This year I wrote a short ten-minute play called Iphigenia. Where it's essentially inspired by the Greek myth in which Iphigenia's father, Agamemnon, ruffles the goddess Artemis’ feathers. As a result, Artemis decrees that the only way his ships will be allowed to sail to Troy is if he sacrifices his first-born daughter, Iphigenia.
Basically, it’s a normal weekend for a classic tragic Greek family.
This myth has always been so interesting to me. I mean can you imagine being that daughter? Your father has offended a god, and you have been reduced to nothing but a token, a bargaining chip, a way to punish HIM. Your agency has been entirely stripped away, and you’ve been added as a footnote to the Trojan War.
I’ve always been intensely interested in what Iphigenia has to say. We don’t get much from her. Some versions spin a tale of a willing sacrifice, some spin a tale of deceit by her father in which he lies and says she’s getting married only to bait-and-switch by killing her in the 9th hour. Some have her die, some have her whisked off by the goddess Artemis herself. Whatever the story, whatever the result, her passiveness and voiceless-ness seems to be a salient feature.
Another point of intrigue for me has always been Clytemnestra, her mother, and what she has to say (or doesn’t have to say) about the matter. I mean this is your daughter after all. But then again this is allegedly the will of the gods. Or is it?
I love letting my imagination run wild with characters we don’t really hear from or get an inside perspective of. Characters who tend to be a footnote in someone else’s story, characters that die in Act I - you know the ones. Characters who don’t really move the plot forward or exist only as an obstacle or side plot for someone else’s story.
It’s especially unfortunate that these characters so often tend to be women.
Especially in classic texts; that is, in the great capital C ‘Cannon’ of capital ‘T’ Theatre,
So my approach was twofold. One: I don’t believe for a second Iphigenia would take all this in stride. I think she fought to the bitter end. Two: There’s no way Clytemnestra had an easy time of this either. She must have had her struggles, and I was extremely interested in their relationship.
So I made the decision to write this piece in a sort of classical style with a sort of 2017 flare. The excerpt below is Iphigenia’s monologue off the top of the play:
What bitter moonlit desperation.
Hear the bloody throngs before war.
Men together huddled; makeshift tents.
I can see them. Just over the ridge.
What blood lust is this?
The air thick with red unspent.
The lives of sweaty men drunk on youth and propaganda:
‘For your king. For you country. For your motherland.’
This place which has always been my home.
This place that sheltered me, that held me close as a child.
I… feel the sway of the reeds, I feel the heart of the soil all around me.
Beneath the willow tree where I’d sit and read in in happy days.
Memories… everywhere I look.
Of when I was a child.
Of when we were at peace.
Our city at peace is where my home is.
Is where my soul is bound in everlasting love.
Beneath the wide eyed lens of Diana.
Hanging pearly white in the cool and watchful sky.
Staring down and always present.
It has been commanded that I will die this night.
I wait on this… ledge, this… garden above the shore below.
Where the men drink and piss their wine.
Where the men wait on impatient breaths and cock-like-cowardice.
I will die this night by the hand of my own father.
My blood will seep into the land - I will become part of the vast and uncompromising Earth.
My life will slip and blend with this land I thought I knew.
Like a root snaking, searching, reaching, finding a place that once was home.
Part of Argos.
Part of the city that turned their back on me.
I will forever leave my mark.
The daughter that has to die.
So there's definitely sort of a modern interpretation of a classic text. You can see classic rhythms seeping in here and there - but I'm also not afraid to break them for my own purposes. The rest of the text follows in the same way but in dialogue between Clytemnestra and her daughter.
I think we're in a really interesting and exciting time in theatre when we really are examining these sorts of 'canon' works and depictions and really questioning them. Like really interrogating them and examining them critically in lenses that we really didn't have before. Things like intersectionality, agency, and really striving to represent underrepresented voices and perspectives.
When engaging with classic texts I feel like there's really exciting things happening. Works like Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That was Once her Heart (A Rave Fable) by Caridad Svich for instance. Which not only challenges perspective but theatrical form as well.
My own piece is a ten minute drama with a pretty straightforward form. Two people have objectives, they try and get them from each other, things happen. What I'm trying to do with the piece, though, is in the language. I think there's something very important about reclaiming these stories, displaying these new perspectives, and using a 'classical' style. It's sort of like reinventing or reexamining our own canon while we create a new one... But also reinforces that these perspectives have always existed. They've always been there, they've always been thought, and probably always been told. Just in some cases we really haven't been paying attention.
As the days tick town, the Newmarket National 10 Minute Play Festival approaches. It’s a really great festival happening from July 21st – 23rd in Newmarket, Ontario. There are works from playwrights all across Canada, something like twenty-eight of them in fact, and it looks like it’s going to be really exciting. My ten minute 'Iphigenia' well be presented as there as part of their 'Check/MATE' series.