Live theater returns this spring as students prepare an outdoor performance of Greek tragedy Ajax

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A portion of the cast rehearses in the Theta Gardens during their second week of in-person rehearsals.

Live theater returns to DePauw this spring as students prepare an outdoor performance of the Greek tragedy, “Ajax.”

“Ajax” is the story of the titular Greek warrior whose generals do not acknowledge his skills; as a result, he attempts to murder them. He is diverted by the goddess Athena and slaughters livestock instead. After realizing what he has done, he commits suicide. According to Director Caroline Good, she chose the tragedy because she was interested in “how the Greeks portray anti-war” concepts. 

According to Good, a communications and theatre professor, “Sophocles wrote ‘Ajax,’ and he was a general in the Peloponnesian War, so he saw war firsthand. He saw firsthand not only the wounds soldiers would come home with, but the invisible wounds, I think.”

Though the tragedy originally takes place in ancient Greece, Good chose to set this performance in 2009, in the Iraq War, because she felt it related to important modern issues. 

“Wars are not in the news probably as much as they should be. The public is not really aware of how invasive and how pervading our military is all around the world. We have more than 800 military bases in over a hundred countries,” Good said. 

She expressed the belief that by being trained to kill, soldiers are being trained to dehumanize people and connected it to the fact that a majority of American wars have targeted people of color. She wanted to draw attention to the guilt soldiers felt, remarking, “Over 114,000 Iraqi and Afghan veterans that have killed themselves.”

By costuming “Ajax” and the other characters in “desert camo,” and setting the play in modern times, Good hopes to make it easier for the audience to connect to the characters and the themes. 

The cast now rehearses in person either in the Theta Gardens or Moore Theatre, but they started out rehearsing over Zoom. “All through March we rehearsed online. We did auditions virtually as well,” Good said.

Sophomore Riley Reed is playing Odysseus. “This is the first DePauw show I’ve actually acted in,” he said. 

He said he knew people who had done shows virtually, but “starting to do it over Zoom was really weird.” 

“Originally it was just us kind of sitting there rehearsing the lines. It was still acting, just without the movement,” Reed said. They didn’t have a chance to work with the physical staging until they transitioned to in-person rehearsals. 

Good added, “They have to use their imaginations a lot because you know that energy dynamic isn’t in the room,” when they rehearse virtually.  

Sophomore Madeline Humphreys said “Ajax” is her first production at DePauw as well, although she was originally cast in a show last year that was cancelled due to the pandemic. Humphreys plays a chorus member, and she explained that in Greek tragedies, the chorus is a small group that serves “to help the audience get a little background, explain things.” In “Ajax,” the chorus is composed of soldiers under Ajax’s command. 

She said Zoom rehearsals were “rough at times” for the chorus members because they have some lines in unison, which were hard to time virtually. 

First-year Taylor Fleming, who plays a chorus member and the goddess Athena, voiced a similar opinion about the group lines in virtual rehearsals. Fleming said the chorus also served as “the background characters in the show.”

Fleming also acted in “A Christmas Carol” at DePauw, which was a completely virtual production. She explained they were only costumed from the waist-up. “This time we’ll have full costumes, which I’m so excited for,” she said about the production of “Ajax.” “I’ve been lucky enough to see some sketches of what the costume department is working on, and I just know it’s going to be awesome.”

Now that the cast is rehearsing in person, they have begun blocking for the stage in Theta Gardens itself. “We’re using the staircases on the left and right side a lot. That’s something that we’ve incorporated into the show… it’s a very different space because I’m used to having a flat stage,” Reed said. 

The actors expressed their happiness at being able to rehearse and work in person. “It’s exciting to be able to act again and to interact with other actors again,” Reed said. “Having in-person rehearsals has been so nice,” Fleming agreed. 

The cast will perform Ajax live and in-person in the Theta Gardens at the Green Center for the Performing Arts (GCPA) from May 6 to May 8.

Good drew on her experience with socially-distant Shakespeare in the Park productions to help create a production that would be safe for the actors and the audience. She said she staged the scenes to be distanced and added that the actors are rehearsing with masks and will be masked offstage but will be able to take their masks off when they are onstage during the performance. 

“Ajax” will be set around sunset to allow the crew to control lighting. “We’re going to have extensive lighting effects out there. It’s going to be amazing. Jaye Beetem is designing the lights and the set,” Good said. 

Though regulations for audiences are continuously changing, Good said that currently, they expect 48 people to be allowed at each showing. Based on the way student recitals have been held, she expects the performances will be open to either the DePauw community or family members but not both, though the exact requirements remain to be seen. 

According to Good, one full performance will be filmed and will be available to the student body on Sunday, May 9 after the production finishes its run for any students who aren’t able to attend in-person.