliminates the need for scene changes, which, due to the limited resources of the ancient theater, would have been difficult and awkward. This solo effort proves true that acting, even if only done by one person, can create moral drama within the play. To conclude, political, social and moral disorder, all represent components of any drama, and the creation of drama is primarily pre-meditated by those who devise the production style of the play. It has become apparent that set and costume designers, as well as actors, are equally responsible for creating drama in a theatrical presentation, as responsible as the author himself.
It is the job of these individuals to artistically complement one another, in order to communicate the drama to those in the audience who can perceive the play on many levels. Bibliography: Lawall, Sarah and Mack, Maynard. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998 web.