Greek is chic: a theater troupe connects the past and the present

Aeneid Theater Company, a USC student-run group, produces three early or classic plays for modern audiences each school year. (Photo courtesy of Aeneid Theater Company)

The Roman poet Virgil wrote “The Aeneid”, a Latin poem about the Trojan horse Aeneas, who founded what would later become Rome. Little did the poet know that years later, another type of Trojan would show up to find something exciting and remarkable on the USC campus as well.

The Aeneid Theater Company, named after Virgil’s work, is one of USC’s student-run theater troupes. It is one of the few that chooses to produce strictly plays, many of which have historical significance. Directors come to ATC with ideas, not the other way around.

ATC’s approach to the types of parts they choose to produce is simple, with a fixed number of three per year. Each show must belong to one of the following three categories: classical, contemporary or experimental.

“The latter, which is loosely defined, is generally motion-based and heavily crafted. However, ATC is open to any vision from the director,” said Naveen Bhatia, Artistic Director of the company.

To bridge the gap between producing Shakespearian works or Greek tragedies that may not be easily digestible due to intensive language and presenting them to a predominantly young adult audience at USC, ATC is leading the discussion on the content selection with the question: Why this piece now?

ATC President Ian Melamed, a theater graduate, credits Bhatia, an economics and maths student, with “getting us really thinking about why we do the shows we do”. This way of thinking helps the board find applications of older content to today’s world, allowing an ATC production to become more appealing to a wider audience.

While the company’s main focus is on producing plays, Bhatia said ATC also prioritizes promoting diversity, equity and inclusion and recognizes the importance of promoting this with the actors and the team.

“DEI for theater is tough because theater has always been seen as the white person’s game, and trying to bring new people into the fold is really a big part of what we do, and that’s the half the awareness,” Bhatia said.

ATC also has systems in place to tangibly represent the theater company’s DEI intentions offstage. With an approach called the “Take Initiative” applicable to many ATC-facilitated events such as shows or playreads, ATC aims to “host conversations that get lost in translation in the SDA community and within the [independent student productions] sometimes too,” said Angela Braun, production manager for ATC. “It’s a fluid opportunity for the ATC to discuss those things that are being pushed aside.”

With officers on the board to lead the work around DEI’s warranty, the company’s approach is also beneficial in breaking down the barrier around the older literature that encompasses many parts of ATC.

“Theatre is really powerful when the audience, actors, designers and everyone involved can really see themselves in the process. [With classic works], there is a small historical gap that is perhaps a barrier to engagement. But I think what’s really important is having a director with a vision, who can connect [the material] to something that is very important to everyone involved,” Melamed said.

From selecting the play to be produced to organizing open casting calls, many individual stages of the production process can also become an opportunity to reflect DEI’s goals.

“For me, the number one priority is the show we choose, because that goes hand-in-hand with people feeling comfortable even working on the show or auditioning for the show. If we choose a show that doesn’t cater to a diverse cast, we’re not going to have a diverse cast audition. It’s just the end result,” said Braun, a senior majoring in film and media studies.

ATC has also changed its production guidelines to reflect the focus on DEI. Previously, the “classic” category for potential productions meant the play had to have been written before the 1800s. Now ATC has redefined this as any pre-1950 show to include rewrites and other lyrics.

ATC’s new venture, “Describe The Night” by Rajiv Joseph, opens at the Drama Center’s Massman Theater on campus on Thursday, February 10. This play, which is a narrative filled with myths and conspiracy theories, covers 90 years of Russian and Polish history from 1920 to 2010, according to Melamed.

“It’s really more important than ever to critically examine the truths we take for granted and the lies we tell ourselves, and have the courage to tell ourselves we’re not telling the truth,” Melamed said. about the relevance of “Describing The Night” to today’s audience.

Comments are closed.