Luckiest Classicist in the World

Amy R. Cohen puts her own touch on Greek Play tradition

Amy R. Cohen, associate professor of classics

 

Amy R. Cohen will never forget the first time she saw The Dell and the College’s Greek Theatre. It was a beautiful spring day, and she was interviewing for her current position as a classics professor. As she gazed out at the facility during a tour of campus, her jaw dropped.

“It was one of those ‘Oh my God’ moments. They showed me this amazing space and told me about the Greek Play tradition. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Eleven years later, Cohen is still amazed.

“I feel like the luckiest classicist in the world,” Cohen said. “I get to teach Greek, and I get a real laboratory to work in, and I have these fantastic students.”

The College’s first Greek Play was produced in 1909 when Mabel K. Whiteside led students in an all-Greek production of Euripides’ Alcestis. She continued the productions until her retirement in 1954. With Whiteside’s departure, regular productions of the Greek plays lapsed.

Shortly after Cohen arrived on campus, she was asked to revive the Greek Play. In 2000—46 years after Whiteside’s last production— Cohen and her students produced Sophocles’ Antigone.

Amy R. Cohen adjusts a mask used in Randolph's Greek Play.
Amy R. Cohen adjusts a mask used in Randolph's Greek Play.

“It was immediately something our current students took up,” Cohen said. “They saw its value to the history of the College, and at the same time, they saw how they could bring new life to it.”

Now, Cohen’s productions have their own following and draw hundreds of spectators, including schoolchildren and alumnae. Her plays are performed in English and adhere to most of the original Greek drama conventions, including the use of masks, which are designed and created as they were during ancient Greek times.

Betty Jo Hanna Harper ’50 performed in the chorus of Whiteside’s productions and has returned to see two of Cohen’s productions.

“Miss Mabel wanted this to continue, not only as a College tradition, but as a way of informing and educating people who have not had the advantage of studying Greek drama. She would be delighted,” Harper said.

With a first scholars’ symposium scheduled for October, Cohen’s dream of showcasing the College’s unique facility and program is coming true. The conference, which coincides with the 2010 Greek Play, Euripides’ Hecuba, has attracted scholars, graduate students, and theatre professionals from around the nation.

“I’m so proud of what we have accomplished here,” Cohen said. “Our students are well educated in theatre and understand how important these plays are to the history of drama. We’ve also been able to introduce the community to the power of Greek drama. Every time I go out to The Dell, I can feel Miss Mabel. I know she would be proud of what we are doing.”