Meet the Cast & Crew - Melody Erfani
Why do you think this story needs to be told/today?
2, 456 years later after this story was first told, governing rulers and the people who follow them (or not) are extremely relevant, especially in our own current election year, but also in world politics. Two particular instances that serve as reminders of why this story needs to be told today are:
Republican primary nominee Donald Trump calling for surveillance against mosques and being open to establishing a database for all Muslims that are living in the U.S. He maintains the war is against radical Islam, but said, "it's very hard to define. It's very hard to separate. Because you don't know who's who." He also said: "We are not talking about isolation, we're talking about security. We're not talking about religion, we're talking about security. Our country is out of control."
Creon justifies his decree, an order that many disagree with, as a call for security. He says to the chorus,“Remember this: our country is our safety. Only while she voyages true on course can we establish friendships, truer than blood itself. Such are my standards. They make our city great.” These words frightfully reflect those of Trumps in a remarkably similar fight for power and control.
I also see the themes of this classic text rooted in the current realities of the Middle East. I am Iranian American. I still have family in Iran and am very aware of the continued conflict, not only in their country but spread throughout the Middle East. The play begins with the end of a civil war, which right now is Syria's reality.
Additionally, the ill treatment of women in the Middle East is rife. There are still ‘honor killings’, punishment for sex outside of marriage, in some areas laws require veils or full body covering, and there is little to no voice in the government. We see this inequality throughout Antigone, manifested in different ways but with the ultimate outcome of oppression. Antigone fights against this with her Uncle.
I read the many versions of Antigone and deliberately chose an adaption that sees both sides so people can infer and marinate on aspects of what the play in its originality encompasses. I didn't want to hit anyone over the head but feel there is a clear message in Sophocles version that still needs to be told.
What have been your creative influences with this piece?
For me sifting through images is a major catalyst to develop my language and how I view the voice of the piece. Visually I am inspired to dig deeper into themes, imagery and emotions rooted in the text but this is all comes from the basis of text analysis.
In my search for inspiring images I came across a particular image by Ludovic Florent’s series “Poussieres d’etoiles” (Startdust) of a dancer with her arms and back arched, flinging sand. It looks like she is a sand angel. There is grace, movement, strength in the woman which I identify within the character of Antigone. The texture of sand, the grittiness, speaks to me about the world they live in, which is both tough and beautiful. Symbolically the angel is Antigone. She is trying to save her brother from an afterlife of wandering. Her faith and love drives her to make the decisions that she does.
Another photographer that inspired me was David Blazquez. Early on I had the idea that I wanted Creon’s throne to be made up of the chorus. A huge inspiration in developing how we did this was the photos from the Human Furniture Photography Exhibit that took place in Sevilla, Spain.
What is unique about this play in relation to other productions of Antigone?
The big artistic draw for me to Antigone, was the lack of information regarding the Chorus. In Ancient Greece when this play was performed the entire play was masked and the chorus sang and danced. We don't know now what those songs and dances are or how they influenced the piece. The possibilities of how they might have used the Chorus dialogue is what drew me to this play. I think many modern productions shy away from the chorus or cut them all together. Another interesting element in this production, is that every character except Antigone and Creon are doubled as the chorus.
Who have you chosen to collaborate with and why? What elements do these designers bring to the production?
Many of the people in this show and working on this production are people I have worked with previously.
I absolutely love working with the talented J.P. I think this is our fifth show with me Directing/Adapting and him MD/Composing. It is rare and extremely exiting when someone can push you but also figure your half composed thoughts and ideas. In addition there is also the wonderful band Lady and the Lion who have joined forces with us a second time to play their beautiful music. Generating new material or adapting something classic is like stepping off a cliff: exciting and frightening all in one. Knowing that I am working with J.P. and Lady and the Lion makes me feel like I have a parachute.
As for other aspects of the production, my co-producer is also my roommate. I affectionately call her my wife. She is a wonderful partner. She values the creative artistic process and product just as much as I do. We can be constructive with each other and supportive. It is deeply necessary for me to have this foundation as I have learned from previous shows that Directing and Producing is a lot to take on and having a partner is essential.
I also have been so lucky to find amazing, hardworking, talented actors from all facets of my life: Grad school, word of mouth, and Backstage. I really enjoy and creatively excel when a rehearsal can be a collaborative process. It is important that there is a sense of ensemble and I feel that the more we can play, discover, and try the better the show.
Another important collaborator is my choreographer. This is our second show together. He “gets me.” I ask to try something or have an idea and he expounds and organizes. He is so easy to collaborate with.
Last but definitely not least are both of my designers who I worked with many years ago at Stagedoor Manor. There we learned to be creative on a small budget and I am so grateful they are still working with me and can still be amazingly creatively on a small budget.
How are you adapting the piece? What are you cutting out? Focusing on?
I have tightened some of the monologues as there are more speeches than dialogue. I am experimenting with the chorus role in the play and incorporating music and movement.
What challenges are you are approaching in the work and how are you meeting them?
There is that saying where you have time but no money or money and no time. Our budget is small and money is tight. My thoughts for this show were to start the process earlier than what is customary so that the actors could live with their characters and we could organically create the chorus work. This has been an amazing process but the downfall is that the elongated period is too taxing in terms of staying committed to the project. Rehearsals started out once a week but now that we are a bit closer we have increased them to three times a week.
Do you think theatre still has a place or is it a dying art? How do you think you can keep it alive? Where do you think it is going in the future?
I think theatre is the most unforgiving art form and possibly at the same time the most forgiving. Each performance is a new journey which to me is the beauty of theatre. The fact that it takes place in the present and we the audience breathe in the exhale of the actors breath and feel the vibrations of their words is something that can’t be replicated. I don't think it is dying but do think over the thousands of years it's been in existence it goes through up and downs. I feel right now audiences are eager for theatre a good example would be Hamilton and it is exciting that we are in an upswing. As for where it is going in its future my first thought was space or maybe underwater (I might have been reading/watching too much Sci-Fi) but really I think our current world is opening up through technology and that the possibilities for theatre are limitless.
Where has your work been and where do you want it to go?
My work started out in Dallas, Texas. It has been off off Broadway and to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I want it to go to St. Ann's Warehouse, BAM, Kneehigh and would like to take a show back to Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I have a passion for traveling and exploring other cultures. I would love to work with theatres from all over the world and bring my shows there too.
If you could have an unlimited budget, what play would you do and what would you do with it?
So my mind immediately went to having sand in this production...
In one sentence, why should people come to see Antigone?
Antigone is a relevant, thought provoking piece that is poignant and beautiful with live music and movement.