Myth doing what myth is meant to do

Last Wednesday evening I had the privilege of seeing local theatre company Twitches & Itches Theatre perform a modern adaptation of Euripides’ Bacchae and write about it for  Brock News (January 19, “Brock alumni showcase talents in The Bacchae“).

It was such an amazing adaptation and performance that I haven’t stopped thinking–or raving– about it yet. There are so many delicious ideas I want to dig into with this play! Ten minutes in, I really wanted to bottle up the show so I could use it to teach my students what myth is really about.

One of the Classics professors organized a Q&A session with the director, Colin Bruce Anthes, and one of the actors, Hayley Malouin. I was able to attend this and live-tweet it as part of my social media job. You can read that Storify of this Q&A here.

Ancient Athens meets modern Niagara in Twitches & Itches Theatre’s production of The Bacchae. This very timely modern adaptation of a play originally performed in 405 BCE challenges ideas of identity and explore what happens when extreme left- and right-wing politics collide.

When the ensemble began working on their production in February 2015, they had no idea how timely it would be when presented on the eve of the presidential inauguration of 2017.

“We had no idea Brexit and Donald Trump’s rise to power were just around the corner,” says director Colin Bruce Anthes. “The play was miles ahead of us. Many of the play’s original themes are shockingly reflected in our present society.”

The play engages with current social issues, as Dionysus, an androgynous foreigner, arrives in St. Cadmus and starts changing the entrenched norms. The conservative rule of King Pentheus is challenged by this new god of wine, theatre, and ritual madness and the women who abandon the city core to follow him.

“Some of the dialogue looks like headlines stolen from today’s newspapers,” explains Anthes. “In our production, the priest of a new religion arrives as a David Bowie-esque glam-rock star, bursting through a city’s eternalized film-noir surface.”

As Hayley Malouin explains, the work questions how we can be certain of our convictions and moral compasses when the legitimacy of facts are questioned. “Uncertainty breeds dangerous extremism, but can also provide space for positive change. We see all kinds of uncertainties in The Bacchae.”

Issues of identity are also central to this play: xenophobia, transphobia, and fatphobia are all challenged.

Brock alumnus Iain Lidstone found playing the role of androgynous Dionysus both rewarding and exhausting. “I am a trans man playing a gender-fluid character,” he explains. “On the one hand, I find utter relief and excitement that as a queer artist I get the opportunity to give a voice to queer identities on the stage.”

Lidstone’s own experiences informed the development of his character.  “My character’s gender-fluidity and “effeminate” nature means I am constantly challenging my own internalized transphobia and trans-masculine identity in order to authentically portray our ‘queerified’ image of Dionysus.”

Malouin plays the role of Agave, mother to King Pentheus. “As a fat actor I’ve seen my inordinately unfair share of motherly characters,” she explains, but Agave is different.  “She’s a person before she is a mother, and this production pays particular attention to her journey as an intelligent, politically savvy, but ultimately oppressed agent.”

General manager Marcus Tuttle describes the production as “a play that makes sense for St. Catharines.” Niagara issues are woven throughout the play: the disappearing manufacturing economy and the experiences of migrant workers, as well as challenges faced by the LGBTQIA community.

The physical theatre style the group uses would not be too foreign to an ancient Greek audience, either.  Rather than relying on props and special effects, the technique emphasizes the use of the voice and body. This method requires long term commitment from the actors to physical and voice training.

Twitches & Itches Theatre is committed to developing local acting talent. The group was founded by Anthes and Tom DiMartino in 2009 and moved to St. Catharines in 2013. They have gradually built up a core ensemble of nine performers, eight of whom trained at Brock’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.

This is the group’s sixth full production, and their first independent production at First Ontario Performing Arts Centre. The group also does various community and charity fundraiser performances. They emphasize cooperation and collaboration in their work, with all members having equal voices in what the company decides to produce.

The Bacchae runs at First Ontario Performing Arts Centre from January 19 to 21, 2017.

Alumni: Iain Lidstone, Hayley Malouin, Sean Rintoul, Kaitlin Race, Sean Aileen McClelland, Chelsea Wilson, Marcus Tuttle, Colin Bruce Anthes

Director: Colin Bruce Anthes

Set Design: David Vivian

Photo credits: David Vivian

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