The Tysons-based Traveling Players present their Dionysion Festival this month, celebrating ancient Greek theater with modern touches, performed by young locals and aimed at audiences that include both the young and the young-at-heart.
The Sun Gazette spoke with the producers to get their thoughts on the recent efforts. For more information, visit the website at www.travelingplayers.org.
How were the works selected and who is your target audience?
As an educational theater company, our season selection begins with our students. We want our shows to give them appropriate and meaningful challenges, allowing them the most growth as performers and individuals.
For example, we originally commissioned “Ariadne’s Thread” (35 minutes; ages 6+) in 2013 to give our younger actors more complex material – worthy of the imagination of upper-grade performers. Judith Walsh White is an exceptional playwright for young audiences and actors; she draws from sources kids love, updating them in fun and poignant ways.
“The Odyssey” (45 minutes; ages 8 and up) offers audiences an exciting and fresh take on the classic journey of Ulysses. “Hecuba” (75 minutes; ages 12+), is Euripides’ rarely produced tragedy of revenge, which is particularly poignant as the world grapples with the horrors of war.
Greek works are timeless, but how do you keep them relevant for modern audiences?
Focusing on classical theatre, Traveling Players nurtures bold, resourceful and skilled performers. The themes are timeless, and therefore remain relevant. We all doubt our abilities (Ariadne), want adventures (Odyssey) and fear the fate of civilians in war (Hecuba).
Classical acting is demanding and remains the basis of all modern acting technique. The Greeks valued storytelling and the preservation of oral tradition. By giving this language to our students, we emphasize the importance of heritage.
Looks like there will be a lot of physics in these productions. How did the actors react to this?
Our students relished the challenge of being physical again! Without giving away any spoilers, not all characters live through these rooms. They use more than their words to solve the problems they find themselves in.
It’s super fun to do a fight play, because the fight scenes are the opposite of real violence: there are tons of security checks, it’s a choreography that you rehearse like a dance and that involves a lot of trust and close working together, and the victim is responsible (not the abuser). Irony! So you get tightly bonded students when you do a fighting game, which is wonderful.
“The Odyssey” presented additional challenges. To create the wide variety of monsters and gods Odysseus encounters on his journey, the actors learned to use puppets and masks – both of which require a high level of specificity and concentration.
One thing that is central to your theater is the “overall ethos”. How would you describe that?
At its heart, a set prioritizes the success of the whole over the success of the individual. This is in stark contrast to the way theater often operates.
Working together values the contributions of every member of the cast and crew. Ensemble practice fosters a collective ownership of the art, believing in actors as creative and interpretive artists.
Due to the emphasis on inclusivity and collaboration, all members of an ensemble develop a sense of wholeness and feel supported, trusted and listened to by the group. In this kind of environment, performers can take greater risks and experience greater growth, knowing that the ensemble will catch up with them when they fall.
This overarching philosophy extends to everything we do, both during the school year at our studio at Tysons and during the summer at our residential camps and conservatories. Actors in grades 4-12 who are interested in performing with us can audition for the summer on March 26-27. Students in grades 3-12 can take classes at our studio at Tysons this spring and summer.
If you had 30 seconds to give someone an “elevator speech” to convince them to come see a show (or two, or three), what would it be?
The Dionysion festival was a ritual for the Greeks – honoring the god of theater and wine: Dionysus. The Greeks believed that theater was a healing, cathartic and educational force. The festival took place in March, perhaps the original March Madness, when the community came together, celebrated and reflected. And you can have a drink of your choice (milkshake or something steeper) after the show!