In today's Philadelphia Inquirer Nancy Haller reviews "Antigona," a flamenco version of Sophocles' Antigone.  Here is a clear case of classical reception, and in Philadelphia--but does it belong in Classicizing Philadelphia?  Or to put the question another way, is mere location enough to establish locality?  Local reception projects like Classicizing Philadelphia, Classicizing Chicago, and the projects now getting under way in Washington, D.C. and New York face this question constantly, especially as they shift their view from the 18th and 19th centuries into the 20th and 21st.

The Internet is not the first technology to smooth out variations in civic cultures.  It makes sense to talk about local ways of doing theater in America before the Civil War, but in the postbellum era the increased ease and range of railroad travel facilitated the rise of touring “combination companies," and from 1896 the domination of the New York-based Theatrical Syndicate led to a decline in the variety of local and regional theatrical cultures.  When an event like "Antigona" appears in Philadelphia, it comes as spectacle from afar, as an occasion for disengaged aesthetic admiration.  Philadelphia audiences go to see what is being done elsewhere and to admire artistic technique, just as, perhaps, they admired Adelaide Ristori and Francesca Janauschek when those actresses played Medea at the Academy of Music in the 1860s and 1870s.

Ironically enough, Haller's review suggests,  the flamenco "Antigona" is grounded in a local history:  the case of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, who lost his job in 2008 because of his investigations into brutal crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War and Franco era. "In the most emotionally charged aspect of this case," Heller writes, "Garzón ordered that 19 mass graves be opened, and the bodies identified and returned to relatives for proper burial."  Antigone's decision to defy authority and bury her brother reminded Martín Santangelo, artistic director of Noche Flamenca, of Judge Garzón.  Sophocles' play clearly speaks to current trauma in Spain.  What does it say to Philadelphia?

Performances based on, drawing on, inspired or provoked by, or simply invoking Greek and Roman stories, plays, myths, or iconography have been a part of Philadelphia's cultural life since before the American Revolution.  Here are a few from the 2014 Philly Fringe Festival; quotations come from the festival's program.  See also  The Fringe is a good thing in September--go and see.

Antigone Sr./Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church
"Antigone with all male performers--except it's the here and now and there is the runway and there is the pop culture and designer names and voguing and there is sexuality and strutting and grief and dance history and deep bass."

Living in Exile: a retelling of the Iliad
"A single act of compassion . . . inside this odyssey of blistering hearts living in exile.  They are not cast in stone."

Oedipus The Musical
"When a herpes plague spreads through the city, King Oedipus is forced to discover the incestuous roots of his dysfunctional family tree . . . songs like 'YOLO Apollo', 'Hashtag Plague' and 'Ballad of a Cougar'."

The Rape of Lucrece
". . . one-man interpretation of Shakespeare's epic poem . . ."

They Call Me Arethusa
"Arethusa guides you spoken-word-style through the stories of her Greek mythological sisters and the true testimonials of modern women."

". . . an imaginative an immersive adaptation of the famed fables by Aesop."

Classicizing Philadelphia welcomes Megan Dickman as Research Assistant for the 2014-2015 academic year.  Megan is a graduate student in the Department of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies at Bryn Mawr with interests in space and boundaries, especially in the exile poems of Ovid.  She will be helping to develop content for a prototype mobile tour of sites in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood.

Sara Sieteski, Project Associate for Design and Implementation during 2013-2014, has chosen to step down from Classicizing Philadelphia to devote more time to her study of sites on Hadrian's Wall and other projects.  Sara's contributions moved the project forward, and I am grateful to her for her help.

ARTstor's blog for May 27, 2014 features the Classicizing Philadelphia project.  Click here for the ARTstor blog entry.

A recent conversation with Jeff Cohen helped me understand what kind of project Classicizing Philadelphia will become.  Jeff teaches in Bryn Mawr's Growth and Structure of Cities program, and he knows as much as anyone about the architectural history of Philadelphia.  We talked about image quality, rights and permissions, and the Classicizing Philadelphia mobile app now under development.  Jeff, as I remember, was the first to use the term "public history." It's a good one.  Classicizing Philadelphia has three announced goals:

  • To be a focal point for research on classical receptions in Philadelphia
  • To be a gateway to documents of classical reception in Philadelphia collections
  • To inform the citizens of Philadelphia about and engage them in our city's long conversation with Greece and Rome

Of these goals, the second and third are emerging as the most important.  Classicizing Philadelphia is not evolving into an archive or a research collection; the project doesn't have the resources in time or money, and there are many fine digital archives for research into the cultural history of Philadelphia (several of these are on the "Resources" page of the Classicizing Philadelphia web site).  Instead, Classicizing Philadelphia will be a place to look if you recognize "Patriae Pater" as Latin and wonder what it's doing in Rembrandt Peale's "porthole" portrait of Washington at PAFA, or if you're curious about the columned tombs in Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Classicizing Philadelphia's primary audience will not be scholars in universities.  This project is for Philadelphia's citizens, and for anyone who wants to join the long conversation.  It will be digital public history.  Thanks, Jeff.

« Older entries