The Shield - March 05 - March 08, 2020

Virginia Wesleyan University

  About the Production  

     Every Dramaturg has their own unique challenges, and mine was that Menander's Aspis is a lost Ancient Greek New Comedy. “Lost” means that parts of it were missing or destroyed since it’s conception. The original text of the play is mostly intact until Acts 4 and 5 which only have 1 mostly-complete scene between them. Ancient Greek New Comedy evolved from Old Comedy, which was more akin to sketch comedy about the upper class (similar to Saturday Night Live’s satire of celebrities and politicians). New Comedy also called domestic comedy, focus on the everyday lives of the people of Greece, including the rich, poor, and enslaved people. Menander utilized anti-war themes and undertones to demonstrate the affects of ongoing military conflicts in the lives of Ancient Greeks. 

     When adapting an ancient text, production teams make decisions on what features they may want to remove or add in order to make the play more accessible to modern audiences. This includes antiquated references like quotes from other Greek plays that are less well known or lost to history. We carefully edited the social context of slavery within the play, knowing that a modern American audience would not be able to disconnect their own notions of American Slavery with Greek Slavery despite the two being distinctly different institutions. Additionally, we changed the relationships including incestuous marriages because it similarly has a negative context in contemporary American society. 

     Given the hyper-patriarchal ancient comedic stereotypes, we expanded the female characters, who besides the goddess Tyche, were largely absent in the play. We built out the characters of Kleo and Liberty, who never had lines in the extant text. But we did so using text and models of female characters in Menander’s other works. We also employed racial and gender-conscious casting to allow for diversity of gender and sexual orientation.

     While we did change a lot of the central features of the play, we wanted to keep some devices of the play that make it inherently Greek, such as the Goddess and Greek Chorus. This allowed our contemporary production the same agency as New Comedy to satirize the political climate and discrimination still present in our society. Greek audiences typically saw themselves within the chorus, as different groups of society, including revelers or soldiers, and we wanted to see the play connect back with society during the chorus. While the original music and lyrics of the chorus didn’t survive, we have decided to create our own to pay homage to the original Greek Choruses by recreating the musical elements and creating scenes that enhanced the main story while reflecting contemporary society.

     One of the ideas guiding our adaptation was the viewpoint of the Veterans. Ancient Athens, while more well known for its culture and politics, was just as war-centric as every other Greek city-state, every adult citizen in Greece was expected to serve the military in some way. New Comedy was an outlet for Ancient Greek society, who were engaged in constant wars for three-hundred years. While many Greek Tragedies show the awful domestic consequences of war and its effect on families. New Comedy found humor and happiness in the lives of soldiers and society, but didn’t minimize the awful things that soldiers must witness and bear and tried to provide examples of a return to normalcy for returning soldiers and a happy ending in their homecoming.


      Cecilia Ward

      Dramaturg and Playwright


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