Behold, The Yeasts!

As we've worked on Yeast Nation, I've been reading a great book called Greek Theatre Performance: An Introduction, by David Wiles. And I keep reading passages and thinking, "Hmmmm, that describes Yeast Nation too!" It's amazing how well Kotis and Hollmann have tapped into all those original impulses that created theatre so long ago...

Wiles writes early in his book, "Whilst gods hover on the margins of Geek tragedy, the plots focus upon heroes, men and women of a distant time that can neither be called myth or history." You can't get more distant than three and a half billion years ago.

Wiles writes, "Mythic subject matter was not a residue of old traditions, but was introduced into tragedy as a means of generating critical distance, so issues of the moment could be turned into issues of principle. By transferring immediate political hopes and fears to the world of myth, tragedians encouraged their audience to judge as well as to feel." He writes, "In tragedy, the issues of the present were transposed into an entirely separate space/time, in order that they could be judged with some measure of objectivity." Later in the book, he writes, "Tragedy was a device which allowed the Athenians to come together and collectively think through their problems. The Greek word polis means a "city-state" or community of citizens. Geek tragedy was necessarily political -- its subject matter was the well-being of the polis, and its performance was part of what turned a collection of people into a polis."

That's exactly how Yeast Nation operates. And Urinetown, for that matter. And a lot of other shows we've produced. That's still one of the primary purposes of making theatre -- and one of the primary reasons live theatre will never die. We need this.

Wiles writes, "Heroes engaged in a primal rebellion against god or something divine." In Yeast Nation, it's Jan-the-Second's rebellion against The Strictures, their holy text.

Wiles writes, "Greek plays dealt with the limit of the human ability to control the world. Spectators sat inside the city they had created and looked at the wilderness beyond. From the security of their seats, they contemplated a world where nothing was secure." In a weird, backward, time-machine kind of way, the same is true with our show. As they do throughout Yeast Nation, the writing team has adapted all these classical devices to our times and conventions, giving us the best of both worlds.

On a related topic, Wiles writes, "Greek tragedies are set in a single place, with only two clear exceptions. Typically, the characters of tragedy are trapped in a situation from which no physical escape is possible. There are three points of exit, and none offers release from a trap that will culminate in death." That describes pretty much exactly the plot of our show.

In talking about the actual performances in Greek theatre, Wiles writes, "The heroic milieu of tragedy was transmuted into laughter in a short piece called a satyr play, which followed the performance of three tragedies." In Yeast Nation, our writers have combined those experiences, so that our tragedy is also a wild comedy that's parallel to the satyr play. Wiles writes, "Tragedy is enclosed in the sense that it makes no formal acknowledgement of the audience. Comedy reverses tragedy and plays on the permeability of the actor-audience boundary." Yeast Nation is a tragedy that acts like a comedy. Or is it a comedy that acts like a tragedy....?

Our scenic and lighting designer Rob Lippert has built us a cool set with the audience surrounding the performers on three sides. In his book, Wiles writes, "The illusion of the fully detached spectator is only sustainable in a proscenium theatre, where the auditorium is placed in darkness, physically separated by the proscenium arch from the fictional universe of the play. The performers of Greek drama never pretended that their encircling audience was invisible, and had to find a mode of address that made sense of the relationship." Rob's set is not only a really fun playground, it also powerfully invokes the show's -- and theatre's -- roots.

And Rob is keeping the audience in the same blue "water" light the actors are in, for the whole show. It will be subtle, but it will make our entire theatre the world of Yeast Nation, not just the "playing space." Our audience will not be in darkness.

Jan-the-Unnamed and her Yeast Chorus operate very much like their theatrical ancestors. Wiles writes, "In the Greek theatre, the chorus functioned variously a a physical extension of the audience, as the narrator of ancient myth, as an objective arbiter, as the extension of a particular character with whom it expresses solidarity, or else as a fragmented group with diverse view." All that is true of our Yeast Chorus. Wiles also writes, "The chorus is the essential element which uniquely allows the release of a true tragic space. A chorus is not geometric, it is organic. A collective body, it possesses a center of gravity, extensions, breath. It is a sort of organism that can take different shapes according to the situation in which it finds itself."

Even though we have embarked on yet another utterly unique journey, during which our past journeys can provide only limited help, we all feel so secure in the brilliant, demented hands of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann. They have attempted some insane things with this show, but they're succeeded so completely. As different as Yeast Nation is, Kotis and Hollmann have given us an outstanding road map.

We open this week. Just two more rehearsals before we get to share this gloriously fucked-up treasure with our audiences. I cannot wait.

Come share this wonderful adventure with us. You will be so glad you did.

Long Live the Musical!

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