Monday, September 27, 2010

Of Satyrs, Scholars, and Clay

Exploring the Getty Villa’s Art of Ancient Theatre
By Chas LiBretto

We’ve been spending a lot of time at the Getty Villa of late. Psittacus Productions friend and Advisory Board member Olympia Dukakis is currently starring as a single-woman Chorus in a fantastic new version of Sophocles’ Elektra, translated by Timberlake Wertenbaker and directed by ACT’s artistic director Carey Perloff, and we had the good fortune to see it in previews. I’d say run, don’t walk to see it, but unfortunately I believe it’s sold out for the rest of it’s run, which ends next week.

Shortly thereafter, Homa Nasab, another member of our Advisory Board, and curator and writer of an online Arts publication called MuseumViews, set us up to interview Mary Louise Hart, the Getty Villa’s Associate Curator of Antiquities and curator of the Villa’s currently running exhibit The Art of Ancient Greek Theatre (again, run, don’t walk to this exhibit – it lasts until January 3, 2011). She took us on a guided tour through the vases, sculptures, and even the fragmentary papyrus of a lost Satyr Play that make up the exhibit, the largest collection of such materials ever gathered. We deeply enjoyed ourselves and were honored to receive an invitation to join Mary Louise Hart once again at a Symposium called Artists and Actors: Inconography and Performance in Ancient Greece, which I’ve now just gotten home from after two days immersed in the ancient world.

The Symposium was a gathering-together of many distinguished scholars and researchers, professors of classics from around North America and Europe, all of whom were to present new papers related to their current research. For myself, currently preparing an ancient Greek project be presented at the Son of Semele Ensemble Theater in January (and to be officially announced in an article on MuseumViews, hosted by at the end of the week), the opportunity to learn from the experts what creating theatre in the 5th century BC was actually like was an opportunity too good to pass up.

Even besides the play-in-progress, much of my early reading as a youth was tied to an obsession with d’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, which has led to a fascination, to this day, with writers and artists who explore what these stories still say about us (people like Lewis Hyde, Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, M. John Harrison, Gene Wolfe and others). It was stimulating and exciting, and I obviously find myself having learned more about the theatrical life of Ancient Greece than I knew before. I also leave with new questions, many of which I’d like to explore in a theatrical setting in January.

We were also invited to a luncheon on the second day of the Symposium, a chance for working theater-artists like ourselves (alongside another LA-based company called the Poor Dog Group, Elektra-director Carey Perloff, and Anne Bogart, whose SITI Company is slated to produce a new version of Euripides’ The Trojan Woman next summer, a production we can’t wait to see) to have face-to-face time with the scholars to discuss, specifically, how and why one would go about staging a Satyr Play.

Before I go further, Satyr Plays are a sort of extinct genre in the Greek theatre, having not survived in the way Tragedy and Comedy have. In fact, only one full Satyr Play is fully intact (Euripides’ Cyclops), and one other (Sophocles’ The Trackers) is incomplete. The rest of what we have are mostly fragments, with the implication being that dozens, if not hundreds, have been lost to us. That said, the Satyr Play was important to the Ancient Greeks, and would always finish out a playwright’s entry into the Festival of Dionysus, following three of a playwright’s tragedies. The Satyr Play was a lighter, highly entertaining parody of the old stories, featuring the furry-legged Satyrs, intruding upon often the myths the audience had just watched played out in a trilogy. Some manic, wild energy following a day of matricides, patricides, and doomed protagonists, a necessary cleansing “to give audiences hope,” as J. Michael Walton, Professor Emeritus of drama at the University of Hull, movingly put at the end of the luncheon.

Unfortunately, my two colleagues at Psittacus could not make it to the luncheon or the Symposium. They’re currently rehearsing their version of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII at the Folger Shakespeare Library, another prestigious museum presenting the play in conjunction with a large new exhibit commemorating the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s ascension to the throne. Still, in discussing what took place over the course of the weekend’s events with my colleagues, and in processing the incredible deluge of information I find myself walking away from the Getty Villa with, I get very excited about what Psittacus Productions will do with these classic works as we move into Year Two. And we have the Getty Villa and their exciting Collection and stimulating Symposium to thank for that.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Psittacus Mentioned in LA Stage & Cinema!!

