“Antigone” was my first experience assistant directing at UNCG and my first experience in any form of directing. Even though it was something entirely new to me I found myself very passionate about it.
Last semester I read “Antigone” for my Theatre History class and immediately fell in love with it. The way that it related to our society today, the way it shows the power of the state versus the power of the gods. I also knew we were doing it for one of our Spring semester shows, so I knew I wanted to be a part of it in some way. Whether that was acting, directing, stage managing… anything.
So auditions roll around and then callbacks and the option of acting in it was eliminated and so I pursued the directing side. On the first day of rehearsal the question was asked “what do you do when both opposing sides of a moral issue think they are right?” This was an issue that arose in “Antigone” and is an issue that I believe is very apparent in our lives today.
On the current political spectrum today both sides present themselves as morally right, while thinking that the other side is morally wrong or mistaken. Something that we wanted to talk about before even approaching how to stage this thing was how this play struck us.
The play starts with Creon, who has just taken the throne and the citizens of Thebes are happy to have him. Although it’s titled “Antigone” the story follows Creon’s journey through his sudden claim to the throne. Creon is all of a sudden given all the authority over the state and this is a heavy and burdensome task. Antigone and a few others believe that Creon is using his power to achieve an unfair agenda and is abusing his power by not being flexible in his decree. Sophocles, the writer of this play, makes it seem that in the end both lose. Because of the stubbornness of Creon, Antigone dies, and Creon deeply regrets his decision to be so hard on the laws he enacts. “Suffering is the only schoolteacher” Creon says in response to finding out his actions caused his son and his wife to kill themselves.
We started working on this play a week before Christmas where we discussed ideas for the production. How it made us feel, our thoughts on the characters and the reasons behind their actions.
In preparation for this play, I watched the Netflix original series “The Crown”. This series really gives insight to the burden of being in rule and having to make the hard decisions when it comes to the people you are ruling over.
It really shows the internal war of the human versus the crown. Creon is a human being who is given a position in which he cannot show he is vulnerable or that he can be broken. Who wants a ruler that is weak and doesn’t stand for anything? On the other hand when does power become too much? In “The Crown,” Queen Elizabeth is checked in her power by the Prime Minister, but Creon is the sole King of Thebes, he has no one checking him to ensure the people have a fair voice.
People are dangerous when they are frightened. Creon is afraid of being underestimated, of failing as king as his brother and nephews have done. In preparation for this play we talked a lot about how Creon develops throughout the play. Creon starts out being a fair and loyal and well-loved king and ends the play being a overly proud, majorly disliked man. We talked about how Daniel Jenkins, the actor who plays Creon, needed to bring out the different levels found in the character.
It is very easy to read the play and see Creon as the bad guy. But if Daniel were to walk on stage as Creon and openly state: “look at me I’m a bad person”, the audience would be asleep halfway through. Creon, at heart, is doing what he believes is best for his country, and a lot of the people of Thebes agree with his policies. He is a reasonable man. Until he messes with the gods and gives Polynices no rest in the afterlife. Creon lacks reverence for the gods and his position and he thinks he can heal Thebes.
Directing this play was a little scary at times. I really don’t want to get political but it can’t be helped when thinking about the political condition of ancient Thebes in modern day America. Trump was a name that came up a lot in rehearsal, often in relation to the play. Trump is a man that doesn’t seem very flexible in his ambitions as president and also doesn’t like his authority being checked. Like Creon, Trump would rather put people’s careers to rest than engage with someone who opposes him. Like Creon, Trump believes what he is doing is the right choice and like Thebes, America either agrees with that or doesn’t. The chorus in this play acts as the Senate to Creon and although they can advise Creon they cannot make him not do something.
The Greek chorus was a difficult thing to address during the production of this play. Normally, the Greek chorus odes are the part of the play where everyone checks out or looks at their phone to scroll through their Facebook. We didn’t want to put the audience to sleep or make them reach for their phone so we tried to make it as active as possible. The chorus is each an individual person, with names, and lives and specific objectives throughout the play. We may not see them directly in the play but for the actors is was much better to make lives out of the chorus members than just be the person that narrates the play.
The chorus in this production was a group of six strong women, each in charge of keeping Thebes on its feet after a horrible fight. We assigned each chorus member a specific job title, like secretary of state, or attorney general or secretary of war. They all had things they needed to do throughout the play, which I thought gave a lot of life to the play and made the chorus one of my favorite parts of the play. The soldiers and Creon’s staff were treated the same way, with their own positions and objectives throughout the play.
I learned a lot helping John Gulley direct this play. I am eager to direct more at UNCG and I hope this helps you think about the play in a deeper and different way. I think there is always something to learn from “Antigone.”