Classics Department Stages Greek Comedy as Theatrical Act of Dissent

The Classics Department at Scripps presented Lysistrata, a Greek comedy written by Aristophanes, as a “theatrical act of dissent,” on March 3. The event was part of a worldwide project that involved 1,029 readings of the play in 59 countries.

The comedy tells the story of a group of women from opposing states who unite to end the Pelopponesian War. The women, led by Lysistrata (literally, “disbander of armies’), take matters into their own hands to stop the war. Their efforts include a sex strike followed by the occupation of the state treasury (without which the war couldn’t continue). The men, wanting to regain domestic peace and intimacy, finally agree to end the war.

Margaret Nilsson talks with Ellen Finkelpearl, professor of classics, about the event:

Q: What made you think of staging Lysistrata?

A: I have, in the past, organized quite a few participatory readings of classical works, such as the Odyssey or Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and this project fit with these past events, though it had the added motivation of a political statement, which I was at least as interested in making.

Q: What was it like to participate in the project?

A: It was very exciting to feel that we were part of this worldwide event. I made sure we were listed on the website, I then received a lot of e-mails from the organizers, which made me feel even more a part of the project. I also received encouraging notes from some Scripps alumnae who noticed that we were included on the site.

Q: How many Scripps students were involved in the reading?

A: There were 14 performers, not all Scripps students, but all women except Professor David Lloyd [Scripps’ Hartley Burr Alexander Professor in the Humanities]. Our version was not just a reading, as many of them were, but an open-book performance. We had costumes (balloons for phalluses!) and props and we moved around the stage.

Q: How was the play received?

A: We put on the play in the Motley, and it was packed. The play itself is so very outrageous and overtly sexual, and the students were so good at being uninhibited and playing it up that it was a great success from that viewpoint alone, but I also think that the audience was interested in the play as a statement for peace, and that helped make them receptive.

Q: What was the experience like for you?

A: This was possibly the best part of my school year. The students were so great not only as actors, but as participants who were eager to make a statement for peace. I was, of course, around during the Vietnam-era protests and had been, like others of my generation, disturbed at the lack of student activism at many moments in recent history, but these students changed all that. We were all pleased that this was both comic and serious, that it provided a way of connecting this peace movement to one from 2,500 years ago, that we could pull in a crowd to see the play and laugh, but also make them think about what it is like for a population to live with war for many years on end.

Karen Dang, a part-time faculty member in the Classics Department, was instrumental in organizing the Lysistrata performance, along with Professor Finkelpearl.