In 2008, the ICHS hosted a symposium on the American experience at Delphi. Scholars
from different countries assembled in the spiritual heart of ancient Greece to present
papers (now collected and published as Americans and the Experience of Delphi).
Click here for the conference program.
ARHU in Delphi and Athens, Summer 2008
What can a group of ARHU faculty, students, and administrators, and four large trunks accomplish in Greece? Answer: One international conference, several theatrical performances in two different cities, and the beginnings of an exchange program with the University of Athens. Ours was not the first university or college to consider venturing down this path with the University of Athens. The University of Michigan had been invited to organize a similar trip, but the Wolverines had given up believing that it was altogether too ambitious.
But "ambitious" is a currency that the School of Arts and Humanities and our Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies (ICHS) trades in constantly. Led by the indomitable David Roessel and Tom Papademetriou, a conference was hosted inviting scholars from all over the world. In conjunction with that conference, a Stockton Theatre production of Eugene O'Neill's "Desire Under the Elms" was designed and staged so that it could be sent overseas.
Altogether, six faculty members (David Roessel, Pam Hendrick, Rodger Jackson, Tom Papademetriou, Katherine Panagakos, and Mark Mallett), an emeritus professor (Demetrios Constantelos), eight students (Noah Houlihan, Gina Faia, Jaaron Boger, Lane Jackson, Jessica Fricano, Jon Porubsky, Annmarie Kersetter, and Patrick Judd), and the ARHU's Assistant Dean, Nancy Messina, traveled to Delphi and Athens. It was an eventful and memorable trip as the Journal below, updated almost daily based on emails from Nancy Messina and Mark Mallett attests.
Episode 1 (update sent June 24, 2008)
Well our pilgrims have progressed across the pond for our Mayflower traveling theater
program. They are now in Delphi, Greece, but they had to go through Dante’s inferno
to get there. Who better to describe this journey into the darkest recesses of the
European skyways than our own Mark Mallett?
It only took us 38 hours to get here, btw. Very late departing JFK, so of course we missed our connection in Paris. They rebooked us on Czech Airways for a 7:00 p.m. departure, with a connection in Prague. Arrived in Prague a bit late, but the connection was on time, so we finally arrived in Athens at 10:30 last night. We were met by a rep from the travel co., bus was ready -- everything looked good until -- guess what -- our 4 trunks failed to appear! After a thorough search of the baggage area and filling out some paperwork, we finally boarded our bus to Delphi at around 2:00 this morning, arriving at our quarters at about 6:00. Sunrise was beautiful! (somewhat sarcastic) Tom and David were waiting for us, so I grabbed a 2-hour nap, shower, and at the first conference session at 8:55. Everybody else is, I believe thankfully still asleep! (It's 11:30 here now).
Still no word on the missing luggage, but other than that everything's going smoothly.
Tempers are even, no outbursts or tantrums (I've restrained myself, and the students
are doing pretty well too!). Tom assures me we'll get on it after this morning's conference
schedule is done, and I've got faith . . .. I've also got real heavy eyelids, so I'm
going to sneak another nap in before this afternoon, if I can.
Nancy has been a big help in helping track through this thicket, and I am really glad she's with us -- as well as her international Blackberry!
The students' spirits are still up and they haven’t started yearning for home yet. Hopefully this first trip for some of them outside the US will be one that they will cherish. I will keep you updated as I hear from Nancy and Mark about the conference and the performances of "Desire under the Elms" in Delphi and at the University of Athens.
Nancy Messina wrote:
June 24: Everyone attended a wonderful reading of Susan Glaspell's play "Suppressed Desires," presented by students from The University of Athens and the Polytechnic Institute -- Lina Altiparmaki, Angeliki Kanellou, and Stavros Kalimeres. Dr. Babbis Magoulas, a faculty member from the University of Athens coached the students with dialect and pronunciation.
Earlier in the evening a paper and poetry reading of Angelos Sikelianos' poetry, was presented by Paul Lorenz, faculty at the University of Arkansas, and by Pine Bluff and Stockton alumni Brian Hoffman and Christa Fratantoro.
In addition, our RSC students spent time rehearsing for their Delphi premiere.
Episode 2 (update sent June 25, 2008)
The trip has gone very well thus far, and the problem of the boxes and bags not arriving on the plane has been taken care of. The scenery has arrived!
