The Second Sight of Stone
This piece is part of a blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called "Stages of Resistance." The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more articles and reflections in this series!
Stones. Just stones.
Stones grey as the clouds amassing overhead, the lifeless grey of the dead. Stones buried for centuries beneath a slope of trees, now mottled and crumbled, pitted and pocked. Stones my children want to climb over and claim, want to find some sort of meaning in, beyond too-distant history, and ruin.
Stones that are solid and unmoving, I know, that are inanimate, I know, and yet somehow seem to vibrate – did you feel the spirits, asks my aunt, laughing, teasing, not at all believing – resonate, hum with the promise of theater.
These stones, arranged in tiers and banks of seating, form the ancient theater of Epidaurus: an architectural marvel that has survived ransack, earthquake, the slow march of nature and Victorian excavation almost wholly intact. It has resisted. And continues to resist: the ungentle feet of bored children, the pompous declamations of senescent men, teenagers bounding down its staircases while their friends wait at the top – can you hear me? Can you hear me? All the way to the stage: we can hear you!
I walk through what remains of the entrance and catch my breath.
I stand beside the stage and feel my veins thrum.
I am here on Good Friday and have found my sacred ground.
To me, with my tempestuous relationship with theater, so much passion, and wonder, and anger, frustration, disappointment, the theater of Epidaurus isn't just stones, or architecture: it's an idea. An idea of theater as a requisite of humanity. Theater as the microscope through whose lens the minutiae of how we live together – how we care for each other, control each other, wound and damage each other – are brought into sharper focus. Theater as forensics. Theater as the place to look at each other, imagine the other, reimagine the self.
Theater is older than this curve of stones; not just the theater of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides which pre-date it, but the theater of storytelling circles that informed its design. The survival – resistance – of Epidaurus is emblematic of the ways in which theater itself has survived: continued to develop and pulse despite cyclical attack from church and state, earthquakes triggered by fear of the power theater might have to disrupt authority, to encourage in its audience different ways of thinking and feeling. So many regimes have attempted to bury theater: cuts to arts funding in the UK, and Trump's proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, are just the latest round of puritanical attempts at social control. They will fail. Until then, it will be painful. But they will fail.
They will fail because they must. Because theater isn't separate from life, an addition or accessory. Theater is integral, as the stones of Epidaurus are integral to the landscape, not juxtaposed with the natural rock but following its arc, cradled within one mountain side and gazing out to another. This is how we tell stories to each other – not the only way, but a vital way – of who we were, who we are and who we could be. Some of our theater buildings will collapse, some will stay miraculously intact, but theater itself, the idea, will continue, immutable, resonant, meaningless to some no doubt, but to others the breath of being.