Oakland University students travel to Greece to study, perform classical theatre
A group of 10 Oakland University students were recently given an opportunity to showcase their talents on a global stage as they travelled to the Greek island of Hydra, where they studied, rehearsed and performed their production of Orestes in the island’s outdoor amphitheater.
The experience was part of the Classical Theatre Study in Greece program, which is now in its fifth year at OU. The program was designed to allow students to perform and learn in Greece, where Western theatre originated and remains an integral part of modern culture.
“The program wants to bring theatre students into an environment where Western theatre began, and have them study not just one play in particular, but the idea of the plays in the environment where they were written to be performed — outdoor amphitheaters,” said OU Theatre Professor Karen Sheridan, who accompanied the students on the trip along with Associate Professor of Theatre Jeremy Barnett, Associate Professor of Theatre Lynnae Lehfelt, and Cinema Studies Director Andrea Eis.
In addition to performing at the Hydra Island amphitheater, the students — Aurora Batton, Krissy Castellese, Mariah Colby, Katie Colwell, Olive Ferguson, Amanda Ibrahim, Gabbi Keen, Connor Rajan, Carleigh Ray and Dryden Zurawski — also attended productions of Oedipus and The Oresteia at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and visited Delphi, Nafplion, Athens, Corinth, Argos and Mycenae, where Orestes takes place.
“In Orestes, Orestes was told by Apollo that he had to avenge his father’s death, which means he had to kill his mother because she killed Agamemnon,” Sheridan said. “The play asks how you judge Orestes if the gods, or in this case Apollo, told him to do it. The citizens gather to argue the case and if need be, determine the punishment. Art reflects life here as the idea of democracy was new. An anonymous vote is taken. It is both a rich family story and an intensely political one.”
Sheridan said she believes that having the students visit sites where Orestes takes place allows them to gain a better understanding of the play.
“When you have experienced deep research, in-person and standing in the place where the stories unfolded — whether that’s the Globe Theatre, an ancient Greek amphitheater or wherever it is — you learn something almost non-verbal about the characters and the weight of their journeys. If you are available to it, you sense their gravitas,” she said.
“One of the things I hope the students experience is to realize that being in a place where something was created informs you,” she added. “I hope they get a sense of the responsibility of storytelling. I hope they have opinions about the stories they decide to tell.”
The students will also be performing Orestes for the campus community at 8 p.m. on Sept. 6-7 and at 2 p.m. on Sept. 8 in Varner Studio Theatre.
“Plays were written to get people to look at their lives and see the options,” Sheridan said. “I think plays still do that. I think that’s our job in theatre. It doesn’t matter if it’s musical theatre, a comedy, etc. That’s what keeps theatre alive. There are stories people still need to hear.”