Friday, February 28, 2014

'Who's on first?'

When I first read the scene between my character Amphytruo and Sosia in the translation provided to us by Professor Jeppesen, I found my mind immediately turning to Abbott and Costello’s ‘Who’s on first?’ comedy bit. The lines back and forth, the talking at cross purposes, the silliness. It all brought me back to the first time that I heard that bit somewhere in my childhood. When reading it from the translation that we chose, I realized that some of those jokes did not show through. As I have been working at ‘punching up’ the scene a bit, I realized how hard it can be to get just the right natural responses when talking at cross purposes. We all do it at some point in our lives and it needs to come naturally. The more natural the more hilarious. Obviously the audience is meant to be the only entity that understands what is going on, which can be tricky. The other obstacle of course is trying to still be true to the original with what is said and not reinventing the wheel. Although it has taken me a while, I feel that the end product has hit the mark and will make this scene all the better.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Couplet vs. The Punch

For my part, I thought I'd take a moment and write about some of the differences between two translations of Plautus' Amphitruo from Latin to English. One by Lionel Casson (the punch) and the other by Edward Sugden (the couplet.)

Like the other bloggers, I'll be focusing on the scene where Sosia arrives and Mercury beats him and sends him packing. I'll try to be succinct.

First, for context's sake, I should mention that Casson's translation was published in 1963, while Sugden's was published in 1893.
The most immediate difference between the two is the general structure. As implied by the title of this post, Casson's translation is a lot punchier, and feels more stage-ready (at least in a modern context.) It has a good pace (or at least a good a pace as it could have in such a Plautine scene) and most of the jokes fit more smoothly, though not all. Also, Casson's translation has stage directions on almost every line of the play. This may be viewed as taking liberties (and it is,) but the stage directions are all very fitting when considering the dialogue.
In contrast, Sugdon's translation follows the more formal structure of shaping everything into rhyming couplets. This doesn't make it of a lower quality outright, and in its own right it is a clever translation, but after so many rhyming couplets it's easy to become tired of it and to wish he would stop trying so hard to make the entire play that way. Perhaps ironically, some of Sugdon's decisions regarding how to translate the jokes actually worked a bit better than the Casson translation, and the couplets do give a nice quirky feel to the exchange, though this quickly deteriorates into what sounds like a hyper-extended Dr. Seuss reference. As with the original fragmentary script we have, there are no stage directions in this translation, and it seems to be more of a literary translation than one intended for performance.

In conclusion, one translation isn't necessarily "better" than the other, it's just that they were made with slightly different intents in mind. For our purposes, which are to perform the play in a modern and relatable context, Casson's translation is definitely the better fit.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Casson Vs. De Melo

I found the contrast between Casson and De Melo the most interesting because of the different purposes for which they were written. In class today we discussed how De Melo is the newest translation and that he emphasized a scholarly, literal translation from the original Latin text. As a Latin student, I found his translation very helpful as he tried to keep the English in similar clauses as the Latin had been. However because of this scholarly effort, the translation is stiff and clearly not suited for the stage.  Casson’s work, however, features a rhythm and ease that makes his translation a prime candidate for our production. He has adjusted the lines to make them sound more fluid to the English ear. Casson’s punchlines hit well, and he displays a sound understanding of the timing of quick back and forth banter. Casson also included parenthesized stage directions that gave the readers a bit of emotional context. I believe that this was a smart play on Casson’s part (no pun intended) because the brief directions do a lot to aid the silent reader’s mental imaging of the scene. Sir Thomas Casson (pictured below) was a well-known British actor and director in the early 20th century and his familiarity with the theatre is clear from this translation.  Though they had their differences, these two versions did have their similarities. Both Casson and De Melo utilized modern English to make the translation relatable.
I have had some rudimentary Latin translation experience myself and this has given me some insight into the amount of decisions and influence a translator can have on the end product. Even though I previously called De Melo’s translation stiff, it has still been translated into smooth English and it is by all means accessible. I am partial to Casson’s translation because it features a dialogue that both embraces the reality of the circumstances and characters and the poetry of the theatre.


