Modus Operandi: Antigone

part i: time & timeliness

produced by Raise the Stakes Theatre
article & photos by Caleigh Crow

On December 7 2017, I had the pleasure of attending one of Raise the Stakes’ earliest rehearsals, a table read of the script, at MainLine Theatre. This was before the polar vortex put us all in our place, so I thoroughly enjoy looking back at the early part of December, the time before school’s out but after there’s been a few advent calendar doors opened. Everyone is working at a busy beaver (elf-like?) pace to get all those emails answered, all the cards sent out, all the trimmings trimmed, and fitting in last minute visits with friends and family before soaking up all that break-time (your mileage may vary).

It’s no different in the rehearsal hall. The small talk has a distinctly festive slant to it, everyone’s stepped up their winter hat game from light/moderate ear coverage to crucial/desperate ear coverage. The textiles are heavier (shoutout to corduroy!), there are pom-poms about, and I am self-conscious about the gritty muddy mess my boots might be making, wondering if there’s such thing as a portable boot rack on Amazon prime. Oh yeah, it’s definitely winter.

The entire cast and some crew are gathered in the MiniMain, a small black box style studio space at MainLine. Anton Golikov, the director, begins the rehearsal by introducing Dr. Lynn Kozak, a professor of Classics at McGill University. Anton has invited her to give a quick lecture to the actors before the reading begins, and answer any questions they might have. The play is Antigone by ancient Greek playwright Sophocles. The main conflict in the play is driven by Antigone’s desire to see her recently disgraced and even more recently deceased brother buried according to the beliefs and rites of the time, contrary to the wishes of powers that be who catch on to Antigone’s defiance. Here’s the Wikipedia link, if you want a more in-depth look at the play, I’m here to describe the rehearsal.

Bringing Dr. Kozak in is good directorial sense. Learning works best when it’s shared responsibility and a shared task, and this way everyone is getting the same contextualizing information. The people in the room asked a wide range of questions. Some wanted to know about a woman’s place in ancient Greek society, others wondered what the contemporary audience demographics were, and of course, we all learned a thing or two about pronunciation (Poly-nye-keys vs. Poly-nice-ees)(it’s Poly-nye-keys).

She began by outlining the ancient Greek political structures and institutions, touched on what we know about ancient Greek society, and a few finer points on why burial rites could result in so much drama (read: bloodshed). I learned two ancient Greek words: “chronos” and “cairos”. Time and timeliness. She told us that the Greek playwrights are obsessed with the consequences of error. She said, “Everybody’s wrong; most people die.” The discussion ended and the assembled actors expressed their gratitude.

After a quick discussion on appropriate table configurations, the cast and crew sat at their designated spots. Anton called the session to order, and led the group in a quick eye-contact exercise. He wanted everyone to look in each other’s eyes, and not look away to the next person until you felt you trusted the other. Not a request typically issued at regular 9 to 5 jobs, but if a non-actor had to guess why the director chose this exercise, they would probably be able to come at the very least to the conclusion that maintaining prolonged eye contact with another person means something. From there, interpretations may vary, and I posit that there’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s useful as a quick and painless way to summon a personal connection on the spot. I don’t want to wax poetic too much here, so I’ll stop, but if you want a free 30 minute lecture on why it’s important, just say the word “vulnerability” to an artist.

Anton Golikov. photo by Caleigh Crow

Now we get into the reading proper. Anton’s preface instructs readers to read, to get a sense of the words, their order, and the flow of the text. He specifically tells his actors not to act when reading their lines today. Sitting down at a table and having a script in hand are counter-productive if the object is to get truthful performances from actors. These take time to cultivate, and the first step is to get familiar with the text, the rhythm of it, and familiar with the sounds coming from the other actors in the cast. It’s a slow burn, and this is often where directors start.

From what I saw at this table read, Antigone is interested in building a strong foundation. The director is providing his cast and crew with all the necessary resources and guiding them through at an easy pace. What a dream!

We’re very pleased to introduce a new series on QDFMusings called Modus Operandi.

The approach is to showcase the entire rehearsal process, from first read to first run to first show, with pictures, video, and written articles by documenting the activities, exercises, and discussions, that occur. We’ll also get thoughts from actors, directors, and production crew on the why of it all.

Our first production to step up and be our guinea pig for this series, is Raise the Stakes’ upcoming production of Antigone. We are so grateful to them for opening their doors to us and we are looking forward to Modus Operandi!

Antigone plays from January 31 – February 17 at Westmount Park United Church
(4695 boul. de Maisonneuve Ouest, Montreal). For more information on the cast, crew, and how to get tickets, please click here!