Actors from The Hypocrites’ “All Our Tragic” talk about handling its marathon demands
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In “All Our Tragic,” adapter-director Sean Graney has created a linked narrative that groups together the 32 surviving Greek tragedies into four sections, each the equivalent of a full-length play. Each section can be separately, or (ideally) the entire “cycle” can be seen during the course of a single day, running (with breaks) from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on both Saturdays and Sundays.
Here are the contents of the four sections:
Part 1: Physics
“Prometheus Bound” (Aeschylus)
“The Suppliants” (Aeschylus)
“Herakles (The Rage of Herakles)” (Euripides)
“The Suppliants” (Euripides)
“The Women of Trachis” (Sophocles)
“Herakles’ Children” (Euripides)
Part 2: Politics
“The Bacchae” (Euripides)
“Oedipus Rex” (Sophocles)
“Oedipus at Colonus” (Sophocles)
“Seven Against Thebes” (Aeschylus)
“The Phoenician Women” (Euripides)
Part 3: Patriotics
“Iphigenia at Auils” (Euripides)
“The Persians” (Aeschylus)
“The Trojan Women” (Euripides)
Part 4: Poetics
“The Libation Bearers” (Aeschylus)
“Iphigenia in Tauris” (Euripides)
“The Furies” (Aeschylus)
The cast of “thespian athletes” bringing this marathon 12-hour production to life includes: Breon Arzell, Erin Barlow, Will Bennett, Ryan Bourque, Walter Briggs, Geoff Button, Kate Carson-Groner, Emily Casey, Tien Doman, Lindsey Gavel, Danny Goodman, Rashaad Hall, Christopher James, Maximilian Lapine, Danny Martinez, Luce Metrius, Erin Myers, Dana Omar, Christine Stulik, Zeke Sulkes, John Taflan, Lauren Vogel and Joe Wiens.
I spoke to three of the principal actors int he production. Here are some of their comments about handling the demands of “All Our Tragic”:
± GEOFF BUTTON (plays Prometheus, Herakles Orestes and others):
“I thought it was insane when we did ‘Sophocles: The Seven Sicknesses” several years ago. Later I was invited to do the reading of the initial script, which took 2 and a half days, but I was over the moon — it was just so crazily ambitious.I’d heard stories about other epic productions — Peter Brooks’ ‘The Mahabharata,’ the RSC’s ‘Nicholas Nickleby,’ Elevator Service’s ‘Gatz’ — so initially I thought, ‘Okay, this is not impossible.’ And then it became the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I started bicycling everywhere to build up my endurance.
We’ve moved at a very brisk pace, staging a 2 1/2-hour play a week. And a lot of us tried very hard to be off book from early on, but the sheer volume of lines is incredible. But Sean has stitched together the narrative in such a great way, and while all the actors are in all four parts of the marathon, we are not in every play in each part. Also, he is so good at creating a community in the theater and making it all fun. It’s got to be a team effort.
We all have day jobs, too. I’ve been directing a student show featuring all the Disney princess songs. We rehearsed from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and eight hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays. During tech week we’ve worked from 6 p.m. to midnight every weekday night, with 13-hour rehearsals on Saturdays and Sundays.
I think the biggest surprise about these plays is how incredibly relevant they continue to be, and how they focus on the difference between a society built on empathy versus a society built on power. And Sean has found a way to make the entire production surprising. He has found ways to tell the stories in ways that are always unexpected. In a way we are doing the 32 saddest stories ever told, but they are subverted just enough so that they aren’t corrupted but made palatable. And the goal is to move the community to catharsis.
Up next? I will be directing Chekhov’s ‘The Three Sisters’ for The Hypocrites in the spring.”
± TIEN DOMAN (plays Herakles’ wife, Odyssa, a female version of Odysseus, and others):
“Even before I finished reading Sean’s emailed invitation to be part of this production I said ‘Yes.’ I had loved working on ‘The Seven Sicknesses.’
And yes, there have been a lot of lines to learn. I memorize my lines by writing them down in a very specific way, and then running them continually. And luckily we have a great team of interns to run lines with us. We also had a fair number of script changes to keep track of.
The backstage is extremely organized; it has to be. We have costume racks for each section of the marathon, and about 100 pairs of shoes all coordinated.
I’m a runner, so I’ve been doing that — partly to just help with the anxiety, and also to build endurance. And for my day jobs I wait tables and work as a patient simulator at Northwestern.
One thing that is definitely different with this production is that the cast doesn’t go out drinking or doing the ordinary actor socializing after rehearsals. We just keep focused and get enough sleep. Exhausted? Yeah, it’s a full day, but I feel so lucky to get to do this.”
As for our new space — well, I loved the old Chopin basement where we worked for years. But this new space is exciting, and the ators can even do swordfights without hitting the ceiling.
± WALTER BRIGGS (plays Herakles, Pentheus, Agamemnon):
“Not having a paper script, and figuring out how to work the Kindle was a challenge. For a while we had two TVs backstage that we could look at if we needed to catch a line, but that was distracting. Like Tien, I also do a lot of writing down to learn lines.
There is as much excitement backstage as there is on stage. In the basement of the theater there is a team of stitchers sitting at sewing machines and working feverishly on our costumes, and a whole bunch of prop makers at work, too. We also have full dressing rooms and bathrooms now, and a shower, too, which is amazing.
I’ve been biking and running to get in shape, too. During the day I work for a tile company.
One of the things that really has shocked me in all this is how the themes and debates in these plays are still so relevant. We are still having the same discussions and arguments thousands of year after they were written. And Sean has done a great job of contemporizing them so that everybody can connect. The language is kind of hip, and Sean lets us make things our own, but he also balances that with beautiful moments of poetry.
NOTE: For the full story about “All Our Tragic” visit suntimes.com/entertainment.
“ALL OUR TRAGIC”’
When: In previews; opens Aug. 10 and runs through Oct. 5
Where: The Hypocrites at The Den Theater, 1339 N. Milwaukee
Tickets: $30 (Fri. and Mon. for each of four parts); $75 (Sat. and Sun. full-day marathons)
Info: (773) 525-5991; http://www.the-hypocrites.com.