Returning to the Source of Ancient Hellenic Theatre
AIMS AND MEANS OF ANCIENT DRAMA — A WORKING HYPOTHESIS
At the end of a very elaborate process of training and rehearsal, the ancient actor, having constructed his role, would sit in the wings in a moment of deep contemplation, his mask before him. Before lifting the mask to his face what is it that he had shed, and what was he putting on? What of us, who wish to step in his shoes: what must we shed, what must we lift up to play Orestes, Electra? Armed with the inner life of his role, the actor would enter into the embrace of the amphitheater stage and move upon the threshing floor with singular purpose, to contact, unite and wrestle with the space and the forces gathered within it, finally to master and transform them. Imalis’ Laboratory Workshops are dedicated to discovering and transmitting the concrete aims and means of the ancient actor’s craft.
The actor’s performance, for its physical, psychological and spiritual demands, was something between an athletic event, a ritualized exorcism and an oratorio lasting many hours. We have little, if any, direct descriptions of the creative and training process that elevated the Technicians of Dionysos to the level of mastery necessary for performing the dramaturge's meticulously devised and complex performance score. We have, however, an inexhaustible source of direct and indirect evidence, allowing us, through structured and rigorous analysis and experimentation, very accurate inferences from primary and secondary sources, as well as specific living survivals and diffusions from parallel performance traditions. The aim of ancient performance, the demands of the role, the instrumental elements of the actor’s voice, body and mind, the specialized tools and props of his art, the rigorous poetic codes, are all elements which we must take up again as an integral body of practice and embody it ourselves as a whole, if we genuinely wish to come close to the truth of ancient performance. This is a fundamental premise for us in Imalis, that runs through all the laboratory-workshops.
Participants in the week-long laboratory-workshops will learn how we bring the primary and secondary texts of antiquity into direct contact with contemporary and traditional performance approaches and training systems from around the world. As an approach, Imalis is an invitation to a unique and fascinating journey across time, space, and human culture. The reconstruction of the ancient actor’s craft traces elements that Ancient Greek Theater shares with specific “sister” traditions back to their common source in primal forms of dance, chant, martial arts and spiritual disciplines. Our method is one of trial and error, both empirical and experiential, Imalis is something between scientific experiment and structured improvisation. With the help of master teachers in these traditions, we measure the interest of any given form and the relevance and“legitimacy” of its adoption against its effectiveness in the fulfillment of Ancient Hellenic Theater’s singular aim. The aim for which the Theater of Epidauros was built, and its dramas played within the grounds of the Asklipion, Greece’s greatest healing center: the appeasement and transformation of negative human phenomena through the practice of a collective form of homeopathy, what Aristotle summarized with the term katharsis (κάθαρσις)