Elli Papakonstantinou: Oedipal Landscapes on the Digital and the Physical Stage
The essay discusses two recent productions of Elli Papakonstantinou and the ODC Ensemble, Traces of Antigone and Hotel “AntiOedipus,” as two illustrative examples of the new forms of digital performance created during and because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The analysis is based on the concept of interstitiality, associated with the notion of fluidity and with the concept of intertextuality. The idea of deleuzian fluidity lies in the core of the director’s approach regarding both the artistic form and the ideological approach of gender. The intermedial fluidity of the artistic means used in both versions of each production, the physical and the digital, is associated with the fluidity of gender identities that are intertextually linked to the constitutive myths on the formation of the self and the performance of gender, the Oedipal narrative and the story of Antigone.
Keywords: Theatre and COVID-19 pandemic, digital performance, gender fluidity, intertextuality, ODC Ensemble
COVID-19 pandemic has admittedly affected the material and artistic conditions of performance creation and the way we think about theatre and the performance event. From the early days of the lockdown, performing artists attempted to restore contact with their audiences, as they were deprived from the most essential part of their work, the live presence in a real (shared) space. The immediacy and intensity of this artistic activity followed at first various directions, among them online broadcasting of previous productions and the live-streaming presentation of new projects. The most important development though has been the systematic experimentation with the technical and artistic potentials of intermediality. Audiences were eager to respond to these innovative modes of digital communication, as they were getting more and more familiar with the digital world of the web that has for a long time been the unique space of social and cultural interaction.
Understanding, interpreting and theorizing these new versions of digital and digititalised performance has been the subject matter of an ongoing discussion among critics and scholars. The major issue at stake concerns the aesthetics and politics of the performance practice developed during the lockdown period, which involves both new directions in the relation between the physical and the digital and innovative forms of collective creation and communication.
For theatre critics, the challenge was urgent and more intricate because they had to redefine their methods and practice and also re-evaluate their personal viewpoint on the issue of the digital present versus the physical past and future of theatre. Most describe their hesitant feelings and the urgent need to reflect upon the changes affecting their profession. In her attempt to describe the conditions theatre critics were faced with, Zoe Ververopoulou comments that:
To chart and assess instantly a fluid and multidimensional landscape has proven to be a difficult task for journalists and critics, whose adaptability, professional reflexes and competencies are now profoundly challenged. They no longer have to report and comment on simple events; they have to identify urgent art issues, to explore atypical phenomena, to elaborate new definitions of culture, to produce culture.
Ambivalent feelings still persist as the majority of critics wander on the long-term impact this digital turn may have on the practice of theatre criticism and, in general, on the practice of theatre making. Most admit that the shared physical space and bodily co-presence will remain a defining feature of performance (Brown), while for some others digitalisation and telematics brought to the fore a different experience of liveness and communication which does not substitute but can coexist with physical presence (Sugiera; Slevogt). The most significant aspect of this mode of affective communication is that it can create new communities of artists, critics and spectators, coming from different cultural traditions.
Scholars develop similar arguments focusing on the concept of liveness as this informs the different ontology of the performer’s body, the change in time and space perception and the way both performers and spectators experience the forms of (digitalised) communication. Using as a reference point the research already conducted on the intermedial aspects of theatre and the performing arts, they underline the need to rethink, reformulate or invent new theoretical tools in order to interpret these novel forms of digital production and communication. As Bennett argues,
Although telematic, virtual, and digital artworks have been around for decades, the recent and immediate switch to online spaces has brought these works to the forefront as leading examples of how to continue to create through the digital medium. However, this shift requires a redefinition of our cultural conceptions of liveness and what it means to be present with one another.249
Rethinking the concept of liveness involves, as well, a revision of the evaluative criteria used in order to define and interpret the purely artistic aspect of these novel intermedial forms of performance (Timplalexi 52). Finally, what has also attracted scholarly attention is the political aspect often informing these performances, which may be traced both in the immediate social issues discussed on the (digital) stage and on the new modes of audience engagement and expansion (TDR editors 191–92). In fact, this aspect may be considered the most important contribution of the innovatory aesthetics these performances introduce, because it combines formal experimentation with a clear political edge, as Fuchs suggests: “By thematizing the imbrication of viewership (especially digital viewership), agency and political subjectivity, the theatre of lockdown explores the most urgent questions of the moment and reminds us of how form can address social and political matters” (10).
