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Randolph Group Takes Greek Play on the Road

The following article was published in the Lynchburg News & Advance Sunday, June 7, 2009. It is reprinted with permission.

Learn more about the group’s trip at their blog, where you can view podcasts and read entries of students, faculty, and alumnae:

By Christa Desrets

Published: June 7, 2009

One hundred years after the former Randolph-Macon Woman’s College performed its first Greek play and began a long-standing tradition, students are preparing to present the same play again on Thursday.

This time, in Greece.

The college’s centennial performance of “Alcestis” by Euripides will round out a three-week philosophy of art study seminar for current students and alumnae.

“I find it a wonderful experience to be able to perform what has been a tradition at Randolph-Macon in a location close to where it was performed in its original context,” said rising senior and classics major Megan Barrett in an e-mail interview from Greece.

“… I’ve been studying ancient drama, history and archaeology for three years now. The program allows me to put into context what I’ve learned in the classroom.”

From 1909 to 1954 at R-MWC, Mabel K. Whiteside directed annual Greek plays, and students performed in the original Greek dialogue.

Since director Amy Cohen resurrected the tradition in 2000, students perform in English translations of the play but retain other ancient practices, such as the use of voice-projecting masks and a singing, dancing chorus.

The school now performs a Greek play about every two years from Randolph College’s Mabel Kate Whiteside Greek Theatre. Preparations typically require three months of pre-production, six weeks of rehearsals and 50 people in the cast and crew, Cohen said by e-mail.

But this time, the group of 15 students and alumnae, and two faculty members must be completely prepared within three weeks, which allows for 10 rehearsals.

“We won’t be in our theater until the day of production,” Cohen said, “and we’re writing songs, finding props and altering costumes while seeing as many ancient performance sites as possible.”

The group is surprisingly prepared despite the busy schedule, she said.

“I’m actually astounded at how prepared the students are, considering that they all read the play together for the first time the day after they got to Greece,” she said.

Alumna Elizabeth Cole Schlackman, who now works at the University of Reading Library in England after studying abroad there as a student, said she’s nervous about performing with little time to prepare for her role in the chorus.

“But I know that it will (work out) because it always does,” she said in an e-mail interview. “There are so many very talented students on this trip that I’m sure that they will pull it into greatness.”

Before graduating in 2003, she worked backstage on two Greek plays.

Professor of Philosophy David Schwartz, who is co-leading the trip, said he hopes that the experience teaches students “A sense of how the ancient Greeks saw theatre and drama as much more than just entertainment.

“For example, the philosopher Aristotle thought that tragedy could help citizens acquire ‘practical wisdom’ about how to make virtuous choices in the face of life’s most difficult problems.”

One of the group’s classes in Greece was held at the site of Plato’s school, the Academy.

One of the most inspiring moments for Barrett came in the group’s first week in Greece, when they visited the famous ancient theater, Epidaurus, and rehearsed the play’s opening scene.

“The ancient theatre is almost perfectly preserved and has such great acoustics, you could hear a pin drop from the very top row of the theatre,” she said. “It was a great honor to be able to perform in such an awe-inspiring space.”

Lily Knoble, an art major who graduated in 2008, said she’s “thrilled to be performing in a beautiful theater on the coast of the Mediterranean; what could be more inspiring?”

The group will perform before an anticipated private crowd of about 100 at the Skironio Museum, between Athens and Corinth, at 7 p.m. this Thursday.

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