By Brittany Ann Meister
Hannah Tahtinen has been very involved in the creation of "Oedipus" from the very beginning. Aside from being very involved in the movement exercises used to develop a large portion of the show, Hannah has also been responsible for the masks, synonymous with Greek theatre. I asked Hannah to talk a little bit about these elements ahead of the show's opening this weekend.
Q:How has devised movement shaped this story?
A: So, for the first few weeks, the goal was to create a common physical language, to give the actors the opportunity to figure out how they move individually and as a unit. So, we would use a lot of movement exercises. We used a number of different exercises as a framwork to make ourselves make discoveries and stronger choices. Eventually we would know what would Achillian plus Nick's movement would look like. A lot of effort was put into moving with intention, and to say more.
I think the movement makes up for the part of the story that we do not necessarily see. Oedipus is King and his country is sick and dying. And so the story of Oedipus surrounds his own downfall. A big pieces of that is missing though. What are his people going through? What is a king without his subjects? The chorus steps in there and physically tells a lot of the story. I think it adds a lot of context.
One thing that Nick [the director] did that was really ingenious was, he looked at the Chorus lines and categorized them into five different speakers. Although the names of people speaking are generic, we found that many of the Chorus lines dealt with truth and justice. Many of the lines had to do with Oedipus' role as a leader and judgement and mercy. Each of these actors were given roles of Truth, Mercy, Country, Panic, and Gods. It works out really well. I think it gives autonomy, while keeping the unity of the Chorus. They are often the talking pieces of the Gods but they still have their individual voice.
Q: You also made the masks. Can you tell me a bit about those?
A: I made the masks out of a lot of household items and plaster strips. Each person was fitted for one or more masks and sculptural details were added on top, as well as details and paint. There were masks for each chorus member, Oedipus, Jocasta, and the government officials. The Gods have their own masks as well. It was a way to keep in touch with the roots of the storytelling and making it a little more obvious who was who and who was speaking. There's a lot of really charged emotions and the masks allow the audience to bear that empathize a little bit more. I think withou the masks, it might feel like too much. This the world you're entering in to, and there are a few times in the show were we break that, and the masks come off.
Q: Anything else you'd like to add about the show in general?
A: I think that one thing that goes hand in hand with devised theatre and VFR is why this company is taking this on. It ensures every ensemble member is an equal creative collaborator in ways that aren't often afforded to actors. Oftentimes, actors are responsible for their role and they'll see how other elements come together the week before opening. With the devising process, everyone's input is valid. We try a lot of things and throw a lot of things. I think it gives actors a feeling of autonomy and I think they're able to see. In the final act, there are a few moves in a few pieces where I remember the specific rehearsals that we found those moments. Anyone's work has the potential to make it into the final product. The stage manager was also involved in the devising. Ensemble focus was stronger, and for a company like VFR, I think it's right alongside the mission for those who are thirsty for those opportunities to get the chance to make the work their own. I think there's great reward in seeing the final product after creating something out of nothing together with the human capital of the ensemble.
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