If there is one thing the Greeks can do, it’s serve some drama

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The huge amphora on display in NTGent café foreshadows the theme of the new theatre season: the ancient Greek plays. For a whole year, their program is dedicated to new adaptations of the Greek myths, with the All Greeks Festival as a cherry on top. Artist-in-residence Lua Casella is working on the story of Elektra in the format of a fictional casting. Who is fit for the role of Elektra? Maybe Bavo Buys, cast member of Elektra Unbound and KASK Drama student? We met with them to talk about the January premiere and gender roles in Greek tragedy.

Elektra Unbound is coming to NTGent in January, can you explain the project to us? 

Lua Casella is making this play in the context of NTGent’s theme of this year, the Greeks. In the past, Lua has always worked with popular formats; she has toyed with a quiz, a videogame, and a TED talk. For this project, she’s combining two formats: auditions for ‘the role of’ Elektra, but also the concept of the tragedy itself, which has an almost mathematical arc and structure. We’re not trying to make a contemporary version of Elektra, so working with the format of auditions makes it possible to explicitly reflect on the material we are working on. It allows us to pause the suspense and try again, and to mix in some ‘personal’ stories of the characters who are auditioning. I think it’s a witty way to handle these ancient texts and bring them to the theatre once again. 

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What connects you to Elektra, the play or the character? 

I’ve always been fascinated by the mother of Elektra, Clytemnestra. She gets done wrong in the older versions of the play, while actually, she appears to be the more reasonable of the characters. Many characters refer to her as a man because she takes charge when Agamemnon is off to war, she is very dominant, she goes for what she wants, and she eventually kills her husband. She is a very un-Greek woman, while Elektra is more the perfect Greek wife. I like that duality.

Queer romances, transformative powers, this gender-bending of the acting itself

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In Ancient Greece, all roles were performed by men for men, even women’s roles. As a non-binary actor, how do you position yourself in that part of theatre history? 

I’ve always liked the Ancient Greek plays and mythologies, which I think were often a very queer thing. There are a lot of queer romances, transformative powers, and this gender-bending of the acting itself, with men essentially in drag. Let it be clear that this history comes from a trend of misogyny, of women not being allowed on and in theatre. I do believe it holds the potential to reflect on what gender performance really means. How are we perceived as actors, what boundaries does playing a character have concerning gender?

It’s like the words are time-travelling

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So, do you still think these ancient stories hold relevance in our society?

Oh, you’re putting me on the spot here! Well, what I find nice about working on this material with Lua, is that her work always revolves around what it means to tell stories. She has done a lot of political work in the past as well, which allows us to truly reflect on what these stories still mean. I am here, right now, saying these words that have impacted the Western world for thousands of years, it’s like the words are time-travelling. Also, I just like some drama. And if there is one thing the Greeks can do, it’s serve some drama. 

What does it mean, as an actor, to fabricate stories for our characters that we have not experienced ourselves?

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You’re actors playing characters who are auditioning for a part. That creates interesting layers of reality & fiction. How was the creation process for your characters?

The characters we are playing obviously have autobiographical elements, they have our names, and it evokes questions about what I am presenting and how much do I share of myself through this character? Are they to be trusted in what they say in this fictional audition, or is their narration unreliable? What does it mean, as an actor, to fabricate stories for our characters that we have not experienced ourselves? What kind of tragedies can I add to my personal stories? My character is sort of a fallen nepotism narcotic child star. I like to think of these elements as things I could’ve been or experienced if I had made different life choices. I enjoy the surrounding debate: what can and can’t we represent as actors? 

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The whole year revolves around the Greeks. Is there an adaption you’re keen to see? 

At the end of the All Greeks festival in June, they are performing The Bacchae at Blaarmeersen, and rumour has it, it’ll end with a huge Dionysus-style party. And then, of course, any play involving Clytemnestra. 

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @holysaintbavo / @ntgent </div></div>

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