Classics in the Quad

The Bacchae

Editor’s note: Contributor Jenna Olsen is a cast member in this year’s edition of Classics in the Quad presentation “The Bacchae”.

Classics in the Quad is a University of King’s College tradition, presented every fall by the King’s Theatrical Society (KTS). They stage a Greek drama on the steps of the King’s library, which mimics the design of a Greek stage. 

Foundation Year Program students at King’s make up the cast, providing an opportunity for new students to get involved in theatre. This tradition marks the opening of the KTS season. 

Directing The Bacchae

This year’s production is the Euripides tragedy The Bacchae. It tells the story of Dionysus and his followers as they return to his homeland of Thebes. He returns to punish Pentheus, the King of Thebes, for mistreating Dionysus’s mother and refusing to offer him sacrifices. 

The Bacchae is co-directed by King’s students Elsy Rytter and Gabrielle Milner. 

Milner shares a memory of Rytter contacting her after they bonded over shared interests in The Bacchae. 

“We talked about The Bacchae in class and we both like it. Would you want to do it for Classics?” Rytter recalls telling Milner.

After further discussion, they pitched their idea to the KTS and received approval to produce it.

“It’s just a great show that’s not often staged,” Rytter says. “The last time it was staged for Classics in the Quad was 2014.”

Milner participated in Classics in the Quad when she first arrived at King’s. 

“Classics in the Quad was how I made my first friends. It was super meaningful to me,” she says.

Members of the King’s Theatrical Society (KTS) rehearse for Classics in the Quad play, The Bacchae. (Jenna Olsen)

Challenges of the Quad

Production of the show faced challenges this year during rehersals in a unique setting outside. “Hurricane Fiona happened in the middle of our rehearsal process,” Milner says. “We’ve faced weather and illness, both of us directors fell sick [with COVID-19] and we had to cancel some rehearsals.”

The two directors work closely while being sure to give each other enough room to make creative decisions. 

“I don’t think I could do this without Elsy,” Milner says. “It’s one of the longer plays and our ability to rehearse two scenes at once is super helpful.”

Director’s Cut

Directors Gabrielle Milner (left) and Elsy Rytter run through The Bacchae’s script at a rehearsal. (Jenna Olsen)

When discussing her original vision for the play with the Gazette, Rytter says they “really wanted to focus on the themes and dichotomies of the performance. So the play really focuses on binaries and then overturning them. It focuses on the wilderness and the city. It focuses on the state versus the domestic. It focuses on women versus men.”

The directors say they collaborated closely with the actors on their roles. 

“Actors bring their own thing, which is great,” Milner says. “[We’ve been] letting them sort of create the characters and explore the characters themselves.”

“We’ve created kind of a more dynamic show than is often presented,” Rytter says. “It’s not even like what we did made it more [dynamic], the show just demands something different.”

It’s rare for Greek plays to show violence on stage. 

“But we were like this is such a theatrical play, we’ve got to show the cool things happening. So we added movement pieces. The best part is when they rip apart the cows, then the person,” Milner says. 

“The movement pieces are awesome, they’re really cool,” says Rytter. “I think they really effectively show the story.” The Bacchae will be presented at the King’s library on Oct. 28 at 5 p.m. The directors recommend bringing something to sit on, warm clothing and a mug as hot chocolate will be available.

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