The productions discussed in the present essay are presented as exemplary cases of the versions of digital performance developed during the lockdown, as regards both the formal and thematic aspects of their dramaturgy. Traces of Antigone and Hotel “AntiOedipus,” directed by Elli Papakonstantinou and produced by the ODC Ensemble, explore intermediality and devise new modes of interaction with the audience. A particular and original aspect that aroused our interest was the fact that both productions were digitally presented on the Zoom platform and, at a different stage, physically performed on stage. The passage from the digital to the live version was different in each case with regard to the details marking the transition from one medium to the other, a process that should rather be described as “creative translation” than direct “transcription.”
Overall, the major elements of the dramaturgy were maintained in both versions and the minor changes concerned the use of different artistic means in specific parts of the performance with the intention of preserving the thematic emphases. Besides, the passage from the digital to the physical further highlighted the idea of fluidity and hybridity that lies at the core, as we shall see, of the two productions but also of the performance aesthetics and politics that the director and the group ODC Ensemble have developed over the years.
Setting the context of our discussion, we start with a brief presentation of the ODC Ensemble work. We then attempt to explain the theoretical framework informing the analysis of the two productions, and so we define the core notion of interstitiality and its different aspects, seen as a sort of (virtual) territory on which fluidity and hybridity operate. The idea of the in-between (interstitial) space refers both to the formal structure and to the thematic emphases of the performance dramaturgy. It concerns the to and fro movement between the digital and the physical, the representation of fluid identities, which is the core subject matter in both performances, and the intertextual basis of their dramaturgy, since both converse with two widely known ancient Greek myths. It is within this framework we attempt the discussion of both versions of Traces of Antigone and Hotel “AntiOedipus.”
In order to further illustrate the operation of intermediality in both productions, we also have recourse to the idea Najda Masura develops concerning the association of the digital with “changeability and flux” (9) and her attempt to connect this idea with the Bakhtinian notion of the body and the carnivalesque (205–06).
Elli Papakonstantinou and the ODC Ensemble have developed a distinctive type of politically engaged theatre, making extensive use of multimedial performing resources and introducing various modes of addressing the audience. The idea of fluidity, expressed in the group’s manifesto as dislocation and displacement, lies at the core of their artistic endeavour.
Content is at the core of the new rupture with the past: allowing conflicting narratives to be heard. . . . Chaotic structures are harmonious. Open questions! Any site is a stage. Perform in flooded theatre spaces, turn foyers into rivers, turn real spaces into Utopias, turn Utopias into real spaces. Embrace the bewilderment of the audience in the face of persistent dislocation. Displacement of the viewer is a political act.Papakonstantinou, “Manifesto ODC” 12
The prominent concepts that inform the work of the group are hybridity and multiplicity, defining both its aesthetic methods and its politics. Theoretical research is combined with artistic experimentation resulting in the creation of a visually impressive world surrounded by equally imposing soundscapes. The dramaturgy in each production is carefully assembled by different aural and visual fragments that do not result into a coherent, closed structure but into an open construction of multiple interconnected elements: textual fragments, the actors voice and movement, live music, sound installations, video projections and stage props of multiple use.
Of utmost importance is the arrangement of space: many productions of the ODC Ensemble are promenade or site-specific performances. It is an element on which Papakonstantinou lays particular emphasis not only because this arrangement supports the immediate communication with the audience, but also because it enhances the constantly changing dynamics of their relation. An illustrative example of this emphasis was the decision of the group to transform an abandoned tannery located “in the midst of an Athenian post-industrial junkyard” (Papakonstantinou, “It All Starts When Everything Breaks Down” 4) into a live space of cultural and political activism and solidarity among artists during the years of the economic crisis in Greece (Kondylaki 18, 20).
It is within this context that we can approach the political aspect of Papakonstantinou’s artistic endeavour. In every production, there is an idea associated with a particular concept or issue of historical and political importance or immediacy that serves as a point of departure. The performance dramaturgy develops around the different versions of this idea or concept displayed through the interaction of the various performing means, visual, auditive, bodily, intermedial. This form of “multi-disciplinary” performance, as Hager aptly argues, supports a politics of desire associated with the concept of multiplicity as defined by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. “Such a politics stems from a multiplicity of affects, interconnections, intensities and leakages. . . . multiplicities are malleable assemblages of intensities, not organised systems of signs; they do not produce meaning but affects that permeate and transform (and are transformed by) the spaces they inhabit” (68).
