What Performing a Greek Tragedy Taught Me About Feminism

The Statues of the Caryatids Greece

Lots of people like to joke that they’ve peaked; it’s a great form of self-deprecating humor. But as an aspiring actor I can honestly say that so far the peak of my acting ‘career’ has been my sophomore year high school production of Trojan Women, a Greek Tragedy where I played a member of Half-Chorus A.

Asking a dozen or so high school students to put on a Greek tragedy is risky business.

When our drama teacher first pitched the idea there was almost a riot. Blatant hyperbole aside,  everyone thought it would be boring as all Hades. Once auditions rolled around, however, that attitude changed. People were reading the monologues that our teacher chose, putting themselves into the shoes of people who lived thousands of years ago. There’s something so amazing about that; the fact that teenagers were able to put themselves aside to reach the level of emotional maturity it took to put on that show.

High School Theater Greek tragedy

We rehearsed four days a week, and worked out together before each rehearsal. Our teacher said it was to build bodily confidence and help us bond as a company, and it did just that. We were like a family, and I know that’s been said about every drama club in existence but we spent so much time together just working and running the show that we couldn’t help but love each other.

We opened to half a house.

Maybe a hundred people came to see our play, and who can blame them? If you were to see posters around your school advertising a riveting performance of Women Screaming for Eighty Minutes you might be hesitant to buy a ticket, too. But should you ever be in that situation, I ask you to consider it. Maybe google the play to figure out what it’s about, because it might be as inspiring to you as it is the people performing it. And even if you say “no, too boring, not doing it”, that’s fine.

Now some of you may know about the Trojan War because you read the Iliad in high school, or maybe you’re a fan of the Percy Jackson series, or you might just like mythology, but Euripides’ Trojan Women is the story of the women of Troy, specifically its queen, Hecuba, her daughters Andromache and Cassandra, and the infamous Helen of Troy after the war. It’s unique in and of itself because you never really see the aftermath of Trojan war from the Trojans’ perspective (hint: it’s because they were all either dead or captive), but Euripides not only showed us the perspective of the Trojans, he showed us the perspective of the Trojan women.

That’s right – a playwright from 2431 years ago wrote an entire play dedicated to women.

You get to see them as real people with real feelings and personalities and you have to listen to their pain. You have to listen to their songs of sorrow. And let me tell you, they are some beautiful songs.

Greek Chorus

The story focuses on Hecuba, who is the aged queen of Troy.

She and the chorus are onstage the entire time, and the play’s scenes come from the other three women coming on and off stage. Poseidon and Athena open the play with a little backstory, and then Hecuba takes the wheel and provides more backstory that is colored with her suffering. The chorus then enter and the story takes off from there. Talthybius, a Greek messenger who is also a recurring character, enters to tell Hecuba that her daughter Cassandra is going to be given to Agamemnon as a slave, at which point she runs onstage and gives her prophecies. One of my best friends, Jude, played Cassandra and did an amazing job. He has a pretty low voice as it is, but when he was onstage it took on a gravelly quality that added an element of desperation and urgency to the character of Cassandra that was just wonderful.

Helen of Troy Greek TragedyAfter Cassandra has her spiel, she leaves with Talthybius, and the chorus and Hecuba have a little dialogue and the chorus gets a monologue (one of three) about the Trojan Horse and the night Troy fell. Then Andromache, the wife of Hector, comes on and laments her fate before Talthybius returns and gives the news that Andromache’s son must be thrown from the towers of Troy.

This is where you really see women and the different ways in which they break.

Our Andromache was a girl named Vanessa, and her wails of pain as the Greeks took away her onstage son were heart wrenching, and even after two months of rehearsals they never failed to send shivers down my spine.

When Andromache leaves, Hecuba is left heartbroken and the chorus is obviously shaken. Then Helen and Menelaus show up and argue about their situation. When they leave, there is an expectant air about the stage before Talthybius and a couple Greek soldiers bring in the dead body of Astyanax, Andromache’s son. The chorus and Hecuba scream and cry and the play ends with one chorus member (played by my friend Sara) alone on the stage who delivers that last, haunting line:

“O suffering city…
But we must carry on now,
And go to the ships of the Greeks.”

Even though we opened to half a house, that play was still the greatest experience of my life so far. When the show ended and the cast ran offstage to see their families, there wasn’t a dry eye among us. I, for one, have never felt as euphoric as I did running off that stage opening night. It’s hard to describe just how amazing it felt to do that show, so I’ve include a link to the translation we used so you can read it for yourself and maybe imagine what it would be like. I hope it moves you the way it moved me.

Also published on Medium.