Nancy Messina writes:
June 25: RSC students are off to visit the ruins at Delphi. Professor Panagakos presented a brief, but very engaging lecture prior to our departure.
Another beautiful day in Delphi. Stay tuned, more to follow.
Episode 3 (update sent June 26, 2008)
Here's the latest news from Nancy reporting from Delphi. Everything seems to be going very well, and we are very pleased that Mark and Rodger have been purified, and that the Oracle has promised a shorter return journey, unless...
RSC UNDER THE DELPHI SKY
Last night's performance under the Delphi sky was outstanding. The outside venue was a wonderful setting for O'Neill's "Desire." The actors engaged the audience throughout the play. Everyone appreciated experiencing the culmination of the play under the glorious Delphi sunset. In addition to the recorded sound effects, we had the well timed, unexpected contribution of the local goats and their bells. Stockton and ARHU can be very proud of their students.
Earlier in the day the group spent time at the Delphi ruins visiting the Gymnasium, and then the Castalian Spring, where everyone purifed themselves before entering the sanctuary. Then we walked along the sacred way, and saw the Omphalos (navel)--since Delphi is the center of the world according to Zeus, as per Professor Panagakos. We then went to the Temple of Apollo and consulted the Oracle. Our question to the Oracle was "Will it take us 38 hours to return home?" The Oracle responded, "Don't shake the koboloi with your right hand."
This morning's events at the Symposium included papers presented by our own Mark Mallett and Rodger Jackson. Both papers were well received and followed by an interesting and lively Q and A session.
We now head for Athens.
Episode 4 (update sent June 27, 2008)
Here's the latest e-missive from Nancy in Athens:
ON THE ROAD TO ATHENS
Thursday, June 26th
The highlight of our trip to Athens yesterday afternoon was a stop for lunch at the family home of Tom Papademetriou, in the village of Tanagra. Tom's parents hosted a luncheon for the group. We were treated to wonderful food and a sampling of local wine.
Before getting back on the bus, we visited The Church of St. Anthony, which was founded by Tom's great grandfather. While visiting the church, we were audience to the local bishop's chanting of the hymn to St. Anthony.
Upon our arrival in Athens we checked into our hotel. Some members of the group visited the rooftop of the hotel where we enjoyed the spectacular view of the Acropolis. Other members of the group spent the evening in the plaka having dinner and shopping.
Friday, June 27th
After a morning rehearsal, the students accompanied by Katherine Panagakos, Rodger Jackson, and Nancy Messina, spent the afternoon at the Acropolis. Prior to our entry Professor Panagakos gave a short lecture on the history of the site, its buildings and the mythology. The view of the city from the top of the Acropolis was breathtaking.
This evening the RSC theatre group -- Rodger Jackson, Noah Houlihan, Gina Faia, Jaaron Boger, Lane Jackson, Jessica Fricano -- with sound designer Jon Porubsky, stage mananger Annmarie Kersetter and assistant manager Patrick Judd, will be performing O'Neill's "Desire" at the Courtyard, University of Athens.
We wish them the best with this evening's performance, and look forward to sending you an update about it.
Episode 5 (update sent June 29, 2008)
Good news! The students and Rodger Jackson returned safely to JFK without enduring another 38-hour trip.
Here's Nancy's latest update from Athens:
Saturday, June 28th
I am pleased to write that the ARHU Theatre Program gave two memorable performances under the Athens sky, June 26th and 27th. Although the performance space at the Courtyard, University of Athens presented a few challenges, the creative team of Director Pam Hendrick and Lighting Designer Mark Mallett reconfigured the set to work extremely well within the framework of the new setting.
All the actors quickly adapted to the new environment. The audience especially enjoyed the Greek translations by chorus member Jess Fricano, translated by our own Demetrios Constantelos, and coaching pronunciation assistance by Katherine Panagakos.
Representatives from our host school were in attendance during Saturday evening's performance. Professor Iosif Vivilakis and Department Chair Nasos Vayenas, were extremely pleased with the outcome of this initial collaborative effort, the product of the efforts of Professors David Roessel and Tom Papademetriou, and indicated their interest, enthusiasm and support for future projects between RCS and University of Athens.
Sunday, June 30th
A 4:30am hotel checkout and departure for the students and Rodger Jackson began the adventure home. Pam Hendrick and Nancy Messina saw the group off and wished them a safe journey home. Professor Jackson promised to let us know of their safe arrival in NYC. Hopefully their Odyssey home will be uneventful.
