“The adventures first. Explanations take such a dreadful time.”
—(The Gryphon, Alice in Wonderland, ch. 10)
Welcome to BCD
You may be a teacher of languages and literature, president of an amateur dramatic society, leader of a study group, or none of the above. But you wouldn’t be reading this unless you were allured by words like Classic, Drama and Poetry, and unless you were already wanting to ‘put something on stage’ and were looking for some fresh and practical ideas.
It’s assumed you want to ‘do’ or ‘make’ something, rather than study or theorise. ‘Drama’ derives from the Greek verb ‘δραν’ (dran), ‘to do’; while ‘poetry’ comes from the equally basic verb ‘ποιεíν’ (poiein), ‘to make’.
The art of semi-staging
You’ll probably have in mind something less than a full staging (which demands a theatre, props, lighting, costumes—all costing money—not to mention memorisation and rehearsals—all costing time). This brief introduction will show you what can be achieved on a zero budget, in less than a month, in any venue which has some seating, a blank wall and a projector, with just five music stands and a guitar. All you’ll have to do is find an instrumentalist, a synchroniser and a small group of friends or pupils who enjoy reading aloud. We call it ‘semi-staging’... The result can be very ‘dramatic’.
See our full list of productions, about 30 classic dramas.
Whether or not you choose to perform one of these plays, you ought to get acquainted with the materials on offer by taking a minute or two to ‘work an example’ under guidance.
If in doubt, we suggest you sample either The Borderers (as a text in English), Achilles (as an epic drama in a foreign language, presented with subtitles), or Dante’s Virgil (the most elaborate in the series, an epic in a modern language). If you’re not familiar with your first choice, look at its Programme and/or Publicity release (if any, under Further Reading), or look at its filmed Introduction or Trailer, if it has one.
Start by examining the edited text. It is ready for immediate use. The A4 sheets (big print, wide spacing, careful page-turns) are easy to read at arm’s length from a stand. It is short. Most of the abridgements last about 70 minutes in performance (this is the maximum!). The scenes are numbered, so that everyone will always know where they are. Where a summary is required to link scenes from an epic, it will be projected on the large screen or wall to the accompaniment of live music.
Next look at the PowerPoint slides.
This minor miracle of modern technology is the sine qua non. Semi-staging of the present kind did not become feasible until about 1995.
As you skim through, remember that the slides will be projected above the readers’ heads, in synchrony with predetermined ‘slabs’ of the text, which vary from two to six lines.
N.B. Continuous scrolling, as often used in opera houses, is extremely distracting!
Each slide has been composed with fanatical care. The subtitles are deceptively simple and can be absorbed in 3-4 seconds, allowing the audience to listen for perhaps 8-10 seconds each time. The character who is speaking is always identified by the repeated image of an appropriate head (top right). Other images or maps may be projected as the occasion arises. There will always have something new to look at on screen.
In many of the packs, you will find the film of our amateur performance, given before a live audience, on a single evening, at some point between 2005 and 2023.
No excuses need to be made for the outstanding musicians; but please listen to the readers indulgently—most of them were press-ganged—and empathise with the camera-man crouching behind the back row. The images and the soundtrack are directing attention beyond themselves to the meaning, rhythms, emotions and poetry of a very unfamiliar classic. They are not the record of a revolutionary régie, by an up-and-coming Director, of a play like Hamlet! (But even the earliest of the films is infinitely better than an unedited movie of a school-play, filmed on a mobile phone in the unsteady hand of a fond parent…)
A cursory glance at the opening sequence will answer many immediate questions; while, at a later stage, closer study will give guidance on wider issues.
The obvious immediate questions include: What was the size and shape of the venue? What height was the screen? Where did the musician(s) sit? How were the music-stands placed? What kind of introduction was thought necessary? Among the wider issues are: How to pronounce foreign words? How to balance the demands of metre, meaning and mood? What is the proper pace and rhythm of the slide-changes? How much ‘value is added’ to the all-important voices by facial expression and gestures?
Under the rubric Music in each case, you will find details (and, where possible, scores) of the incidental music you can hear in the film. These are just suggestions. But we have come to believe that, for 60 minutes of script, it is vital to have 10 minutes of live music: a prelude to establish the mood; and some intermezzi to maintain the dramatic tension while allowing the audience to relax at intervals.
You don’t have to decide on the music until you are well underway, but remember: a few chords or tremolos on a guitar, or an old piano, are more effective than the best ‘piped’ recordings. N.B. One dare not risk any kind of intermission in a semi-staging.
Some productions have extra material, giving further insights into the work and its context, or a flavour of our own performances.
Do something with it! Make something of it!
Each of these performance-packs is a gold mine, being based on long experience and the best scholarship. The quality of the later films (see the index by date) is so high that anyone might watch them on television in the same spirit as they would watch a classic noir thriller. The great names (search by author) are shown to deserve their classic status. All the readers are totally committed and demonstrate what might be achieved in a professional, small-screen production, while some of the acting with voice, face and gesture is so expressive that it would be hard to surpass in any medium.
Look out for the scenes involving Briseis, Circe, Enkidu, Harapha, Priam, Samson, Tecmessa, Telimena, Virgilio and Zosia; and enjoy every speech by our leading man, an Athenian archaeologist (described by a reviewer as ‘a revelation…with a voice like chocolate and the dynamism of Jude Law’), who takes on Achilles, Ajax, Jesus, Job and St John.