Harvey Perr and John Topping of the excellent blog, "Stage & Cinema" mentioned Psittacus Productions' "A TALE TOLD BY AN IDIOT" in their latest post.

The post also included a glowing review of the Getty Villa's production of "ELEKTRA," which stars Psittacus Advisory Board Member (and Academy Award winner) Olympia Dukakis as the whole of the Chorus. We saw the show and were blown away - particularly by Olympia who continues to amaze. She is truly a force of nature.

The quote:


You can fragmentize a familiar Shakespeare play like Macbeth, if you have a clear concept of what you want to do with it and then give it a witty and inventive production, as was proven recently when Psittacus Productions presented A Tale Told By An Idiot...."

The full post:

Click here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

From Screenwriter Dionne O'Dell

Below is a guest blog post from screenwriter Dionne O'Dell. Psittacus Productions, in association with NewBourne Productions, will be shooting this short film in early 2011. More to come - stay tuned!!


Pre-production has already begun for DREADFUL SORRY, my short film script awarded the extremely generous 2010-2011 SC Film Commission Production Fund Grant, and the shoot will commence in March 2011 with NewBourne Productions.

Many people have asked me how the story of DREADFUL SORRY came to be. In following the Production Fund Grant guidelines, I needed to create a story that was South Carolinian in content. Being a Northerner, I struggled for a few days regarding what I wanted to write about, but the answer became obvious after perusing the local section of the Barnes and Noble bookstore. The shelves were lined with book after book of Southern ghost stories. Having vacationed in South Carolina every summer since I was fifteen, I was always enamored by the mysterious nature of the old Southern plantations and their haunting Spanish Moss covered trees. A ghost story that was psychological in nature was right up my alley and I knew I was on to something exciting!

After researching many South Carolina ghost stories I stumbled upon the story of Gauche, a jester who arrived in Beaufort, SC with Jean Ribaut and the Huguenots. Legend has it that Gauche was a dwarf who wore pointed shoes with bells on them and that he died on the grounds of what is now The Castle, a plantation house built in 1859 by Dr. Joseph Fickling Johnson. During the Civil War, The Castle was occupied by Federal troops and used as a military hospital complete with a morgue and cemetery. The ghost of Gauche has been known to rise up out of the fog that emanates from the river behind the house and to leave bloody handprints on windows and doors of The Castle,

When I read about this character of Gauche, I immediately knew that I had my inspiration. Louis Butelli, co-founder of Psittacus Productions, LA, is a classically trained actor and friend that Robert Richmond, Director/Producer of DREADFUL SORRY, and I have collaborated with for over ten years. Louis has played a plethora of Shakespeare’s fools and I had wanted to write a script specifically for Louis for a long time. So I started with Louis as Gauche and the story just began to write itself.

DREADFUL SORRY was therefore inspired by the legend of Gauche and The Castle but does not follow a particular event that has been recorded regarding the ghost of Gauche and his shenanigans. DREADFUL SORRY is a suspense thriller seen through the eyes of ten year-old Lily Reece Danner. Lily Reece returns to her father, Dr. Conrad Danner, at the family’s plantation house in scenic Beaufort, SC after being sent away for seven years during the Civil War. Lily is befriended by Gauche, a man/ghost who knew the mother she struggles to remember. Dr. Danner is plagued by flashbacks of the night he strangled his wife Victoria and threw her body in the river behind the house. Events of that dreadful evening unfold and Victoria’s ghost rises from the river to exact revenge.

The characters and the revenge tale emerged after visiting Beaufort, The Castle, and the river behind it. The script has gone through several revisions with the insights of Ronda Berkeley, an invaluable resource provided by the SC Film Commission. Ronda is a script coach and a consultant who has worked in the film and television industry for many years. I continue to be inspired by the knowledge and talent of those contributing to this exciting project and look forward to production next spring!

New Project, New Artwork!!

More info on this exciting new project to come. Stay tuned!!

Thanks to the amazing Katharine LiBretto for this image.