I also want to let you know that we plan to share photos from the trip on the ARHU web page. In addition, our sound designer Jon Porubsky will be editing the footage he shot while on the trip, which we look forward to possibly including in an upcoming ARHU Presents.
Episode 6 (update sent, July 1, 2008)
Nancy and Katherine Panagakos are now visiting an RSC student, Victoria Conover, who is staying on the island of Paros, before returning to Athens to further our connections with the University of Athens (along with Tom Papademetriou and David Roessel). Thanks to all who have been working on this project, and congratulations on the successful outcome of the traveling production of "Desire."
Episode 7 (July 3, 2008)
The rest of the Greek troupe are on their way home, returning to JFK sometime today. Here is Nancy's last update regarding the meeting with University of Athens administrators:
Tom Papademetriou, Katherine Panagakos and Nancy Messina met with officials at the University of Athens to discuss the procedure required to develop a formal collaborative exchange program between the University of Athens and Richard Stockton College.
The meeting with Vice Rector Karakostas, International Relations Department Head Elias Marsellos, and Theatre Professor Iosif Vivilakis was very productive.
Tom Papademetriou and Nancy Messina presented the Vice Rector with a letter from Provost Carr, detailing Stockton's interest in building its international programs. The recent visit of our Theatre Program and their well received performance at the University, was the first step in the development of such a collaboration.
Vice Rector Karakostas graciously accepted our letter of intent and indicated that Elias Marsellos would be our liaison with the University in the development of a bilateral agreement between the two schools.
We look forward to working to develop a mutually beneficial program for all the students and faculty at both institutions. It was a privilege to represent Dean Gregg and the School of Arts and Humanities at the meeting.
* * * *
Thanks again to Nancy for going to Greece to represent the School of Arts and Humanities, and for all the excellent updates. And thanks to everyone who participated in this very successful (ad)venture! This was an important project Stockton, for the School of Arts and Humanities, and for the Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies. It has helped increase our visibility internationally; and it has set the stage for further traveling theater productions (Israel, Edinburgh, Turkey); it has increased the likelihood of new exchange programs (with the University of Athens); and it highlight the potential of this fast growing Center in our midst -- among other things. Thanks to everyone who has been involved in bringing this to fruition -- especially David Roessel, who came up with the idea initially.
Next Stop: Israel for Pam Hendrick's "A Comb and a Prayer Book" in 2010, followed by another Roessel-Papademetriou extravaganza, this time in Turkey.
Everything we do is ambitious. That's the currency we use in ARHU!
"Property is Deft"
A Review of "Desire Under the Elms"
1850 was the year of the Compromise that saw the infamous Fugitive Slave Act passed, seeming to hurtle the country down the road towards civil war. In that same year, Herman Melville put the finishing touches to his book, "Moby Dick", which would appear in 1851. Both these facts came to me as I sat watching the curious and provocative play, "Desire Under the Elms," by Eugene O‚Neill, a play written in 1924, but set in Maine in 1850. Perhaps it is just the portentousness of the forms and themes of the Greek Tragedy, from which O'Neill clearly borrowed, that made me reach for a larger significance to the play, but I don't think that it is in fact unwarranted.
Property and freedom infuse the dialogue of this play and these were central to the discussion in the Compromise of 1850; and the characters' obsessive desire to own the farm and their attempts to find some meaning to their existence through such ownership, brings to mind Captain Ahab's obsession for the white whale. Tragedy results from such obsessive behavior -- a constant fear of betrayal by others and of being left with nothing. The characters from these small towns in Maine in 1850 saw everything pass by them, so apparently they became bitter and they turned to their belief in property as the cure for all things (I may have stolen that from a Presidential candidate!). Oh well, moving right along.
"Property is theft", as Monsieur Proudhon would have us believe, and there's no disputing that the characters in this play believe that theft is as good a way to get property as any other. While everything seems to hinge on it, property is actually pretty ephemeral and what can be gained by this method can be lost also. The tragedy, I suppose, is that a character may stumble upon other feelings in the pursuit of wealth and property, and find that their pursuit takes them away from what they actually have attained -- in the old fashioned way -- by earning it. So I begin with the set design in this review -- there is no other place to begin for a play about property -- because set design becomes immediate metaphor when you are trying to provide a setting for the materialization of an idea (with apologies to Hegel).
