Between freedom and control: A chorus-centred Bakkhai for community ensemble

McKenzie, V. (2022). Between freedom and control: A chorus-centred Bakkhai for community ensemble, Australasian Drama Studies 80, 253-277.

In addition to capturing the heart of the mythological story, the tension between freedom and control explored so vividly in Euripides’ ‘Bakkhai’ can resonate in the creative process. This article focuses on the creative development of Bakkhai (2018) to illustrate the value of employing a process that fosters collaboration and improvisational freedom in a community theatre context. Without eliminating the text of Euripides’ play, as director I employed a creative methodology in which an original translation was deliberately introduced late in the creative development process. Rather, the work sought to communicate the power and experience of ancient tragedy through extensive use of choral song and dance. Decentring the text in the creative process supports movement away from naturalist modes that sit awkwardly with Greek theatre production. Building on the work of Dunbar and Harrop (2018), I argue that reducing the influence of the text in creative development restrains individualist and psychologising approaches to Greek tragedy, and that such restraint creates the opportunity for greater embodied and affective performer engagement. Bakkhai is positioned in an Australian context by drawing on (and resisting) Paul Monaghan’s critique of naturalism and promotion of postdramatic strategies in productions of Greek tragedy.