Asolo Conservatory students present Antigone Now

Asolo Conservatory students present ‘Antigone Now’

Wednesday, October 6, was one busy day at Academy, beginning with the Blessed Marie Rose Mass in early morning and  “Spike and Splash for the Cure” across the street that evening. Sandwiched in the middle of the day was Academy’s first visit by the Asolo Repertory Theatre from Sarasota in their presentation of Antigone Now, a modern version of the Greek classic by Sophocles, written by professional playwright Melissa Cooper, directed by Dmitry Troyanovsky,  and performed by third-year drama students of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training.

After the 50-minute presentation, the actors answered questions from the audience, followed by an interview of the Achona staff with Conservatory actors and stars of this show, Devereau Chumrau and Angela Sauer.

As pointed out by many students and various teachers, Antigone Now is a difficult play to follow unless you had recently read the original work by Sophocles. About half the high school student body nodded along, understanding the symbolism behind certain actions in the modernized version of the Greek classic, while the other half were left a bit confused as to what exactly had just occurred.

Antigone Now is a different beast from the original epic, bringing the characters into modern time and changing both setting and situations. The play takes place after a brutal civil war in an unknown country- hinted by the cast afterwards to have been in Eastern Europe.  Personally, with the clothes and accents, I imagined it more of an urban city- which left everyone in the city of Thebes confused and grieving over personal losses.

Enter Antigone, the niece of the new ruler, Creon. Along with her sister Ismene, Antigone mourns the death of her brothers, who were the main cause of the war. One is to be buried a hero, the other is declared a traitor, left to rot in the sun by Creon’s orders. Antigone refuses to follow such rules, claiming “unjust men create unjust laws” and sets off to show respect to her fallen brother by performing the traditional burial rights of her culture.

A furious Creon attempts to scare Antigone against the decision, but her mind is made up. In choosing to bury her brother, she chooses to die. I got to interview two of the cast members, Devereau Chumrau, who plays Antigone and chorus member, Angela Sauer, about the play, the modernization and the effect on the younger generations.

When asked about the current trend of modernizing classics such as Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Michael Almereyda‘s Hamlet, we promptly spent a good minute trying to remember who starred alongside Ethan Hawke until Devereau snapped her fingers, proudly proclaiming that it was not Claire Danes, but Julia Stiles.

Asked if she thought there is a pressure to present modern classic remakes to keep the attention of the younger audience members, Devereau responded, “That’s a good question… sometimes we don’t trust our audience will stay attentive and understand.” She commented on how many stage companies feel the need to include  music or big effects or otherwise they, the audience, just won’t get it.

“But I’ve worked with tons of people who are like, ‘we will stick by the book’ because the human mind can expand and pay attention. So yes, there is a pressure, but I don’t believe you have to fold under that pressure. Cause there are tons of people that love classics.”

At this point, Sauer cues in with a story how angry some die-hard theatre-goers are about any little diversion from an original piece, down to even who says specific lines.

Asked if the modernization of a classic play gives it a different feel that they prefer, Devereau responded, “If it’s done well.” says Devereau, which Sauer agreed with, claiming that even Shakespeare himself was a “modernizer”  in this sense, writing plays that are set before his time.

“They’re actually doing a modernized version of Two Gentleman in Verona in our conservatory this year and they’re doing it so it takes place in Verona, New Jersey-“ at this point Devereau looks at the camera, saying “Jersey Shore!” It seems that even theatre majors have a soft spot in their hearts for the Ed Hardey-clad, self-tanning mess that is MTV’s Jersey Shore.

While the cast members were assigned this play by their companies, they claim that they could not be happier with the job. “The fact that our company gave us such a raw piece of work: I’m blessed to do this,” says Devereau.

The script isn’t the only thing that’s raw in the production – the cast performs with the bare minimum prop-wise, nothing more than a chair for each cast member.  “I think it’s awesome because our group is great,” she continues.

“Pick up and go, pick up and go. We have this mind set of minimalism.” Something, she says, that is very liberating as an actor.

Sauer brings up a quote her former professor told her, “You have to trust that you are enough.” Devereau nods to that. “Yeah, you don’t need to embellish it.”

One of the most noticeable aspects of Antigone Now was the recorded heartbeat, a sound that essentially began and ended the 15 minute play. The play’s emphasis on heat, sun, breath and life were obviously key elements in the theme.

“Those elements influence the play heavily,” says Devereau. “I think, at least where I’m coming from it’s like: how did someone invest so much of her life… and miss out so much on life by focusing on death? And the same thing with Creon. Two different people looking at the same thing. He’s focused on one, she on another.”

Antigone and her uncle, Creon, are two sides of a coin; both show aspects of a tragic hero. Something, Devereau points out, Melissa Cooper (the writer) did on purpose.

“In this,” she continues, “I took that both- who side to choose? Both are really the same. He’s trying to protect his city, she’s trying to be a good sister. It’s like, do the needs of the individual surpass the entire city? So it all comes back around. Full circle. Makes you realize how much life actually means.”

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Asolo Conservatory students present ‘Antigone Now’