And here, set designer John Hobbie certainly hasn't let us down. We have a farm that is composed of the simplest elements (cloth and boxes), which can become any room or any part of the farm -- in the imagination. And since we won't know just by looking at it what the thing is, it is helpful that we have the delightful assistance of the actress, Jessica Fricano (who seems to have been left behind by a traveling Greek chorus) to inform us. Is this what O'Neill called for? I don't know, but it seems to me to be brilliant. [It turns out that this is director, Pam Hendrick's innovative idea of having the Greek chorus of reading O'Neill's stage direction.] It so aptly sums up the importance of place for the play -- it is everything, and yet it is nothing.
Moving along to the costumes (since we should fully materialize this play before we focus on the word bearers, however accomplished they may have been), guest costume designer Christina Giannini's offerings are eye-catching and inventive -- and very appropriate to the play. The men are all somber and grungy, as one would expect of farmers outside of a Jane Austen novel, while the women are alluring, colorful, and simply splendid -- in their own way embodying the allurements of property -- which, by and large, they were at this time -- though since this play is set just two years after the Seneca Falls Convention, such things are now being contested. The costume crew -- Julie Jackson, Tricia Mallett, Chris Abbott, Brittany Loos, Susan Madden, Katie Seternus, and Albert Smith -- also need to be thanked for the incredible amount of labor that must have gone into creating these costumes.
Lighting Designer comes next, because if you have a structure-less play about property, you surely must have complex light cues to organize the theater-goers‚ imaginations. And here, since I was seeing a rehearsal I didn't get the full effect, but I saw enough to know both that the final result will be stunning and that the labor involved in getting everything right is intense. It's like you end up at a play and the guy next to you in the audience just won‚t shut up -- well in this case it was actually great to get a glimpse of the master Mark Mallett at work in his booth. There he received significant assistance from the sound designer, Jon Porubsky, and from the stage manager, Annmarie Kerstetter, who holds everything together with great assurance. Tracy Jones was the Properties Designer as well, but in my ignorance I am not exactly sure what this person does, especially in a play about property that is so difficult to locate on the stage! The other person of note is the technical director, Justin Maciejewski (who must have overseen the construction of the wonderful stage -- which, built out towards the audience as it is for this performance, really shows off the great versatility of our theater at Stockton).
Oh, and there were actors too! They do an excellent job throughout. They first of all had to learn the strange accent of down-easters, and they performed it very well. But in addition to this they brought the dialogue to life and kept the play moving very adeptly. I may be biased, but I thought our faculty colleague, Rodger Jackson, led the way, playing Ephraim Cabot, the 75-year old father. He is utterly believable and brings out every nuance that might be found in the character of this irascible person. Congratulations to Rodger on his triumphant return to the stage. Noah Houlihan is again excellent as Eben -- I think I may have run out of superlatives for him a few performances ago. He migrates from despondent to elated and enraptured with great facility. Gina Faia is wonderful as Abbie Putnam, the interloper who marries the much older Ephraim to "steal" the property. She began as a perfect Becky Sharp-like character (Vanity Fair), but becomes an excellent tragic heroine. Jessica Fricano provided perfect pitch for the chorus, and Jaaron Boger and Lane Jackson were also very good. We have seen Jaaron Boger now in a few things, and it is good to see that he has such great range; Lane too is developing into a strong performer -- understated but always effective. I have one complaint of a serious nature. I thought the casting was terrific except with regard to Lane's Simeon Cabot. How on earth could he be mistaken for Ephraim's son? Eben and Peter made sense, but Simeon, no way!
Which, of course, brings us to the direction from Pam Hendrick. This too is excellent. I believe that all the interesting things that came to me during the performance were the result of the kind of intellectual approach to directing she takes. You always know that there is something else going on and part of the fun of the performance is always trying to work out what it might be -- or what one might want it to be. Pam is a perfectionist. She reaches for perfect pitch from her actors, and quality work from her designers -- and every time she seems to get it. It is certainly wonderful that she has put together a performance of such quality that we will be able to take "Desire" to Greece. That will really be quite an adventure.
Thanks to all the artists and performers involved in this performance. I do encourage
everyone to try and catch the play during the remainder of this week. You certainly
will find it worthwhile attending.