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New York Euripides Summer Festival Goes Virtual


At a time when live theater is brought to a halt, a New York summer tradition finds alternate means for the shows to go on.

New York Euripides Summer Festival Goes Virtual

This summer's scheduled productions of Euripides' Helen and Electra took on a cinematic twist, becoming accessible not only through NYC outdoor and indoor stages but to the world, using innovative ideas that combine theater and filmmaking in a totally pioneering style, as seen in the festival videos. American Thymele Theatre and Telephilms USA founder Stephen Diacrussi explains how a vision became reality, surpassing his initial expectations for a virtual festival.

"I realized the potential of remote filming in June when, using Zoom, ATT held a workshop of Emory Wilson's new play about Aristophanes named The Father of Comedy. The only challenge was to find a way of capturing a Zoom performance before a neutral background, to simulate the same space. A few weeks later, I was working from home with another twenty actors and technical personnel from all over the country, rehearsing and capturing some excellent work, while staying safe at home during this debilitating pandemic". He further explained that "tropical storm Isaias hindered production, after leaving several cast members from Florida, South Carolina and eastern Long Island without power, not being able to rehearse for a week. This setback, along with signal and Wi-Fi issues that other cast members were experiencing, delayed the scheduled airing and live streaming of the two plays".

Written in 412 BCE, Helen is one of four other Euripides plays with a happy ending, set in Egypt, where Helen seeks refuge seven years after the Trojan War so that she is not blamed in Greece for being the cause of the Trojan War. Like the poet Stesichorus, Euripides absolves Helen, claiming that the original Helen was a mere statue and Greeks fought for a phantom, not a real woman, blaming Zeus instead for starting the Trojan War only to rid the world of excess population. Menelaus also arrives in Egypt and, along with the real Helen, plans a scheme to leave Egypt and return to Greece to live there happily thereafter. Emily Gilson appears in the title role. Electra, written around the same time as Helen, dramatizes the same events as do Aeschylus' Choephoroe and Sophocles' Electra with emphasis on the psychological state of the characters and having justice prevail at the end, something that preoccupies Euripides in many of his plays. Cat Sandhu appears in the title role. Both plays end by having Castor, one of the Dioscuri, appear as a deus ex machina, to conclude the plays' plot.

This year's virtual, filmed presentation used a remote, single-character-shot format conceived and developed by Stephen Diacrussi, turning Zoom into a cinematic medium. Since self-taped auditions became popular in the last five years or so, many actors have invested into getting proper lights and other necessary equipment, to use as required tools in order to find work. "Notwithstanding the picture quality," Mr. Diacrussi added, "the remote platform offers a plethora of advantages in filming and editing, in addition to not having to pay overtime for the rehearsal studio. Until very recently, this would be unthinkable. Using my training and experience in both, theater and filmmaking, the pandemic offered a rare opportunity for me to apply my skills in such an innovative way that is actually pioneering for the industry itself. I remain grateful that not only did we manage to produce a 2020 New York Euripides Summer Festival during the pandemic but, at the same time, to have done it safely, without having to concern ourselves about adhering to social distancing or commuting to get to the different theaters".

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