In class we have been discussing the idea of authenticity in our performance and how there are many different kinds of authenticity. When I think if adaptation I think of being true to the original meaning of the author. I tend to appreciate the original when it comes to most things, although I have realized that things are not always so simple when it comes to adaptation. Can we truly know what the original intent of the author was? And in adapting their work, do we think that we are being true to the original without considering how the audience has changed and the author might not have done it the same way for our audience? On the other hand, if we go about changing someone’s work to fit our needs how far before we hijack their work and destroy a good thing? As someone said to me recently ‘Who are we to change it?’ To that I have concluded, especially in the case of Plautus, we are artists! Plautus himself and many others made it their business to take works from others and redo them to fit their own ideas. Humanity has been reinventing its entertainment with old ideas since the beginning. It’s what we do. And as we have said in class, an important part of being authentic is being true to ourselves. Perhaps Plautus is turning in his grave with all of the things we changed in his play. But isn’t that exactly what he did with this myth in the first place? With the changes I feel like we will be even truer to Plautus’s work because we will be entertaining instead of simply staging his play.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


The two plays that we have discussed from Seneca have been Hercules Furens and his Oedipus. Both of which cast the main protagonists differently than they had been portrayed before. Oedipus is less arrogant and is trying to find his identity more for the sake of saving Thebes. While Hercules kills his family because he has offended Hera in this play, having performed his labors successfully, in past renditions this connection is not made. Outside of changing content, Seneca also changes text and creates long flowing rhetorical dialogue which, despite being deep, does not seem to lend itself to performance. In my opinion it is meant to be read and pondered. Within a performance context this kind of dialogue is wasted on a live audience who is not given time to savor its meaning. I feel like in the end Seneca’s interpretations are interesting, though hardly my favorites.

Friday, February 7, 2014

What should we perform?

I think that the consensus on Amphitrou is pretty apparent. I want to be a team player so I will join the bandwagon. It is light, funny, and interesting. I do think that it is important to consider certain things when making this decision. I myself am interested in doing something that is more well known, mostly for the sake of educating our audience. I want them to walk away with more respect and interest towards the Classics. I feel like we should keep things in their ancient context (costumes, characters, setting, etc.), but I feel like we might have to drop certain ancient conventions of drama (chorus, masks, phaloi, etc.). I want to do an entire play because it will allow us to really do the play right. Although I feel a tragedy would be more emotionally charged, I think that perhaps a comedy is the best way to go for practical purposes. Whatever we do choose, I feel like if we can translate the essence of the work to our audience, we will have been successful.

Amphitryon it is!

So it sounds like we have a consensus. I think Amphitryon is a good choice. Margaret brings up a good point about our limitations, and I agree that if we want to give the best, most well-received performance, comedy is probably the way we'll want to go.

Apparently the reading in class (the day I was gone) was very good, and I'm curious, who was reading which parts?

As to my preferences for the rendering, I think it should be that be a balance between formal agreement with the text and modern adaptation. It should definitely be relatable, but we should be careful not to "dumb it down." As long as we avoid overdone adaptation, I think it'll be good. I could see some hybrid of classical dress and some reference to the masks being an interesting decision. Maybe half-masks or hats, or some other such equivalent. Just an idea.

One question I would have though is: considering we're performing at BYU, and the fact that the illicit relations between Jupiter and Alcmena are essential to the end of the plot, how were we thinking we'd treat that portion of the play? I'd be interested to hear some ideas for that.

I'm excited!



For our performance this semester, I think we should totally do Plattus' Amphritruo. Struggling with the pronunciation of the play name, I jokingly referred to it as "Ampi-Frito." I propose we name our production this and adapt the play around this title. Ampi-Frito is the boss of a Frito chip business. Sosia is a lowly worker. Zeus and Hermes could be conniving CEOs from upper management. Or they could be gods in a contemporary setting, whatever.  Ampi-Frito would where a suit and tie, looking like a boss. Sosia would be in sanitary factory garb, complete with hairnet. Or maybe his outfit could look more drive-thruish, with a colorful outfit with a visor. I think Amphituro is definitely our best bet for a good performance.

