Anyone crossing the UC Irvine campus this quarter should look out for a Greek tragedy: A roving production of “Antigone” will take 14 performers – and spectators they pick up along the way – from the arts campus to the grassy hills of Aldrich Park.
Directed by grad student Sonya Cooke, the show puts a contemporary spin on Sophocles’ classical work. “The play is known for its political importance and relevance,” says Cooke, who’s pursuing an M.F.A. in acting. “All 20th century adaptations have been political allegories, whether about communism or Nazis.”
Written circa 442 B.C., “Antigone” centers on the title woman, a product of the accidentally incestuous marriage of King Oedipus of Thebes and his own mother, Jocasta. The text raises issues of power, gender, family obligation, ethics and honor.
In adapting the play for a modern audience, Cooke chose to cut arcane language and trim complicated verses.
“Some of the odes are so complex in structure and imagery that the meaning gets lost on people hearing it for the first time,” she says. “It’s great for English majors to study but difficult for today’s audience to latch onto.”
Cooke participated in outdoor theater as a member of the New York Neo-Classical Ensemble. Performing on the busy streets of the Lower East Side was an adventure, she says.
“We had to act around drum circles and Wiccans celebrating the summer solstice,” Cooke recalls. “Homeless people would occasionally walk into our scenes and yell at onlookers.”
Actors with UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts will encounter different distractions during rehearsals and shows, she says, such as bicyclists, dog walkers and undergrads rushing to class.
“You have to be willing to go with the flow and incorporate the environment into your performance,” Cooke says. “That’s the thrill of outdoor theater – you have to be ready for anything. Picnickers, joggers and students are all part of it.”
She’s working with the cast on other challenges: stamina and vocal projection. They’ll need plenty of energy to perform in the late-summer heat. And, Cooke notes, “there are no acoustics in an outdoor stage, so we’re making sure the actors’ voices are dynamic and strong.”
The experience has been rewarding for Laleh Khorsandi, a second-year drama student who plays the lead. She calls Antigone “one of the most intense” roles she’s ever had and credits Cooke’s deep-breathing exercises and daily warm-ups with preparing the cast for the rigors of open-air theater.
“It’s been really fun to dive into Antigone’s motivations and feelings,” Khorsandi says. “I’ve been using the full capacity of my voice and my energy to get into character.”
Rehearsals are taking place in Aldrich Park this week, with shows scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Sept. 29 and 30; and for 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2. Performances will start at the Little Theatre in Humanities Hall, travel to the center of Aldrich Park, meander through Rowland Hall and the physical sciences campus, and conclude in front of Langson Library.