Desire Under The Elms: Part 2
Apollo, Dionysus and Tragic Theatre: Why is it Necessary?⎪By Director, Andrei Schiller-Chan
Melbourne audiences will be subject to a piece of tragic theatre in three weeks time, at Chapel off Chapel. The question must be asked why is it important & relevant for audiences to immerse themselves in this experience. In essence why is it necessary?
There is a reason the genre of Tragedy has existed for over 2000 years. The effects and elements of Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles are still relevant in modern works, if not somewhat evolved. Eugene has made it clear that Desire Under The Elms was a veneration of the classical stories such as Medea, Hippolytus, & Oedipus Rex. So in statement of our companies cultural relevance of this production we turn to Aristotle’s, Poetics, detailing the effects of its necessity and what makes Tragedy pleasurable to the experiencer. It is, however, Neitschze’s ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ that exposes its practicality to a societies culture and growth.
Aristotle stated the universal takes pleasure in imitations. That we take delight in viewing the most accurate possible images of objects. In the understanding of what each thing is in relation to another, pleasure is born from the acquirement of that knowledge. This is why theatre is so important for a cultures privity towards empathy: The ability to walk a mile in another shoes. Having come from working with wrongful convictions in the American Justice System, the lack of empathy - which inspires prejudice -becomes systematic in the very fabric and bindings of a societies Rule of Law. Prejudice is a difficult weed to pull out, and theatre is one of its antidotes. Empathy creates pleasure because it is knowledge of a persons past, present & future. Humans will always seek knowledge, that which is pleasurable; so in effect empathy is a by product of an experience in theatre. Seeing actions displayed before you, in conjunction with an actors own fight for truth in performance, the release of empathy is somewhat like a natural process, not unlike the creation of oxygen through photosynthesis. You may ask what makes Tragedy different to Cabaret in its importance, as both exude pleasure? Tragic theatre differs in its inclusion of certain elements such as: magnitude, reversal, recognition, dialect (iambic pentameter - prose), and universality. But what we’re really interested in is what Aristotle termed Katharsis or Purification.
This is a hard concept to explain as Aristotle’s own works elaborating on this phenomenon were lost, what remains is only a small fraction of what Aristotle may have lectured on. It is agreed that Katharsis refers to a ‘purification of pity and fear’. It must be stated that this is different from suppression and more aligned to relief. It would make more sense to see it from a medical point of view, like the relief of an ailment. This ‘relief’ is sourced from the pleasure in experiencing an imitation of life’s suffering performed in front of us and our ability to survive and walk on through to the end. Tragedy usually always deals in excess of action: moments taken to extremities, such as Oedipus gouging out his eyes. So what are we relieved from? Scholars agree that Aristotle tended this phenomenon towards relief from excess of emotion, that any of us may harbour. Excess of Emotion as we know leads to conflict, violence, & prejudice - among others. So Tragic Theatre becomes an antidote to the frailty of human complexities, to life’s suffering and yet paradoxically requires life’s torments to teach us our capacity that:
Nothing happens to any man that he is not formed by nature to bear. — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Having understood how Katharsis works, it is Nietzsche’ who puts its necessity into form:
With sublime gestures Tragedy [theatre] reveals to us how the whole world of torment is necessary so that the individual can create the redeeming vision, and then, immersed in contemplation of it, sit peacefully in his tossing boat amid the waves”.
Tragedy plays out our sedated insecurities and allows us to prepare for those moments when they come so that we may meet it with virtue and grace, as exemplified by the stoic sitting calmly in his/her boat amongst the waves.
The ignorance of conflict we discover within ourselves, can only be exerted outwards onto others, or onto our environment. Desire Under The Elms, ultimately shows that the nature of possession we impress upon people also becomes the way Nature, Earth and Land is formed, dissected, and treated. Nietzsche split Tragedy into two symbiotic personalities Apollo and Dionysus. The Greek Gods resemble a western Yin & Yang. You can’t have one without the other. By applying yourself to Apollo you create a redeeming vision using Technique to create an illusion of truth, and the greater the application to technique the closer you feel to Apollo. But Technique is nothing without motive, and so Dionysus, the God of Excess, allows for the revelry of all life sufferings to be harnessed and displayed. In their fusion, the pleasure in understanding all of life’s complexities is born and transcends our own limitations on seeing humans as individuals rather than as a whole.
I have an understanding that the greater we remedy the conflict within ourselves - Nature, and our destructive imprint upon it will also undergo reformation, something the world sorely needs. Tragic Theatre is part of that reformation, part of the web weaved into the ‘examined life’, and part of the collective movement that has companies & individuals engaging in social and environmentally sustainability.
Which is why we have partnered with The Climate Council
“We must think of the tremendous power of tragedy to excite the life of a nation, to purify and to purge. We shall not sense its greatest value until it confront us, as it did the Greeks, as the quintessence of all prophylactic remedies, the mediating force between the most intense and fatal qualities of the people.”
In what I have presented, Tragic theatre is not only important to the inner soul of humanity but also to the health of the environment, and so we are using this story about a small simple human family to raise awareness and donations to help preserve a way towards sustainability lest we do such great damage to the earth — that there will no longer be a stage to present upon. Truth in performance is the exact imitation of Nature, and she is therefore the pinnacle to what we all aspire. It is our duty then to protect, preserve, and sustain her as best we can. We hope that our production will do exactly what Nietzsche quotes and excite the life of a nation to seek out these prophylactic remedies.