Local theatre company Twitches and Itches are performing The Bacchae, an adaptation based on the ancient Greek tragedy of the same name. The Brock Press was able to sit down with the Artistic Director and two cast members in order to get an inside look into the play!
With Colin Bruce Anthes
“It’s an adaptation of an ancient Greek play by Euripides,” said Colin Bruce Anthes, Twitches and Itches’ Artistic Director. “It was written in 405 BC. It’s about a society that is being torn apart by these polar opposite forces. On the one hand you have the authoritarian King Pentheus and on the other you have the emergence of a new god, Dionysus, who is this anarchic, creative spirit; he’s the god of wine, of theatre, of fertility and, perhaps most importantly, of ritual madness — very closely associated with all of the above, especially wine.
He’s coming to a city that is refusing to accept his divinity. The clashes between these two polar opposites, we have the authoritarian conservative and the creative new spirit, and the original play already has all kinds of parallels to many of the divisive issues of today. Dionysus emerges as the priest of a new religion, changing the religious spectrum of an entrenched society. He’s an androgynous figure and surrounded by women, and the women of the city leave their homes and their traditional roles to go engage in bacchic worship. He’s shrouded in song and dance, which we saw all kinds of parallels to in counterculture movements of the 20th century, especially glam rock. So, we chose to base Dionysus on the character of David Bowie. This is sort of a recurring theme if you look at punk rock, goth rock, or all kinds of the countercultural movements of the 20th century, there is breaking down of dichotomies of gender and sexuality, and there’s the idea of bringing in something new and creative into an entrenched society.
That was our impetus for basing the character of Dionysus on David Bowie. Along the way, we’ve had a very interesting process. We selected this play quite some time ago. We first decided we wanted to do something with it back at the end of 2014, and we had our first workshop session which was just exploring the play. In February of 2015, so we’re coming up on two years of workshops and putting this piece together, and we knew there was something in the air about it. We could see the political divisions at that time. There was something about this play that was reflecting our present moment, we had no idea how big that was going to become. Since then we’ve had Brexit, Donald Trump and all kinds of populus movements on the Left and Right that are often clashing in very extreme ways. All of these other issues, the idea of foreigners coming into entrenched societies, the idea of populist outrage against people who are different in terms of their sexuality, in terms of what traditional roles they want them to play, and what kind of a nativist population they want to see in place.
With Hayley Malouin (Agave) and Iain Lidstone (D)
“I’m playing Agave, who is the mother of the King of Thebes, Pentheus,” began Hayley Malouin. “In the original piece, there are these four sisters. They’re the daughters of Harmonia and Cadmus, who founded the city. There’s Agave, Autonoe, Ino and Semele; Semele has died sometime before the play starts and these three sisters are left. They exist in this perpetual twilight zone of not really having any real power, but also being highly visible, in the society; Agave is the oldest of those. Throughout the show, the relationship between Agave and Pentheus sort of deteriorates to a point of irreconcilable differences, which ripples through the rest of the show and the rest of the city.”
“I play Dionysus,” began Iain Listone. “You find out in the show that Dionysus is the child of Zeus and Semele. You find out that there is a bit of drama regarding Dionysus’ conception and whether or not he’s a real thing, and that’s where a lot of the conflict stems from – whether or not he’s just this person coming in and parading with what seems like this new religion, this sort of outlook and this way of life that will set everyone free, and that juxtaposed with Pentheus’ more conservative outlook, his commitment to the nuclear family, the conservative way of life and religion, and how that sort of holds everything together. Then, Dionysus comes in and sort of messes everything up.”
“The relationship between Dionysus and Agave isn’t really in the source text at all, their relationship as aunt and nephew,” continued Malouin. “In this version, Agave has this other past before she was a mother and before she was very conservative, and in line with Pentheus’ rule, that is more in line with a Dionysian outlook. [Her outlook may be more in line with] looking at things like social justice and equality, in a more tangible and active way. She has been this person and that is brought out in her and other characters by Dionysus, who’s called “D” in this production, coming in and speaking to women, and opening up what’s already there.”
“He serves as the inspiration for these women to remember that they come from this place of openness and creativity,” added Lidstone. “By him showing up in Thebes, he reignites that flame.”
“In the source text, this is seen as these people going mad and leaving the city, a relatively stable and happy place — if only we followed all of the rules,” said Malouin. “In this production, we’re seeing that as not actually the case. The extremists are in the city core and the people on the fringe are perhaps not so extreme for wanting to leave that world, and to be more self-determined. There are these three ideas of madness. One of them is ritual madness, one of them is ideological madness and one of them is being mentally ill. This idea of ideological madness is so present that it’s not really mad to be working against an ideology that’s oppressive. That it might actually be mad to drive so concretely to one, fixed, ideological point without any flexibility or sway.”
“The thing about the original text is that it’s so relevant to today in ways I don’t think we realized,” said Lidstone.
“We’re continually realizing it,” added Malouin. “It’s becoming desperately more relevant as it goes along. Even the relationships to Water Protectors and the Dakota Access Pipeline, having their resources cut off is tragically relevant in a way that there is no way to foresee. I do think that there’s not a lot of the original lines intact in this piece. It’s a pretty liberal adaptation.
Part of changing Dionysus to “D” was to cast a bit of doubt on people’s identities and being able to easily identify people; it allows him to move more freely through this divide between the city core and the fringes.”
Final feelings on the upcoming show:
“This is a weird process because the way we work is so extended and so long, it’s been two years since we started doing workshops and even longer since we started talking about the show. I feel in some way there will never be a place where it feels fully done for me, it’s just part of my rhythms now that we’re working on this show.
We already had a preview run in December in Niagara Falls and that really solidified some things for me about this show that I think it is in a place that we’re ready to bring more people into it, and perhaps it will continue to grow and change after this production. I think it’s at a really good place to share with people and I think it needs an audience now. Maybe it sounds overly self-indulgent, but I do think it’s important for artists to be foregrounded in these political conversations. The relevance to not only the larger role, but the importance to the political situation in Niagara is potent and ready to be opened up.”
The Bacchae opens at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre this Thursday, January 19th.