Michael R. Caplan
Back to Bacchae
or, Divine Hospitality in an Ungodly Age:
Your Rite to Entertain the Impossible,
Performed with Euripides’ Tragedy about Dionysus, God of Theatre
Episode 1: In the Villa of Mysteries; or, “Satyr party, listen!”
I perform in my own apartment with a gently-rehearsed three-person chorus for an audience of 6–10 spectators, while other performers appear on screen pre-recorded and/or streaming live. A second audience is visible on monitors in the live show watching the livestream. A third audience just watches the livestream, and a fourth can access the materials afterwards, including recordings and publications.
Presented episodically as the first example of the Word Shows format, the Back to Bacchae series starts with the Euripides’ tragedy about Dionysus, god of theatre and intoxication. It also incorporates other Greek texts, original “Unsung Songs,” and the Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus, the Roman “Senatorial Decree Concerning the Bacchanalia” that restricted Dionysian ceremonies on pain of death.
The Decree both parallels our current, isolated status and suggests the truth of art today, limited to small circles performing for each other like Pompeiian aristocrats before Vesuvius. At the same time, the live show functions as the centre of a web of connections extending out in many directions, encompassing links and references, presentations, discussions, and other elements.
I once performed a home-made solo show in my apartment for a few friends, inspired by images from our own lives. Dressed as a fortune teller, I first made ‘predictions’ about my guest’ upcoming adventures. Then I told stories using toys and maps spread out on the living room floor. In the bedroom with the lights out, we all huddled under a step-ladder covered by sheets and watched TV. We danced polkas in our tiny galley kitchen, and I had everyone smash dishes out the back door. Finally, I gave a puppet show in a long, dark hallway, burning the paper puppets at the end.
Back to Bacchae is a natural progression from such earlier experiments, combined with the theoretical and creative writing I've been engaged in since. It allows me to give form to theatrical ideas I have long been developing, but which have required for their realization the context of a "playhouse" of my own – which I now have, with House of ShAkE.