The “multi-disciplinary” performances of ODC Ensemble may therefore be visualised as creating a map without centre and fixed boundaries, made up of multiple in-between spaces. It is in this light that we opted for the concept of interstitiality associated with the accompanying notions of hybridity and fluidity. Initially developed by Homi Bhabha, the notion of the in-between or interstitial space is associated with hybridity and refers to a cultural field where identity binaries are suspended, and new hybrid (decentred) positions become possible (1–4). This idea of interstitiality that generates hybrid formations can be combined with the notion of fluidity, a core trait of nomadic identity, that enhances the open (or rhizomatic) connection of disparate elements which are in constant motion (becoming), shifting positions and defying hierarchies (Braidotti 3–8).
There are several standpoints from which we can discuss Traces of Antigone and Hotel “AntiOedipus” in the light of interstitiality, hybridity and fluidity.Firstly, both performances in the different stages of their creation developed between the real space and bodily presence of the actors and the technological media which supported the intermedial aspect in the physical performance and served as basis supporting its digital version. The fluidity between the physical and the digital also defined communication with the audience, creating “a liminal interstitial shared space between all of the performance sites involved” (Masura 239). Moreover, the moments of live interaction were tested both on the Zoom platform and in the physical performance, shedding light to the fluid boundaries in the perception of space and time for both actors and spectators (Bay-Cheng et al. 83–90).
Secondly, the idea of hybridity and fluidity is associated with the dominant subject in both performances, the question of identity and in particular gender identity. As time and again Papakonstantinou has underlined, gender, in association with media fluidity, has been the core idea informing their aesthetics and politics. The dramaturgy of both productions develops upon a process of performing, challenging, reinventing, trying out, defying and constantly shifting gender identities. The actresses and actors performing and projecting, with the assistance of technology, fluid images of the self may be seen as exemplary cases of what Masura defines as the actor’s neo-Bakhtinian body and its subversive, carnivalesque, potential of “overturning norms or messages” (206). For Masura, this body is “a site of resistance which manifests when both biological (real) and digital other (media) coexist on stage. The space between them is charged with their différance, the play between like and unlike, and the slippage between meanings” (206).
Finally, an interesting perspective to discuss hybridity is related to intertextuality, the mode in which the director incorporates to the performance dramaturgy various visual and textual fragments from the ancient Greek narratives on the mythical figures of Oedipus and Antigone and their reception, particularly in the field of psychoanalysis. The operation of intertextuality in intermedial performances, such as Traces of Antigone and Hotel “AntiOedipus” is remarkable, because it “includes both a network of allusive printed texts and a larger universe of images, performances, and ideas within a particular performance” (Bay-Cheng et al. 187).
Traces of Antigone, initially planned for a physical performance, was in the phase of rehearsals when COVID-19 lockdown was imposed on March 2020. The rehearsals were rescheduled and, as all actresses were “secluded,” the performance was created and presented in the Zoom platform, in the spring of 2020, each actress performing from “home.” Later, in the same year, the production had its physical premiere in Rome in the occasion of Roma Europa Festival. Feminist issues regarding women’s visibility in the public space, patriarchal stereotypes and their violent impact on female bodies, as well as the emancipatory power contained in alternative performances that enhance the idea of gender fluidity form the subject matter of Traces of Antigone.
The performance was based on the play with the same title by Swedish-Greek playwright Christina Ouzounidis. The play maintains a discreet intertextual relation with the Sophoclean heroine in Antigone, as well as with contemporary theoretical readings of the mythical figure, such as Judith Butler’s Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. Exploring the major issues at stake in the mythical narrative of Antigone, Ouzounidis does not focus so much on her heroic act of defying the law of the state but on the precarious status that many young women experience today. The playwright divides the narrative into sections, each focusing on a different perspective related to the gender roles with which a young teenager girl is forced to comply. The feeling of fear and the need to remain “secluded” is experienced as a result of the physical and symbolic violence inflicted on her body. The play is written in the form of a polyphonic monologue with two alternating voices which create a choral impression. The monologue presents fragmented images from the girls’ everyday life and fantasies: the feeling of the Other, bodily contacts, remote open spaces and closed interiors defined by rules and prohibitions. Since language is the territory where everything is inscribed, it is only by speaking aloud that contemporary Antigone(s) may succeed in escaping from the prison house of patriarchy.
