TROILUS & CRESSIDA WORKSHOP 2020
On the beaches at Troy, the black ships of many armies have been pulled ashore. Swift-footed Achilles, sly Ulysses, gigantic Ajax, all of Greece has answered King Agamemnon’s call to arms. His brothers’ wife has been stolen by a Trojan prince, and fair Helen is more than just a woman; she is a theme of honor and renown. After seven years of bloodshed, neither Greece nor Troy can declare victory nor absolute possession of the coveted prize. The stalemate breeds dissention and fuels tempers on both sides yet behind Troy’s high walls, romance blossoms between brave Prince Troilus and his fair Cressida. Can young love conquer bitter hate? Or will it be smothered by the vainglorious forces of honorable war?
For two weeks in February 2020, our group of twelve artists explored Shakespeare's reimagining of western culture's earliest recorded epic. The heroes of Homer's Illiad have been shaping our culture and society for nearly three thousand years, but Shakespeare's version pioneered a revolutionary and hugely problematic depiction of these ancient icons. Our workshop of Troilus & Cressida culminated in two performances; an invited Ally Sharing for colleagues from within the theatre community (photos by BB Collective) and a Public Sharing hosted by Skirtsafire Festival in the beautiful Nina Gallery (photos by April MacKillins). Read through the Director's Notes, discover The Past that inspired this project, and check out our vision for The Future of Troilus & Cressida.
NOTES FROM THE DIRECTOR
Upon first glance, one might see the title Troilus & Cressida and expect a romance- Lovers in a dangerous time surrounded by the epic heroes of the Trojan War: Great Agamemnon, Sly Ulysses, Gigantic Ajax, Swift-footed, God-Like Achilles, the Beautiful Helen…
We like to see ourselves reflected in the characters of these stories, to live vicariously through them, and we tend to prefer them to be the most interesting, brave and attractive versions of ourselves. These heroes have stood the test of time- nearly three thousand years- partially because they reflect the selves we wish to see.
There have been many retellings of the Trojan War Story, but it’s Shakespeare’s play that resonates with me. He sets us up to expect a tale of great love, heroic deeds, glorious battle, and yet he makes a conscious decision to reframe these oft romanticized idols as fallible, contradictory, and human. His characters may not be what we want to see of ourselves, but in the spirit of “holding the mirror up to Nature” in times when protectionist power has shown little to no regard for basic human rights, they are the selves we need to confront.
This chaos, when degree is suffocate,
Follows the choking…
It would be easy to escape to a world of larger than life heroes and star-crossed lovers, but Shakespeare challenges us to go beyond and scrutinize the damaging patriarchal patterns in the story. These ideals have also lasted nearly three thousand years. The world is now calling them into question, as Shakespeare once did… in his own way.
What is aught but as 'tis valued?
In Homer’s original epic poem, the ancient Greek word for “Courage” literally translates to “Manliness”, therefore it could never have been used to describe a woman. The Amazons, for instance, were often called “Fierce” but never courageous. The concept of “Courage” was unencumbered by any need to be steered by a moral compass, nor did it apply to a sense of inner strength or fortitude as it does today. A hero can easily be courageous and cruel- they often are- and his honor and prowess is directly reflected by his prizes of war- His Women. Whether it be Helen or Cressida, or the many others we don’t get to meet in Shakespeare’s play, the women of this world exist as direct representations of a man’s power. The more beautiful the prize, the more powerful the man.
Helen must needs be fair when with your blood you daily paint her thus…
When I chose to explore Troilus & Cressida in this workshop, I wanted to expose Helen’s legacy of “Beauty as Value”. I wanted to challenge the thousand-year-old expectations that we place on women and how dangerous it is to qualify any person’s existence based on their aesthetic valuation as an object. This grotesque fallacy of “Beauty as Value” feeds the illusion that “Beauty is Power”, to be used either as a weapon to get what we want or as a defence mechanism to keep us safe from harm. A director friend of mine once referred to it as “Erotic Capitol”.
But even as we delved deeper into the stories of the female characters, we were also forced to examine the expectations placed on the male characters in this violent world. What of Hector, forced to abandon his wife and young son because honor dictates that he must fight? What of Patroclus, who is accused of being “womanish” because of his distaste for the war? What forces of toxic masculinity have fashioned Troilus into a romantic lover who is also shockingly misogynistic? Why do they insist on warring over the possession of a woman?
Women in Shakespeare’s plays serve may purposes. Most often, they are used to inform a male character’s storyline. Sometimes they exist to break up the action and provide “light relief”. But Shakespeare also uses his female characters to speak truth to power. Juliet challenges the power of her father over her. Hermione challenges injustice in her legal system. Emilia brazenly praises gender equality. Cassandra begs us to believe women’s stories. And Queen Margaret flies in the face of everything a woman should be;
O Tiger’s Heart wrapped in a woman’s hide...
Women are soft, mild, pitiful and flexible
Thou, stern. Obdurate. Flinty. Rough. Remorseless.
Actors, regardless of gender, must be free to explore the vastness of human experience and offer many stories. No person is only one thing or another. Good or bad. Male or Female. No person is truly binary. No relationship can fit in a neat archetype box. We are fluid, messy, changeable, flawed. The characters that define us on-stage need to reflect this complexity. To free ourselves from the bonds of “what’s expected of us”, we must challenge that expectation with action. Thank you for witnessing our challenge, our action, the beginnings of our revolution.
-Danielle LaRose, Director