December 21, 2008

The Dithyramb

This is a blog about theatre, thought, Shakespeare, and everything in between.  Let me start by telling you a story.  

Far away and long ago, in a time when Gods ruled from on high and the world was no larger than a certain set of islands in the Mediterranean, there was a ship. The ship was bound for Sicily and laden with treasure- glittering gold coffers filled to the brim with gems, pearls, wonderful and beautiful bolts of clothe with golden threads woven into its very fabric, statuettes of ivory, rings set with precious and shining stones larger than a child’s fist… all these riches the newly won property of the citharede Arion.

Arion was a man famed throughout Greece for his song. It was said that his musical poetry could move the Gods themselves. Arion had traveled to Sicily specifically to compete in the famed annual competition for song and music. The prizes were great, the competition greater, but Arion swept away all the judges and participants with his performance. His heart full to bursting with happiness and longing for his home in Corinth, Arion packed his prizes onto a hired vessel and set sail. The blue waters of the Mediterranean beneath him, Arion felt at peace and could barely contain his excitement to be closer to Greece with each passing instant.

But trouble always follows hard on the heels of success. Two days into the voyage, Arion’s ship was beset by pirates. The corsairs had heard of Arion’s victory and knew the ship to be full to bursting with prizes and riches beyond worldly compare. The pirates captured Arion’s small crew and brought the bard himself face to face with their own Captain.

The pirate Captain was a seasoned seaman and knew he could not let Arion live for fear of vengeance, but he was not without mercy. He gave Arion a choice: either the bard could take his own life on the deck of that pirate ship and be promised a proper burial on land when the ship next moored, or the Captain would give an order for Arion to be tossed overboard to meet his death in the salty brine.

Arion told the Captain that he would take his chances in the sea, but before he was thrown to his death he begged to bestow upon the sailors one last song. The Captain was moved by Arion’s plea and allowed him to sing.

The song Arion sang was unlike anything any of the sailors had ever heard. Ethereal, almost inhuman, it wafted through the air and brought courage and hope to even the most tired soul aboard that ship. Its words and melody snaked up through the air and called to Dionysus in prayer and reverie. And this song was the first dithyramb.

Arion’s song attracted a nearby pod of dolphins. They too were moved by the melody and, not wanting it to end, swam to him when he plunged into the foamy brine. Arion rode upon the point dolphin’s back to safety at the sanctuary of Poseidon and, eventually, to his home in Greece.

The Dithyramb was said to be invented by the Greek Bard Arion, though likely not during the above mentioned incident (a story taken from Herodotus). It was a hymn in homage to Dionysus in the form of a dialogue between an individual and a chorus. Aristotle credits the Dithyramb as the origin of Greek Theatre, thus making it the origin of theatre itself.

Theatre is the modern practice of story telling. In the glitz and glamour of Broadway, the lights and spectacle of the modern musical and the industry which has sprung into being around “THEATRE”, it is easy to loose track of the simplicity at its roots. Theatre is about humanism, a connection shared between the actors onstage and the people who have assembled to watch them.

There is a vital connection established in live theatre which film and television can never duplicate. While we will feel for the people who are presented larger-than-life before us, we miss the interpersonal link created by merely being in the same room as another human being. Sound, as we all know, is vibration. The voice is sound. Therefore, the voice of a live actor will create a vibration in the air which will be taken in by the audience members. It is the craft of an actor to hone and mould that vibration in order to effect the vibrations of the assembled audience, to leave them different from how they were when they entered the theatre space.

Though I cannot offer physical vibrations through the internet, I can offer intellectual stimulus. Vibrations of the mind. I am an actor. I have spent many years honing my craft, my voice and myself and have participated in theatre of various levels of professionalism for the past ten years.

I also have the nasty tendency to think a lot. I would like to call myself an academic, though I know that such a title opens my door to a barrage of demands for my credentials. I can say that I have an inquiring mind and some amount of intellectual background, though a deep-seated desire for more.

What I hope to offer here is insight. Thoughts. To be added to, bounced around, and shared.  The sound of an echo is always different from its initial sounding.  It returns to its creator changed in an utterly unpredictable way- often times richer and stronger than its initial sounding.  Here I begin my echo in hopes that it will return to me changed in a way I could never have imagined because that creative molding of ideas is the seed of all intellectual thought.

More to come…

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