Papakonstantinou treats the intertextual topography of Ouzounidi’s play as a network of textual connections which she supplements and reorganises with all available means to “speak aloud” the multiple voices of Antigone(s). She selects specific parts from the play that enhance her feminist perspective about gender fluidity and uncertainty. Both in the digital and physical performance, she also transfers selected sections from the play (for example, “Prologue,” “Her School,” “Biology”), each focusing on a central idea or situation. In every part, each actress exposes a different variant of the subject. These versions are displayed at the same time on the Zoom windows providing the spectators with a dialogic presentation of the subject in question. This multiplicity of viewpoints was more intensively marked in the digital performance because of the magnifying or deforming effects of visual technology, smartphones and cameras that form part of the actresses means of expression.
A very interesting device that expanded this idea of multiplicity was the use of different languages, which in the digital version were English, Greek and Swedish (in the physical version Italian was also added); we must mention, as well, the subtitles for the audience in both performances, creating as such an impression of live heteroglossia. In the physical version, an extra dimension was added, the visibility of the bodies hiding behind cameras or appearing (mostly with their back to the audience) on stage. The presence of the actresses’ physical bodies in the course of constructing their digital projection on stage promoted self-referentiality as one of the dominant methods in the creation of the performance dramaturgy.
Papakonstantinou places the fragments of Ouzounidi’s play as the dominant intertext that is enriched by visual and auditive citations and references, as she and the actresses devise different variants. There are numerous examples of such intertexts, particularly visual citations. For example, at several moments of the performance, the actresses focus and project on screen their mouth, reminding Samuel Beckett’s Not I, while, at another point, there is a musical theme referring to the work of Lena Platonos, a renowned avant-garde Greek women composer. The thoughts, fears and fantasies of the young Antigone(s) stimulate the actresses’ game. Drawing from personal, social or cultural sources, each actress devises and performs her own associations on female identity: her precarious status, the violence inflicted on the body, the genealogies of women who attained visibility or are known for their “heroic” acts, like Antigone, the fluidity of desire and affect and its constant confrontation with the borders and laws of patriarchy. The impression created is that of a women chorus of scattered voices speaking aloud an emancipatory speech with the intention of imposing their position into the public sphere.
Their voices, faces and bodies presented within the frame of the Zoom windows and the network of intertextual references that these images recall, create, as Papakonstantinou comments:
an audio-visual embroidering, a live art piece that unfolds at the same time in parallel both in the digital and in the physical world. The work aims to stitch together the physical with the digital, the material with the immaterial . . . in the ether of a meta space. This is a weird animal of the internet, where women from their homes or (in a replica of their home on stage) weave together languages, images and sounds.“Antigone”
There is a very interesting aspect that the director assigns to what she defines as a “meta-space.” Talking about the decision to work for a digital performance because of the COVID-19 lockdown, Papakonstantinou explains how the experience of seclusion, of being forced because of the pandemic to remain home and “enclosed” within the virtual space of a Zoom window, has been associated with the imposed seclusion to which women in history have been subjected. “I soon realized that the containment of the performers’ bodies in the digital windows, was in direct dialogue with the theme of the piece, which is the entrapment in gender identity and the relation of womanhood and domesticity” (Papakonstantinou, “Director’s Note”). Remaining home, the actresses use this experience to reflect upon the different circumstances in which women have been forced to remain in the private space of their houses without having access to the public domain.
We, women of different ages and artistic backgrounds, have joined voices to traverse historicity of gender, reconfiguring domesticity and digital space. . . . framed in digital boxes, we remain transparent for the whole world to peep on us, yet, safe in the refuge of our innermost private space. Transparent yet mysterious; Empowered yet objectified; Private yet public; Present yet absent; . . . Connected yet isolated; Certain yet uncertain.Papakonstantinou, “Director’s Note”
It is in this light that the director designates Traces of Antigone as an example of what she introduces as the “theatre of seclusion,” a new “genre” that has a particular working method for the composition of the performance dramaturgy.
