A Midsummer Play's Dream

Nuanced adaptations of Anton Chekhov sparked the first season of the Stanford Summer Theater, now an annual tradition of theatrical performances, symposia, and film screenings directed and acted by Stanford faculty, student body, guest artists, and members of the community.  SST’s repertoire has since developed and diversified; they have performed and revitalized the works of Sophocles, Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Lorraine Hansberry, Samuel Beckett, and Bertolt Brecht.  The 2009 Electra Festival showcased ancient and contemporary versions of the myth through theatrical, operatic, and filmic genres.  In the summer of 2012, SST celebrated its fourteenth season with the Sam Shepard Festival, which featured a major production of Curse of the Starving Class, directed by Professor of Classics and Drama Rush Rehm.  Last September, the troupe traveled to Athens to offer workshops to Greek actors and performed a kinesthetically-rich portrayal of Homer’s epic, The Wanderings of Odysseus (also directed by Rehm).

Stanford Classics in Theater’s poster for 2011 production of The Wasps

Stanford students have likewise taken the initiative to reimagine the classics.  Led by graduate students in the Classics Department, Stanford Classics in Theater promotes a nuanced understanding of classical theater through original translations and modernized adaptations.  SCIT renders the classical theatrical canon more accessible and provocative by reframing it within a contemporary social and political context. Foivos Karachalios, one of the group’s founding members, recounts how SCIT enlivened his research by transforming esoteric specializations into tangible, provocative, spectacles apprehended by both academics and the general public: “In retrospect, SCIT was probably one of my top 2-3 experiences in grad school. It gave me the rare opportunity to 1) work with other talented individuals and 2) produce something that a lot of people saw and enjoyed (something like 800 people between the two shows I directed or co-directed).  [This is a] stark contrast with research, where you write alone and 10 people know what your work is about…It is really fun in retrospect so see how our group has formed an identity of comedic courage. Few would imagine today that in year one some of us seriously entertained the idea of putting up a production of the Oresteia and that when we first chose Aristophanic comedy, we were terrified about what the audience’s reactions to our profanities and political incorrectness we were going be.”

Another student-run repertory theater group, Stanford Shakespeare Company, dedicates itself to the productions of Shakespearean gems, including Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Othello, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Drama Professor and Shakespearean scholar Stephen Orgel extolled StanShakes’ 2008 production of Titus Andronicus as “a genuinely original conception of the play, elegant and economical staging, and an adept and articulated performance with some really distinguished acting. I would go to see anything done by this excellent group.”  Where musicals and operettas are concerned, the Stanford Savoyards have presented new adaptations of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan since 1973.

Bio: Rush Rehm – Professor of Classics and Drama who specializes in ancient Greek tragedy.  Rehm is the Artistic Director of Stanford Summer Theater, a performing ensemble composed of Stanford faculty, graduate students, and professional actors from the Bay Area.

Featured image: Courtney Walsh in Sophocles’s Electra, part of Stanford Summer Theater’s 2009 Electra Festival.  Photograph by Stefanie Okuda