From Greek to Gospel
Introductory Activity: Setting the Stage
After reading through "Oedipus at Colonus", ask students to identify characters, setting, theme and plot of the play as written by Sophocles. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to describe how they might stage a live production of "Oedipus at Colonus". Ask them to identify characters as they appear in a clip from this 1986 Broadway (NY) performance of "Gospel at Colonus".
Student responses may vary but students should indicate that the setting is Colonus (Athens) which is a prosperous land as indicated by vines of laurel and olives. The characters are: OEDIPUS, banished King of Thebes, ANTIGONE, his daughter/guide, ISMENE, his daughter, THESEUS, King of Athens, CREON, brother of Jocasta, now reigning at Thebes, POLYNEICES, elder son of Oedipus, STRANGER, a native of Colonus, MESSENGER, an attendant of Theseus. The story is a tragedy centered on the sojourn of banished King Oedipus to his final "resting place".
Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify the role this next song plays in staging this production. FAST FORWARD "Gospel at Colonus" to the image of a man dressed in a burgundy suit holding a microphone. You will hear Oedipus ask "…what land is this; what God is worshipped here?" PLAY TAPE while Stranger sings "Fair Colonus" (Fair Colonus is a description of the setting).
REWIND TAPE to the image of Antigone dressed in a yellow gown at the top of the stairs adjacent to the chorus. The musical interlude will be "Live where you can". Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify textual clues to the plot/theme in Antigone's opening monologue.
Antigone's narration places the story in Thebes; in it, she describes a weak man (frailty) searching for peace (memory without pain).
Distribute the Gospel production of Sophocles handout. Students may also log onto "Oedipus at Colonus", available online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/soph/colonus.htm
FAST FORWARD TAPE image of men dressed in burgundy suits standing with microphones center stage. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify parallel text in "Oedipus at Colonus" to the song "Stop do not go on". PLAY tape. STOP tape after song.
I warn thee, trespass not within this hallowed spot, lest thou shouldst find the silent grassy glade where offerings are laid, bowls of spring water mingled with sweet mead. Thou must not stay, come, come away.
Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to write down three reasons why soul/rhythm and blues/gospel (as a musical genre) is appropriate for the re-telling of this story.
Student responses will vary but the most significant reasons may include the cast being made of a chorus and the concept of suffering that is conveyed as central to many gospel, soul, blues and R&B lyrical expressions.
Direct students to listen to samples from the "Gospel at Colonus" soundtrack online at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B000005IZ7/ref=pm_dp_ln_m_2/102-9184580-2397748?v=glance&s=music&n=507846&vi=samples
Stage a scene from the play using a musical genre of the students' choice. Use popular music available or original music to retell one of the following storylines: Ismene discovers Oedipus, Polyneices confronting Oedipus, Oedipus' death.
Compare student productions to those presented in the Gospel at Colonus.
Discuss with students the universality of Greek tragedy. Discuss with students what is implied by the term universality and ask them to consider factors that make something universal.
Greek tragedies are considered universal because the themes explored are common to all of humanity-loss, suffering, familial crisis. Ideas that are universal are deemed as such because they apply and/or appeal to many different kinds of people without regard to age, race or gender. Longevity is one of the best indicators that an artistic or literary work has universal appeal.
Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify reasons why Gospel at Colonus might be considered a universal production. Log onto the Educational Media Collection website, Topics for "Gospel at Colonus":
Gospel at Colonus might be viewed as having universal appeal because it can be catalogued in a variety of different content areas, from African-American studies to Religion (American ethnic studies, drama, ethnomusicology, literature, music, religion). Ask students to work with a partner to consider a justification for each category.
A major part of life in theater is honest criticism that usually involves analysis of every aspect of the production. Read reviews of the Gospel at Colonus from its 1986 staging (Broadway) and its 2003 production with The Theater Alliance (Washington, DC). Log onto http://www.rosebudus.com/gospel to see reviews from 1986 and visit http://www.theateralliance.com to see reviews of a smaller production performed in 2003.
Explore the socio-political or socio-cultural structure of Ancient Greece. The Athenian backdrop is rich in innuendo. Greater scrutiny of these systems will allow students to understand why Greek literature and Greek paradigms can be found in so many modern forms of art, music and politics.
In the play Oedipus says to his daughter (and guide) Antigone, "a prudent man will ever shape his course by what he learns." Oedipus, an old man, represents wisdom in this play. Wise men often speak in proverbs. Engage students in the writing of proverbs-short sayings that convey a moral, a truth or some larger, universal ideal.