1. We rehearse, develop and execute the whole piece in quarantine with the help of digital platforms. 2. We are allowed to make use only of the props, musical instruments, set environment, costumes and technical means that were made available to us when quarantined; no add-ons later on! Our home is the set. Public space and home space merge into one. The tagged names on our windows name us and reconfigure anonymity and objectification, always already “singular-plural”, in the elsewhere and otherwise 3. We work in seclusion from our homes like women before us. Are we trapped, safe or emancipated? It is up to our viewers to tell, as we grant them permission to invade our most intimate world. Zoom in to details, zoom out to the galaxies. 4. We all use the same basic technology to weave in synchronicity this new age audiovisual embroidering in synchronicity. 5. We invite viewers to interact with the performance, thus propelled to the public agora.“What Is ‘Theatre of Seclusion’?”
The basic principle refers to the handmade quality of the entire procedure. Each actress, in preparing her performance, can use the devices (mobile phone, computer camera, lighting) and props which derive exclusively from her home. The most interesting aspect concerns the way in which this real material (objects and bodies) is projected on screen, as the spectator is confronted with all the windows forming this visual and auditive “embroidery.” It is designed/directed in such a way as to enhance the idea of fluidity and associate it with gender fluidity, first because the visual/fictional universe of Traces of Antigone does not form a closed structure but an open (non-matrixed) composition, and second because of the self-referentiality that defines the visual images. The different versions of female bodies and especially faces “play” with the stereotypical images of women that dominate in the public sphere of the media, which are magnified images of body parts and in particular diverse close-ups to their faces. These portraits, “augmented” by technology or deformed by the make-up each actress wears, allow the audience to have a glimpse of the traumatised female body. Therefore, the spectators are called to move constantly from the recognisable stereotyped images to their subversive variants that the performers project on the screen.
At this point, we reach another interesting aspect related to the intermedial experiment of this “theatre of seclusion”: the communication with the audience. The Zoom platform seen as a digital stage generates a different relation between actors and spectators, since everyone appears on a window and has a (real or fake) name. Papakonstantinou wishes to transform Zoom into a digital agora and, for this purpose, uses several interactive acts, through the use of breakout rooms, so as to allow the spectators explore the world of Antigone(s). In the end of the performance, she asks spectators to turn on the cameras. It is at this moment that they (from their own home) realize that the private becomes public in the virtual (meta-space) of the web, a place to meet, interact and think. Fuchs describes this form of communication that momentarily troubles the distinction between the public and the private in the light of the intricate operation of voyeurism.
If voyeurism is the troubling double to viewership in any performance, it is perhaps all the more so on Zoom, which is so unsparing in affording not only a frontal view of the performers but also access to domestic spaces ordinarily unavailable to the public eye. . . . Yet, by asking viewers to turn on their video, the actors reverse the dynamic. . . . the actors’ moment of peering into the private spaces of the audience . . . alters the power dynamic of the gaze. […and] in the context of the pandemic, this moment of reverse ‘peeping’ also constitutes a new shared public space.51–52
The experience with the “theatre of seclusion” allowed Elli Papakonstantinou to work on the fluidity of performing devices; that is, the different and fluctuating modes in which they can assign meaning to a digital performance. The experimentation with hybrid forms was then associated with the presentation of gender fluidity. In the hybrid version of the production, in which the digital and the physical were presented simultaneously on (the physical) stage, the fluidity of forms was clearly exposed. In fact, the private spaces were transferred on stage as different theatre settings, and the actresses repeated the same performance and projected it on a screen in the same way with the aid of cameras and mobile phones. Therefore, the “real” performance was projected and addressed to the digital audience and, at the same time, to the real audience that was watching the backstage of the performing procedure and a diffracted image of its digital broadcast. It was a moment where the interface between the real and the virtual, technology and the human body reached its peak.
Hotel “AntiOedipus” is a digital performance presented for the first time on the Zoom platform on March 2021, originating in the operatic performance, Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding, premiered at the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, two years earlier, in 2019. In this case, the relation between the digital and the physical version is different. Contrary to Traces of Antigone, the physical performance came first, and the digital version is rather a reworking in which Papakonstantinou made some very interesting conversions. In Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding, the presence of musicians was prominent and controlled the rhythm of the entire performance. The singers, Oedipus, Jocasta, Teiresias, the Chorus, performed the Oedipus story in front of a large cinematic screen on which the audience watched different snapshots of the contemporary (American) Thebes and video closeup projections of the actors’ faces. The story was narrated in three levels, corresponding to three distinct stages in the path towards the revelation of the Oedipal identity.
