FIU Theatre is taking viewers to ancient Greece in its upcoming production of "Lysistrata" by Aristophanes. The comedic tale follows a woman, Lysistrata, who seeks to end the Peloponnesian War between Greek city-states by denying men sexual pleasure. She enlists the women of the warring cities to do the same with their husbands and lovers to force the men to negotiate peace.
Director Phillip Church and his cast and crew will transport viewers to the warring city streets of ancient Greece – as they would have done in a non-pandemic world – with the help of a few green screens, costumes and some video editing.
“In the 40 years I have been at FIU, I have never been required to direct a production in which the actors and stage crew were all isolated in their own pods,” Church says. “Maybe, through reinventing the wheel we are, at the same time, discovering new skills in teamwork? There is an irony in there somewhere – together alone?”
Church enlisted the services of digital media specialist and alumna Kenessa Durrum ’17 to help audiences feel connected to the theatre experience.
“This is a really unique experience because there is no stage,” Durrum says. “Every cast member is getting their own green screen, lighting and costumes to help set the virtual ‘stage.’ And, at the end, I will cut and edit all the footage together and add things like color correction and audio.”
The work behind the production has been no small feat.
Costume designer Marina Pareja planned an entire wardrobe for "Lysistrata" with few fittings for the cast; she avoided the color green, so as not to interfere with the green screens.
“There have been some challenges, but because this a Greek comedy and ancient Greek fashion is pretty simple, there aren’t a lot of fittings required,” Pareja says. “I also reused a lot of costumes I already had in storage. In fact, some of the tunics I pulled for the production are from a "Lysistrata" production from 1983.
“Because we are filming this instead of presenting it on stage, I focused mainly on dressing up the upper body, so jewelry, especially, plays a huge role in the costume design,” she adds.
And the cast, while performing a piece that is likely to bring a few chuckles and smiles to viewer’s faces, are tasked with navigating an entirely new medium.
“'Lysistrata' has been an entirely different experience than the other remote productions we have done in the past,” Shadya Muvdi, who plays Lysistrata, says. “We are treating this wholeheartedly as if it was a live production. When rehearsing, we have to face the other actors in the scene as if they were there, so Kenessa can edit us all onto different shots and give the appearance that we are actually talking to each other in the same room, which means we also have to get the timing of our entrances right. And since we can’t look at our Zoom screens to see when our partners have entered, it has been a bit complicated, especially considering spotty WiFi and Zoom delays.”
The cast is also wearing more hats than they normally would in a live theatre production. Due to the remote nature of the production, actors have taken up the roles of tailors, hair and makeup artists, set designers and more. But many agree the experience has only helped them “grow.”
When the theatre department decided to take on this production, a major draw was the opportunity to bring some much-needed laughter and joy into people’s homes – even if only for a few hours.
“I proposed this title for the very reason that we must not lose a sense of humor, even when we are facing dire and traumatic experiences,” Church says. “Humor is one of the characteristics of man that aids his/her resiliency and ability to endure.”
In the making of "Lysistrata," many of the cast and crew also found a deeper meaning in their roles.
“This play can get very real, and I would love people to see that all it takes is one voice to come up with an idea, no matter how irrational and impossible it may seem at first,” Muvdi says. “Use your voice if you have one, don’t watch injustice and let it go by unspoken.”
"Lysistrata" will stream free on Friday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 28, at 2 p.m. and tickets must be reserved in advance.