The Tysons-based Traveling Players this month presents its Dionysion Festival, celebrating ancient Greek theater with modern twists, performed by local youth and aimed for an audience that includes both young and young at heart.
The Sun Gazette checked in with producers to get their take on recent efforts. For further information, see the Website at www.travelingplayers.org.
How were the works selected, and who is your target audience?
As an Educational Theatre Company, our season selection begins with our students. We want our shows to give them appropriate and meaningful challenges, allowing them the most growth as performers and individuals.
For example, we originally commissioned “Ariadne’s Thread” (35 minutes; ages 6+) in 2013 to give our youngest actors material that is more complex – worthy of the imaginations of upper-elementary-school performers. Judith Walsh White is an exceptional playwright for young audiences and actors; she draws from sources kids love, updating them in ways that are funny and poignant.
“The Odyssey” (45 minutes; ages 8+) offers audiences an exciting and fresh take on Odysseus’ classic journey. “Hecuba” (75 minutes; ages 12+), is Euripides’ rarely produced revenge tragedy, which feels particularly poignant as the world grapples with the horrors of war.
Greek works are timeless, but how do you keep them relevant to modern audiences?
By focusing on classical theater, Traveling Players trains performers who are bold, resourceful and skilled. The themes are timeless, and therefore remain relevant. We all doubt our abilities (Ariadne), want to have adventures (Odyssey), and fear the plight of civilians during war (Hecuba).
Classical acting is demanding, and remains foundational to all modern acting technique. The Greeks valued storytelling and keeping the oral tradition alive. By giving this language to our students, we stress the importance of inheritance.
It sounds like there is going to be a good deal of physicality in these productions. How did the actors respond to that?
Our students relished the challenge to be physical again! Without giving spoilers, not all the characters live through these plays. They use more than their words to solve the problems they find themselves in.
It’s super-fun to do a fight play, since fight scenes are the opposite of real violence: there are tons of safety checks, it’s a piece of choreography that you rehearse like a dance and involve lots of trust and close partner work, and the victim is in charge (not the aggressor). Irony! So, you get closely bonded students when you do a fight play, which is wonderful.
“The Odyssey” presented additional challenges. To create the wide variety of monsters and gods Odysseus meets on his journey, the actors learned to use puppetry and masks – both of which require a high level of specificity and focus.
One thing that is a focus of your theater is the “ensemble ethos.” How would you describe that?
At its heart, an ensemble prioritizes the success of the whole over the success of the individual. This is in stark contrast to the way theater often works.
Ensemble work values the contributions of every member of the cast and crew. Ensemble practice fosters a collective ownership of the art, believing in actors as creative as well as interpretive artists.
Because of its focus on inclusivity and collaboration, all members of an ensemble develop a sense of the whole, and feel supported, trusted and listened to by the group. In this kind of environment, performers can take greater risks and experience greater growth, knowing that the ensemble will catch them when they fall.
This ensemble ethos extends to everything we do, both during the school year at our studio in Tysons, and over the summer at our residential camps and conservatories. Actors in grades 4-12 who are interested in performing with us can audition for summer March 26 and 27. Students in grades 3-12 can take classes at our studio in Tysons this spring and summer.
If you had 30 seconds to give someone an “elevator speech” to convince them to come see a show (or two, or three), what would it be?
The Dionysion festival was a ritual for the Greeks – honoring the god of theater and wine: Dionysus. The Greeks believed that theater was a healing, cathartic and educational force. The festival was in March, perhaps the original March Madness, when the community gathered, celebrated and reflected. And you can grab a drink of choice (milkshake or something stiffer) after the show!