Dramaturg Alexis Riley guides us through the processes, worlds and histories of The Women of _______ (a song not song).
“This is a play about how songs are washed away, and how they forgot they were songs after the rain.”
The Women of _______ (a song not song) began as a single idea: an adaptation of Euripides’s The Women of Troy for a contemporary audience. This was no easy task. Euripides’s oft-produced text, first performed in 415 B.C., takes place in the days following the fall of Troy. Queen Hecuba presides over the city’s female survivors, among them the grieving widow Andromache and the cursed prophetess Cassandra. As they await their fates as concubines and slaves to the murderous Greek generals, each recalls memories of longing and loss. These memories serve as the bedrock of our production, combining ancient myth with contemporary form.
Working with such weighty source material proved to be a challenge. For director kt shorb, simply remounting or revising the Greek original would not suffice. Instead, the cast and creative team used a method known as devising, where artists use written exercises, movement games and improvisation to generate material. “Devising is an effective way to address urgent issues quickly,” shorb observed. “The process brings out complexities that might not be immediately visible in the source material.” The resulting production is not a narrative retelling, but rather a complex collage drawn from the words and world of Euripides’s text. These fragments, refracted through the vision of the core artistic team, serve as clues for decoding the world of The Women of _______. While there is no “correct” way to interpret the play, here are some helpful hints to get you started:
Euripides: (480-406 BCE) Greek tragedian, the youngest of the three whose plays still survive (the others being Aeschylus and Sophocles). Euripides’s work is considered by contemporary scholars to be uniquely interested in characters’ interiority at a time when psychology was not theorized. Important plays include The Bacchae, Medea, Electra and The Women of Troy.
Asphodel Meadows: The Asphodel Meadows is a section of Hades, the Greek underworld. Heroes were sent to the Elysian Fields, ordinary souls were sent to the Asphodel Meadows and the wicked were sent to a land of horrible punishment called Tartarus. The entire land of the Asphodel Meadows is characterized by neutrality and blandness. Before entering, souls drank from the river Lethe, which erased their entire identity, turning them into machine-like automatons.
Cassandra: Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. In some myths, she consents to sleep with the god Apollo in exchange for the gift of prophecy, but refuses after he bestows it on her. In others, she does not consent, only refuses. In response, Apollo curses her so that no one will believe her true prophecies. After the fall of Troy, she is taken by Agamemnon and forced to be his concubine. When he brings her to Argos, she is murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra. Upon her death, she is granted passage into the Elysian Fields.
Troy: Troy was located to the east of Greece, across the Aegean Sea. After disrespecting Zeus, Poseidon and Apollo were forced to build the walls of Troy as penance. The walls were said to be impenetrable. When Odysseus stows soldiers into the famous horse at the end of the Trojan War, the army massacred the city, killing the Trojans as they slept. The Greeks burned the city to the ground, dividing gold and women amongst the generals before departing.
yellow daffodils: Yellow daffodils symbolize renewal and new beginnings, and are associated with spring. When daffodils bloom, it is taken as a sign of winter’s end. Spotting a daffodil is said to bring good luck.
The Women of Troy: Also known as The Trojan Women, Euripides wrote The Women of Troy in 415 B.C., where it won second prize at the City Dionysia. The play details the fate of the women of Troy who are divided amongst the Greeks as slaves following the fall of the city.
ax by a woman: a reference to Clytemnestra, wife of the commander of the Greek army, Agamemnon. When Agamemnon returns to Argos after the fall of Troy, Clytemnestra tangled him in a net and killed him with an axe. Agamemnon’s concubine Cassandra remained in his chariot for the duration. After prophesying her and Agamemnon’s murders to no avail, Clytemnestra walked into the palace, resigned to her fate.
boy thrown off a high wall: A reference to Astyanax, infant son of Hector and Andromache, and heir-apparent to Troy. When the Greeks came to Troy, Andromache hid Astyanax in a tomb but he was eventually found by the Greek general Neoptolemus and thrown off the walls of Troy. In The Women of Troy, the messenger returns Astyanax’s body on Hector’s shield to Hecuba, his grandmother.
Andromache: Andromache is the wife of Hector and future queen of Troy. After Neoptolemus throws her child from the walls of the city, he takes Andromache as his concubine and brings her back to Greece. Her lament for her son appears in Euripides’ The Women of Troy.
rye: Rye is a reference to Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and symbol of fertility.
Of course, there are many more ideas and images that compose The Women of ______. As we identify each, the production asks us to look both backwards and forwards. Through its engagement with historical source material, The Women of ______ invites audiences to metaphorically commune with the ghosts of audiences past who, like us, gathered together in 415 B.C. to hear the words of Cassandra and her contemporaries. At the same time, the non-linear theatrical form of The Women of _______ encourages us to imagine new ways of creating future work. What new memories might we find together?
—Alexis Riley (Dramaturg, The Women of _______ (a song not song))
The Women of _______ (a song not song)
Written by I-Chia Chiu, kt shorb and the ensemble
February 13–17, 2019
Oscar G. Brockett Theatre
For more information and ticketing, visit theatredance.utexas.edu.