It’s fascinating how a play that premiered in 405 BC could resonate so seamlessly in today’s society – how the same morals, motives and machinations of some of the world leaders could be placed within ancient texts. Some things never change.
The Bacchae, written in Athens by playwright Euripides situates itself in a society that is politically polarized. Niagara Falls native Colin B. Anthes, the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Twitches and Itches Theatre explained, “several lines from the play seem like they could be ripped from the headlines of our present day media.”
The tragedy is based on a Greek myth that focuses on contrasting characters. On one side there is the young and rational King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, and on the other, the instinctive, rising God Dionysus.
“It’s really a fascinating project. Pentheus is in charge of the city and is an authoritarian, conservative politician, and Dionysus is the God of wine, fertility, ritual madness and theatre; ritual madness being the emphasis of this play. So, they are quite dichotomous,” Anthes said.
Anthes and the Twitches and Itches Theatre ensemble began adapting the play for performance roughly two years ago, being interested in the political division that the play represents. Two years ago, the ensemble —consisting of nine unique artists who collaborate in a variety of different ways — thought that the production would reflect the Stephen Harper election, but in our current state of affairs, Anthes suggested, “that seems incredibly tame after Brexit and Donald Trump.”
“We knew that there was something in the air in our own society. We didn’t realize how topical it was going to become. It was remarkable, not just for the fact that it was noticing political trends that we still see to this day, but that the social elements were remarkably contemporary as well,” Anthes said.
In the play, the women of Thebes abandon their homes to worship the androgynous Dionysus (performed by Iain Lidstone) who is a foreigner, bringing in a new religion, and “there is a huge deal over the breaking of this conventional norm. These are the social aspects of the conflicts of this play between the extremities of conservatism and a kind of anarchic creative spirit on the other side,” explained Anthes.
Lidstone described the role of Dionysus as a massive personal undertaking. As a trans-masculine actor, Lidstone understands the importance of arts communities providing platforms in which all voices can be heard, but had to question and confront his own personal feelings in order to act the part.
“On the one hand, I get the opportunity to portray a gender-fluid ‘queerified’ Dionysus, a character that normally isn’t seen on the stages of the Niagara theatre scene. On the other, I have had to challenge my own internalized transphobia and toxic notions of femininity,” said Lidstone.
“But how can I portray a gender-fluid character who embraces a gender identity that transcends all notions of ‘male’ or ‘female’ when my own gender identity is based on a long battle against femininity? In order to exude and embrace the fluidity of Dionysus in a way that served both the character and the play, I had to seriously question my femininity as a trans-masculine individual, and break my own fears about feminine embodiment – I had worked so hard to be at this place of self acceptance, and would exploring femininity halt my progress? Quite the opposite. I have grown so much more into who I am and who I should be.”
The Bacchae is Twitches and Itches Theatre’s sixth production, but the third operating as an ensemble company. Anthes explained that they practice Devised Theatre, a form of creation where a script is not written by one singular writer, but as a collaborative process.
“Twitches and Itches was exactly what I was hoping for when Colin pitched his company to me. An emerging artist company with a focus on ensemble training, and devised physical creation of new works,” said Lidstone, who has been an actor and company member with Twitches and Itches since 2014.
“The company is unique in that it supports and trains emerging artists, and those artists are both the fuel and the engine for all work produced by the company.”
The ensemble just performed a preview run of The Bacchae this past December at Stamford Collegiate in Niagara Falls. The previews allowed the group to come together and have a better understanding of the production and what shape it would take as a large scale production at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre this month.
“We were able to get the script into a much precise form. It’s a combination of the original script and writings that the members have brought into the studio that they want intervowen into the play. Gradually, we have pieced that together into something that is coherent and flows,” said Anthes.
“I think it’s very important, when working in an ensemble because one wants to know that everybody involved has a sense of purpose in the show and that their characters express something that they’re excited about putting on the stage. It’s important when devising a show that is meant to be relevant to let different people’s perspectives into the room; to have their input because we want it to be responsive, we want it to be alive and for a lack of a better word, purposeful. We’re not just throwing any old show on the stage.”