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Reflections on filming Eunuchus (by Erin)
It behooves a prudent person to reflect on the entire Eunuch experience from a safe distance. I know at least one of our cast members (that is to say, yours truly) only made it through the performance/recording day because of a staunch refusal to recognize that these performances would be made public on YouTube. It was a great pleasure to perform for our fellow NEH Summer Scholars, however! Due to our manifold costume/makeup/hairstyle changes (which resulted from the vastly different performance styles and settings of each version—thank you, Jeanne Neumann, for helping wrangle our hair!), our performances were spread out over the morning. But once the Latin version was out of the way (which we’d practiced least), we settled in to our various roles and enjoyed the “high-sounding words” of the 1853 version and the frenetic pace of sit-com version, occasionally taking advantage of the opportunity to re-shoot the scene. (Thank you, extras, for your help too—the scenes would not have been anywhere as funny without you!) Assuredly, the entire experience was good, if exhausting. The audience response to their Laugh/Applause/Oooooh cues during the sit-com scene (thank you to Seth Jeppesen for manning the audience’s cue cards—he is a worthy fellow!) was especially rewarding and decidedly good for our egos.
These great photos are from Nancy’s iPad—thanks to both Nancy and Sophie, who sent them on to me (Sharon).
Eunuchus Version 1: tunics and masks
Thais (Erin), Chremes (Kenneth), Thraso (Mark), and Gnatho (Sophie), plus the Kitchen Squadron: Tarik (behind Mark), Chris B. (behind Sophie), Seth (playing Sanga), and Dan.
Eunuchus version 2—the 1853 translation of Henry Thomas Riley
(from the Perseus website)
Pythias (Amy), Thais (Mark), and Chremes (Sophie), up against the Enemy: Tarik, Kenneth (playing Gnatho), Chris B., Seth (playing Sanga), Dan, and Erin (playing Thraso).
Chremes threatens Thraso, who is threatening to repossess Pamphila. Note Sophie’s chief weapon: a badminton racket.
Pythias (Amy), Thais (Mark), Thraso (Erin), Gnatho (Kenneth’s leg, behind Erin), Chremes (Sophie, with badminton racket), Tarik (behind Sophie), Chris B., Seth (playing Sanga), and Dan.
Eunuchus version 3—Family Thais, a modern sitcom version
Thais (Sophie), Chremes (Mark), the nerdy accountant, Gnatho (Erin), and Thraso (Kenneth). Near Sophie, off-camera, is Seth, holding a pile of cue cards for the audience: LAUGH; APPLAUD; “OOOOO.” We did.
Session 10: July 13
This morning we met with our extras for the first time, and showed them their blocking (which is the same for the Latin and 1853 English versions). We have assembled a merry little maniple of rogues (cooks) for our siege scene, and have recruited a marvelous Pythias to handle the tokens proving Pamphila’s citizen status. During our afternoon session we worked on Thais and Chremes’ gestures to accompany the Latin scene.
Session 9: July 12
O sweet exhaustion! We have blocked, rehearsed and/or taped all three of our Eunuchs, and every member of our group under fifty years of age has their lines memorized. Today and yesterday we paraded our detesticled trio before an assortment of guests and wranglers all of whom appear to have survived. [We’re told they won’t need surgery to restore their sight.] Thereafter did we retire to our harems where we fan each other vigourously because that’s what eunuchs do.
Session 8: July 11
In Wednesday’s session we started walking through the scene to our pre-recorded Latin text (masterfully stitched together by Kenneth during the wee hours of the previous night). Although we’re using the same blocking as in our 1853 English version, we’ll definitely have to speed up some of our movements since the Latin version doesn’t have as many pauses. Conveniently, however, because we are using a recording we do know exactly how long that scene will take! We also practiced running through both of our English scenes–it turns out it’s much more difficult to remember lines when you’re switching between versions within the span of a few minutes! But the blocking and lines are slowly coming together. We also enjoyed having Mary-Kay Gamel and Anne Groton as audience members for our little trilogy–it makes such a difference to know that we aren’t the only ones who think we’re funny!
Session 7: July 9
Again, a very productive session! For the first hour, Tim and Mary-Kay helped us with the meter and pronunciation of the Latin version of the scene we’re doing (version 1 of our production). We then blocked version 3 (the modern sitcom adaptation) and rehearsed the second version (based on an 1853 translation) to the amazement of Niall Slater whom we rendered speechless. We set up a schedule for rehearsals this week. Time is running short! We tape next week. O forests! O beasts!
Session 6 (July 6)
This is it. It’s final. We’ll be doing three versions of our scene: (1) Latin (dubbed), masks, ancient gestures, outside (weather permitting); (2) 1853 (very!) English translation, cross-gender casting, British accents, outside (weather permitting); and (3) modern adaptation as a TV sit-com, indoors (before a live studio audience). On Friday, we finalized the script of our third version and ran lines. On Saturday, we visited a thrift store and secured some of our costumes but not everything we need. We’re also meeting on Sunday to rehearse.
Session 5 (July 3)
Today we blocked out the second of the three scenes we plan to do, the one in which we’re using a translation from 1853. In this version we will use British accents, Victorian costumes and cross-gender casting in imitation of many modern productions of nineteenth-century plays like The Importance of Being Earnest. Our goal in combining these anomalies — a Roman play seen through Victorian eyes but staged in a way popular with audiences today — is to show how easy it is to use historical drama to address modern issues such as the tensions between class and gender. By changing just the style of the production, not the script, The Eunuch instantly becomes more accessible and relevant — and funnier, we hope. This second scene will stand between one presented in Roman style and one rewritten as a TV sitcom.
Session 4 (June 29)
We have decided to pursue three approaches to our scene: one in Latin with masks and ancient gestures, one in the style of a comedy of manners using an out-of-date translation and cross-gender casting, and one as a modern sit-com with our own translation. We’ll each play different characters in the three interpretations. We’ll need masks and Roman costumes for the first, Edwardian/Victorian costumes for the second, and modern attire for the last. As to props, we’ll need a small box for the girl’s trinkets and kitchen utensils for the siege. We’re hoping to add a laugh-track to the sit-com version in post-production.