The choice of the face as the mask revealing or hiding one’s identity became the dominant visual element. In the operatic performance, this emphasis was firstly visually displayed through the video projections on the actor’s faces on the screen and the use of elaborate masks made of mirrors, and it was secondly supported by the auditive device of splitting voices, which rendered at some moments difficult for the audience to attach the voice/text to a particular face/role. In the digital version, the emphasis on the fluid identities was transmitted through the idea of using an avatar and the unlimited possibility of its facial transformations, while the levels of the three stages of the Oedipal story on which the dramaturgy of the operatic version was based were translated into distinct levels of a computer game. Another very interesting reworking concerns the interactive involvement of the real and the digital audience. In both shows, the audience are the inhabitants of Thebes and the chorus. In the physical show, spectators were asked to answer questions about who they are and use their mobile phones, while the digital audience was asked to play with the avatars provided by the Zoom platform.
The development of the intertextual network of references from the operatic to the digital performance reveals the aspects that mainly attracted the director’s interest. The initial idea was to work on the Oedipus myth, as narrated by Sophocles and canonized in Freudian psychoanalysis (Freud 362–66; Chase). In this light, both the dramaturgy of the performance and the scenario of the game (in the digital variant) develops between these two narratives, the one mirroring the other. There are several key moments of the Oedipal story which the director emphasises and develops. The first refers to the identity question: “Do we know who we really are?”
The quest for self-knowledge that defines the adventure of the tragic hero becomes a question addressed to the audience and the major mission of the game. In this mission, mirrors, selfies (close-ups) and avatars are the most important tools. The spectators are literally “bombarded” with close-up shots of the characters’ faces, which are in a state of constant transformation. With this visual excessiveness, the question becomes more urgent and finally “explodes”: the constant fluidity suggested by the multiple facial transformations reveals the inability to reveal or catch a true, or definitive self-image.
The second key moment from the Oedipus narrative Papakonstantinou refers to is the family romance as developed in the Freudian version, the charter myth of psychoanalysis regarding gender. Papakonstantinou introduces the character of the psychanalyst who monitors the identity quest. Whereas in the physical performance he stands on one side of the stage facing the couch and “listening” to the analysands (Jocasta and Oedipus), in the digital version he is a face on a Zoom window undergoing the same process of change and deformation. The fluidity of identities and the constant shift of gender positions in the major roles of the narrative undermine the coherence of the Freudian version. Oedipus’ lines in the operatic show are spoken by a male and a female voice, while, on the digital stage, the faces of Oedipus and Jocasta merge at several moments, and their two Zoom windows project one divided face.
The fluidity of identities, in combination with the absence of a definite answer to the initial question (“Do we know who we really are?”) allow Papakonstantinou to present the affectionate aspect of the love relationship between mother and son. The law of the Father is invalidated when the flow of desire is let free, Papakonstantinou implies quoting Deleuze’s and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus.
The quest for the “true” identity of the Sophoclean hero in the digital version is presented through the exploration of the different rooms that the spectators can choose to visit through the breakout room facility provided by the Zoom platform. In these rooms, she/he can meet the major figures in the Oedipal story, the impressive Sphinx and Teiresias, who attempts to read the future no longer by deciphering oracles but by measuring and collecting data. The rooms in which the secrets of identity may be revealed have revealing names—Analysis room, Anatomy Room, Oracle Room, Correspondence room, Deleuze room, Freud’s room, Oedipus room. They are reminiscent of the Hotel of Dramatic Folly, where the protagonist “dives into” the mirror in order to explore the different rooms of the unconscious and fantasy in Jean Cocteau’s film Le sang d’un poète.
A third issue that the director develops from the Oedipal narrative is the idea of the plague the city of Thebes suffers. The idea of political and social crisis that inflicts the polis forms the wider context in which this game of identities unfolds. The video projections both in the physical and the digital stage show alternating cityscapes in movement: speeding through the avenues, everyday incidents on the streets and scenes of social unrest. In fact, the presence of the city was much more prominent and geographically localised in the operatic performance, addressed to the New York audience. The video projections included vintage, mostly televisual snapshots displaying scenes of the American dream, which was ironically reflected as the “appropriate Oedipal family romance” and contrasted with recent scenes of rallies, racist violence and stock exchange boards. In the digital stage, the presence of the city is more abstract, usually long shots depicting road movement. The sense of a constantly moving landscape is also created by the captivating synthesis of soundscapes.
