Two and a half millennia ago in Athens the Spring was marked with the City Dionysia - a festival in honor of the God of wine, ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy. Bulls were slaughtered and plays were performed competitively over a series of many days. Celebrated writers wore wreaths of ivy and the greatest were showered gifts - including goats - one of the symbols of Dionysus.
For 40 years - groupies of the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory, myself chief among them for the last 25 years - have carried on this Dionysian ritual three times a year during end of the semester "Final Scenes." The culmination of three months of intense theatrical study, Final Scenes is a veritable orgy of ecstatic performance that lasts for almost two weeks. Led by a band of zealous followers of Bacchus - the Conservatory faculty - Participant/Actors range from tweens (in the Young Actors Program) to adult novitiates and professional thespians. Students and Teachers celebrate their accomplishments together - including a post-scene feast each night! Sadly, ivy wreaths aren't distributed, nor goats. There is much talk though, about what good gifts the God bestowed on us or what dramatic heights he - the trickster - kept just out of our reach.
The culmination of the Final Scene festival is a class entitled Greek Tragedy. Messenger speeches, scenes, and choruses are performed - in a ritualized style that almost description. Pedagogically, the class teaches practical and important lessons in ensemble, vocal-emotional connection, bold physicality, point of view, and hugeness of spirit. For Conservatory students who are drawn to attend Greek Final Scenes - it often a turning point - after Greek, they are really hooked. The achievements of the class are so extraordinary - and so unusual - that it is almost a religious experience.
Or maybe it IS a religious experience. Are we really the agents of our own fate? In just ten days our preparations for the next Festival will begin as the new semester starts! We really must belong to the Great God Dionysus - playing out - almost unwittingly - the 2400 year old rituals of our dramatic ancestors - in celebration of catharsis.