The story of Antigone, a tragedy written by Sophocles in 441 BC, is as relevant to students today as it was to Greeks 2,455 years ago, according to Jeanette Yew, director of the Department of Theater Arts’ upcoming production “The Antigone Project.”
Antigone has been adapted and performed countless times. However, this project is unique in that that it is both performed and written by theatre students at Stony Brook.
There were no auditions or a beginning script for the production. Instead students spent their winter break reading different adaptations of Antigone before returning in January to discuss, write and rehearse the performance.
Yew, a lecturer in the Department of Theatre Arts, said, “I’m more interested in the students being part of the generative process.”
Antigone is the sister of Polyneices, who dies on the wrong side of the Thebes civil war. As punishment, Creon, the new ruler, declares that Polyneices will remain unburied on the battlefield. Antigone buries her brother in defiance and Creon sentences her to be buried alive. Creon, however, realizes that he has made a mistake too late, and Antigone hangs herself.
The goal of the Stony Brook production is to examine who the character of Antigone would be today. In the process of answering this question, students discussed the nature of leadership, causes worth dying for, conflicts between privacy and security and the efficacy of protest.
They used modern politics as a lens, analyzing Obama’s speech about the NSA, as well as the events of 9/11. In fact, two poems in the project deal directly with the subject, detailing what students remember and do not remember from Sept. 11, 2001.
The scenes generated by the 16-student ensemble do not necessarily follow the timeline of Antigone, nor are they intended to allow viewers to sympathize with the characters. Instead, the performance is written to distance the audience so that they can critically examine the actions taking place on stage.
“The story of Antigone is relevant to their lives in terms of exploring their own voices,” Yew said. The interpretive work done in creating the play paired with the viewing experience should bring this relevance to the fore.
The students involved in the project are a mixed group of freshman to senior theatre arts majors and minors, each bringing their unique ideas to the production. Students are involved in writing, acting, choreographing and creating visuals for the production.
“In our process, anyone can be anything,” Yew said. She described rehearsals as opportunities to generate material, saying that there are surprises every night. Even students who hadn’t considered performing now have roles in the play.
“The Antigone Project” premieres April 17 at the Staller Center.