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Q&A: Conrad Prebys Amphitheater stages first ever dramatic production with ‘Antigone’



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Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz rehearses April 22 for “Antigone” outside the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center. Kunkel-Ruiz will play the titular role of Antigone in the play April 29 at the Conrad Prebys Ampitheater. Colin Kulpa Buy Photos

As part of IU’s Bicentennial Celebration, the drama department will present the ancient Greek drama “Antigone” at the Conrad Prebys Amphitheater. The show marks the amphitheater’s first use for a dramatic production since construction was completed in October 2016.

“The great Greek tragedies explore our most profound experiences, deepest feelings and the complex moral issues we face, while also expanding our sense of what it means to human,” IU President Michael McRobbie said in an email. “The Prebys Amphitheater allows our students to see such epic theater the way it was originally performed – in an open-air setting.”

The IDS spoke with Jonathan Michaelsen, professor and director of the production. The show runs starting at 6:30 p.m. April 29 and 30.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

IDS: Tell me about this production of “Antigone.”

Michaelsen: We haven’t done a theatrical production out in the amphitheater, so I thought this was an opportunity to get some students together and make use of that space and see how it is theatrically. I consulted a little on the design of it, and it's turned out to be quite a lovely space and a friendly space to stage things in.

The audience-actor relationship is really great, pretty intimate. It’s a Greek theater, so we wanted to do something from the Greeks. I thought about doing “Oedipus,” but “Antigone” really speaks to me, especially now. It was written over 2,400 years ago and I felt right at this moment in our country, speaking truth to power is a very legitimate theme to investigate. I decided to take on “Antigone.”

Is “Antigone” a show with a lot of action? What’s interesting about this work?

It’s about a young women who defies the law of the king. She has two brothers who are killed. One is considered a traitor. One is considered a true son of the state. The king says one can be buried with full honors, and the other is to be laid out and eaten alive by flies. Antigone objects and stands up to this and is willing to die to give this other brother a proper burial. That was important to the Greeks and to a lot of cultures.

It’s about this sense of man’s law and man’s justice versus a higher moral stance that Antigone takes. There are some great dynamic scenes and interesting characters.

What’s it been like working in the amphitheater, compared to, for example, a proscenium (more traditional) stage?

It’s been great. I’ve forgotten how magical it is to be outside. This production is about the words and about the actions and the emotions. It’s not heavily produced. We’re doing it in modern dress and we’re using the space. It’ll be a wonderful, natural experience. We are mic-ing the actors, though. That’s the one technical element we’re putting in.

Minus the mics, would you say this is a very similar style to how the show would’ve been produced 2,400 years ago?

Not quite. Greek theater had some rules and regulations. They would’ve had only three actors and they would’ve worn masks to do different characters. What this is, is it’s outdoors in a Greek theater. It’s an experience an audience 2,400 years ago probably would’ve had.

We’re using a percussionist. He’s doing a score under the piece that adds a lot. It’s dynamic, it’s really fun.

What should someone attending the event expect differently from this show, as compared to an indoor show?

The experience of being outside and of seeing it in this huge disc, the Greek stage, about 40 by 40, has some real sweep to it. People can come early and picnic. The light is very interesting, the way it darkens as we go along. We never get to the point of it being dark, but we go through this journey and it starts to dim.

The actors come from the hills. We make real use of the formations and that sense of environment. It will involve the audience in the show, in a way.

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