In both versions, however, the most important presence of the city is the live audience, performing both the role of the citizens and the chorus. In both versions, spectators are encouraged to participate in this global (and digital) agora discussing the quest of (personal) identities and to explore the interconnection of the personal with the political, of the Oedipal family adventure with the plague inflicted on the city.
“This dreadful machine—tragic fate—that punishes Oedipus turns out to be a splatter”; that is how the fictional narrative concludes. Yet, as we have been following the different levels of the game, we came to realise that the idea of identity does not refer to a stable position within a given network of relations but to a constantly shifting energy or affect, a constantly changing image that invents different positions in this network, like the infinite possibilities of transformation that an avatar possesses. In this light, the taboo “does not need to haunt us anymore. . . . We can turn it into something new. A light song. . . . It’s another way to reconcile with the trauma. To activate it and to release the flow of desire, which has for centuries remained blocked by every dominant representation, by every tyrannical Oedipus of our existence” (Arkoumanea).
Placing the charter myths of identity and gender formation as the core intertextual context in the dramaturgy of both productions, director Elli Papakonstantinou succeeds in creating an impressive version of this “changeability and flux” by combining the intricate “embroidery” of form—the real body and its digitisation—with the politics of identity formation. There is no definite answer in the exploration of identity that lies at the core of the performances’ dramaturgy. Contemporary Antigone(s) are “transparent yet mysterious; Empowered yet objectified; Private yet public; Present yet absent; Connected yet isolated; Certain yet uncertain” (Traces of Antigone Press Pack). Similarly, the Oedipal quest “knowing who we really are,” or “what is our gender” remains without a definite answer. Identity and gender are seen as rhizomatic, referring to “a performance of becoming which is brought together momentarily, interrupted constantly, and dispersed consistently. . . . a constant journey with no final destination” (Linstead and Pullen 1291–92).
The unexpected and urgent conditions imposed by COVID-19 pandemic worked as a motivating force that allowed the director to further explore the intermedial aspect of her performance aesthetics. The passage from the digital to the physical in the case of Traces of Antigone has been an interesting experiment particularly in testing the forms of the digital stage provided by Zoom. The experiment was repeated from a different starting point with the “translation” of the operatic Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding to the digital performance of Hotel “AntiOedipus.” For Elli Papakonstantinou, one of the most fascinating aspects of this exploration has undoubtedly been the new forms of communicating with the audience. In all four versions that we have discussed, audience participation has been crucial for the emergence of a global agora where social, political and artistic issues are discussed.
The notion of the digital agora enhancing the formation of new communities should be seen as one of the positive outcomes of the theatre of the lockdown. Whether a new “theatre aesthetic” might or might not emerge after the end of the pandemic, indeed, is early to predict (Meerzon, Patsalidis and Murphy). Yet, what has undoubtedly changed, as Amelia Jones accurately suggests, is the perception of liveness for both theatre artists, theatre critics and their audiences.
I don’t think we can predict how performative modes of creative practice will have changed after the COVID-19 crisis is over. . . . More interestingly, I would assert that finally our concept of the “live” will have shifted forever. . . . This is all to say that the “live” now means something quite different from what most performance studies scholars (attached to and privileging the proximity, the flesh, and the potential to touch) believed and argued it to be before Covid.TDR editors 193
My special thanks to Elli Papakonstantinou for the inspiring discussions and for providing me with the audio-visual material for all four performances. Many thanks to the editor, Yana Meerzon, and the anonymous reviewer for their illuminating commentaries that helped me further develop the core ideas of this essay.
Arkoumanea, Louisa. “Review on the Hotel AntiOedipus.” Accessed 8 Apr. 2022.
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*Lina Rosi is Associate Professor at the Department of Theatre Studies, University of Patras. Her research and teaching interests focus on the history and theory of twentieth- and twenty-first-century European theatre, and on the different theoretical paradigms that inform the study and analysis of theatre, drama and film. Her publications include studies of contemporary French, Francophone and modern Greek theatre.
Copyright © 2022 Lina Rosi
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