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Stanford Classics in Theater to Perform "Women on Top"

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SCIT troupe members rehearse a scene from Act 1 where the chorus of call-girls plot their boardroom take over.
Photo Credit: 
Foivos Karachalios

Sick and tired of watching their clients screw the economy over (and over), the working-girls of Wall Street have hatched a cunning plan -- to infiltrate the power patriarchy of Oldman Sacs Inc., and teach its bumbling One-Percenters how to spread the wealth.

Although this plot line is reminiscent of the satirical themes of a modern comedy, the original story comes from Aristophanes’ ancient Athenian playAssemblywomen (also known by its Greek name Ecclesiazusae). 

The members of Stanford Classics in Theater (SCIT,) have combined their translation skills with biting social commentary to produce Women on Top, an insightful and modern interpretation of Assemblywomen. The SCIT troupe, comprised of both graduates and undergraduates from a variety of departments (including Computer Science, Law, Biochemistry and Classics), will perform Women on Top this Thursday May 10ththrough Saturday May 12th at the Elliott Program Center.

Women on Top is SCIT’s fourth play, and like their previous productions (Aristophanes’ Acharnians in 2009, Cloudsin 2010 and Wasps in 2011), the group came up with an entirely new translation of the work.  Over the course of a weekend in November, thirteen graduate students translated the Greek text of Assemblywomen, adapting it to resonate with modern Americans. 

 “Aristophanes’ comedies contain a large number of specific references to contemporary Athenian politics and culture,” said Women on Top producer Alan Sheppard. A 2nd year PhD student in Classics who worked on the translation, Sheppard noted that one of the most challenging and fun aspects of adapting his plays to a modern context is finding “modern day equivalents which not only map onto each individual joke but also form a coherent plot when performed together.”  

"Our students' annual performances have become one of the highlights of the year for the local Classics community," said Classics professor Walter Scheidel. "Time and again" Scheidel added, the students have shown that "with just the right amount of creative nudging, ancient Greek plays yield unexpected -- and outrageously funny -- insights into current affairs."

Aristophanes’ is best known for taking aim at current events and the SCIT troupe emulated that spirit with Women on TopAssemblywomen is one of Aristophanes’ most directly political plays, proposing a scenario where women replace men in the Athenian democratic assembly, but the SCIT creators envisioned the story in the current-day financial sector. Sheppard said the continuing presence of the Occupy Movement and debates surrounding the social responsibility of large corporations “provided this opportunity” and allowed the translators to “look at the text in new ways.” 

Even with the revamped dialogue, those familiar with Aristophanes’ original work will recognize familiar elements inWomen on Top. “From the ever-present comedic phalloi, the funny-looking penises that all men wear in ancient comedy, to the scene of the three hags competing for sexual access to the young stud under the new regime of common-share, this is Aristophanes plain and simple,” said Foivos Karachalios, co-director of the play and a 5th year PhD student in Classics.

Carolyn MacDonald, a 3rd year PhD student in Classics, is playing the role of chorus leader Fellatia. MacDonald co-wrote and choreographed the chorus' song-and-dance numbers with Jackie Montagne, a 2nd year PhD in Classics and Kate Kreindler, a 4th year PhD in Classics.

“As students, we spend so much time engaging with these plays as texts, but translation and rehearsal for performance opens up a whole new range of questions and possibilities,” said MacDonald.  The production requires that the students think through every moment on stage, including the props and costumes, but as MacDonald said “It's challenging, but also very rewarding and lots of fun. We've laughed so much working on this play!”

Although Aristophanes was writing about events 2,500 years ago, SCIT hope to show that his mixture of political humor and comic wordplay can be performed as vibrantly today as in Ancient Athens. Karachalios said that under the surface of “fast-paced comic obscenity” Women on Top is a “rather dark study of the incentives and desires that go into the building of human society.”

Women on Top plays from Thursday May 10th to Saturday May 12th in the Elliott Program Center at 8pm (doors open 7.45pm) and is sponsored by the Stanford Classics department, the Vice Provost for Graduate Education and the Graduate Student Council.

Performances are free for members of the Stanford community and $5 for the general public.  The play contains themes not suitable for all audiences and unaccompanied minors will not be admitted.  For more details see http://scit.stanford.edu/

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Archived websites of previous SCIT plays.

Wasps link http://scit.stanford.edu/2011_Wasps/index.html

Clouds link http://scit.stanford.edu/2010_Clouds/index.html#

Acharnians link http://scit.stanford.edu/2009_Acharnians/index.html