By NATALIE SAYEWICH
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Ancient Greece isn’t usually associated with cutting-edge technology, but state-of-the-art lighting and audio and video production help to transport the audience to Delphi, the setting of the play “The Furies,” in East Carolina University School of Theatre and Dance’s final production of the season.
The play, which opens today, is a contemporary version of “Eumenides,” the third in “The Oresteia,” a trilogy written by Greek tragedian Aeschylus first performed in Athens in 458 B.C.
Because of the limited technology when the play was written, there were few specifics regarding lighting or special effects. That, coupled with the mythological nature of the story, allowed director John Shearin and lighting, sound and projection designer Erich Keil to get creative with their interpretation.
The events which lead up to the third portion of the trilogy created an opportunity for a video/audio prologue. The otherworldly setting and supernatural characters legitimized the use of special lighting and vocal effects. The resulting show, Keil said, is closer to what you’d expect to see at a rock concert than at an ancient Greek play.
“We’re doing a full 16-channel surround sound rig that probably surpasses what you’d find in most movie theaters,” Keil said. “That’s a more modern technology application that you wouldn’t normally associate with your typical production of an old Aeschylus or Euripides play.”
All of the actors will be wearing microphones, partly so their lines won’t be eclipsed by the other larger-than-life factors of the performance, but also to enhance their voices.
“These Furies are supposed to be supernatural so we wanted to do something with their vocals to make them sound just a little bit inhuman,” Keil said. “We’re putting a couple effects on there that split their voice into two or three parts and pitch-shift them a little bit, put some delay on them so that when one Fury talks, you actually hear three or four voices at a time.”
The play is designed to be a challenge for all those involved. Keil composed original music and soundscapes for the show while he and his design and production students stuffed the 80-minute play with as many cues as they would normally have for a full three-hour musical. Shearin has struggled to find a way to present the drastic change that occurs when the Furies transform from vengeful monsters to benevolent protectors in a way that’s believable.
“It was unclear to me how it would occur in terms of the presentation, the staging,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to figure out how this can be made evident to the audience, that this profound change is taking place in this group of goddesses or people, to have them become something entirely different in a matter of moments and make that palatable and justifiable.’ It remains to be seen if we succeeded.”
For the actors, the physical requirements of the roles are as difficult as the chore of conveying a character conceived thousands of years ago.
“The Furies are probably among the most challenging roles because of the physical demands that the roles make,” Shearin said. “Even though it’s a short play, they are constantly making physical choices. There are a lot of demands made of them vocally as well.
“It’s always good to have one show of the season where we’re really pushing the envelope,” Shearin said. “We always like to have one where we’re really pushing ourselves, our students and our audience. This is that show this year.
“It is nice for it to be the last one, just because it’s a final marshalling of all our resources of energy.”
Contact Natalie Sayewich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9596
via The Daily Reflector.