Fritos, anyone?

Out of the plays that we have read so far, I think that we should strongly consider performing Plautus’s Amphritruo. Firstly, I believe that the plot has the right amount of complexity and humor for a modern audience. It also features concepts that are relatable to a modern audience without too much background explanation of Greek culture. Zeus and his man-whore ways, a jealous husband, and a confused slave can be taken at face value, whereas with other plays we might have to find ways to explain the intricacy of Greek adoption, the practice of exposing etc. Also this plot is a bit more intricate that Pseudolus and personally I think it has a better sense of pacing and timing.
I am far more inclined to advocate a comedy of this nature as an option for our performance, than a tragedy. I think that with a comedy, given our collective lack of experience staging Greek plays and putting on productions as students, we would have a higher chance of a quality performance. Greek tragedies require serious acting chops and though we have discussed casting outside of our class…casting can be a bit of a mixed bag (especially near the end of the semester when a lot of BYU’s plays occupy the actors)… and the thought of either casting for or performing in a Greek tragedy is rather daunting to me. Plus, I’ve watched a few Greek Tragedy performances, and though they were amazing…they were also definitely downers. People love to laugh and a Greek comedy might be a bit easier to swallow for our audience.
I think that I would prefer to do one play in its entirety, as opposed to scenes. This way, the audience can follow the arch of the characters and the storyline without constantly having to switch gears. Also we, as a class, would be able to better explore one piece as opposed to having to juggle different snippets of plays.
Also, I really enjoyed Ansel and Christopher’s cold reading of Amphitrio and firmly believe that if we all opted to perform in the play, that there would be enough characters that suit us and our abilities. This play really has some funny moments and a lot of opportunity for great blocking. There is a lot of ways that we could stage physical humor to make the dialogue come alive.  As for dress, I prefer costumes over stage blacks. I think that costumes help with characterization for actors and improve the atmosphere of the play for the audience. In terms of location, so far I am liking the JKB stage that we have reserved, especially because it seems as though they are willing to give us ample rehearsal time which is a huge plus. I think that our class is really well suited to put on an awesome production of Amphitruo and I strongly encourage you all to consider it.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Amplification through Simplification

The other night I was watching a movie. It was Tom Cruise's Oblivion, an action, sci-fi type film. Morgan Freeman was in it. Often times when you watch a film with a personality as famous as Morgan Freeman it is very difficult to see him as anyone else. Forget seeing him as the character he's supposed to be portraying. I have no idea what his character's name in the film was, to me he was Morgan Freeman.

The ancient Greeks didn't have this problem during their performances. Ancient actors in Greece always wore large masks during their plays. It didn't matter how famous the actor was, you didn't have try to picture him as someone else, he was wearing a different face. This is one purpose that the masks served but I think their significance goes beyond that, a significance that becomes exceptionally apparent when comparing ancient and modern performance.

When I learned that the ancient Greeks used masks during their performances my initial thought was, "wow what an archaic practice, drama really has come a long way." Yet as I look at these masks portrayed in ancient sculpture and vase paintings I can't help feeling captivated by them. Why is this? What makes me feel so involved with these masks? The masks were simplified representations of the human face with exaggerated expressions. A cartoon really. I think about Oblivion and how uninvolved I felt with that film. It was a performance undeniably more realistic than ancient Greek drama. So why am I responding more to something that is much more unrealistic?

When we watch a modern movie we don't have to imagine much, everything is right there being displayed for us. But an ancient Greek play required much more imagination from the audience. The masks didn't look real. They were bigger than a normal face and the facial features on the masks didn't move. This requires the viewer to be part of the performance, they had to imagine themselves that the mask is talking. They had to invest a bit of themselves into it to make it alive. You don't have to do that in most modern films, the experience can just wash over you, with you completely uninvolved.