Exploring birth of theater in Greece
On a chilly day in January, D.J. Grooms stood on a mountainside in Greece and marveled at where he was.
He and a friend were climbing to visit the ancient theater at Delphi, and decided to take a break.
“The only sound was the wind whispering through the trees,” D.J. says. “We were surrounded by this incredible beauty, and all I could think about was how many people, for thousands of years, had stood where we were standing. I still get goose bumps, thinking about it.”
D.J. was in Greece for a Jan Term class, “Greek Theater: The Birth of Drama,” taught by Professor Kim Barber Knoll, chair of the Theatre Arts Department. Two other courses also went to that country: “The Art and Architecture of Greece” and “Picturing Greece: A Study of the Influence of Classical Greece on American Art.”
The senior theatre arts major from Thomasville says traveling with the other two classes had its definite advantages.
“I was able to learn a lot about the art and architecture of Greece, and a little bit about photography,” he says. “It was like getting three classes in one.”
Before leaving campus, the students heard overviews of what they were going to see.
“We had two days of class before we actually left,” he says. “Jan Term classes normally meet from 9 to 12, but we met from 9 to 12 and also 1 to 4. I think on one occasion we even met in the evening.”
They studied the ancient art they were going to see, and Knoll did a presentation on ancient Greek theaters. The class also had to read “Agamemnon” in preparation for the trip. That was especially important during their visit to Epidaurus, home of one of the most famous theaters.
“It was an amazing experience because we got to do a scene from ‘Agamemnon’ on that stage,” D.J. says. “To stand there and perform where people performed so long ago, and still are performing – Kevin Spacey was there last summer in ‘Richard III’ – it was just a great experience to stand there and know how many people were there before you.”
D.J. says the theater at Epidaurus was literally carved out of the side of the mountain, and is renowned for its amazing acoustics.
“It has seating for 15,000 people, and it goes straight up the hillside,” he says. “But even at the highest point, if someone is talking on stage, you can hear every word. To be able to stand there and do a performance and hear our voices resonate like that was a really cool experience.”
The theaters were originally built for religious ceremonies and to honor the gods. But DJ says they still serve a purpose today.
“When you are that high up, it is so quiet and beautiful. Professor Knoll said it a lot, and it’s true – you really feel closer to God there.”
D.J. also was impressed with the culture in the towns and villages of Greece.
“They all had such a sense of community,” he says. “We ate in a restaurant in a small town and a lady who owned a store across the street came in and talked to all the customers and to the owners. She was really sweet, telling us about how she got to Greece because she was originally from England.”
Perhaps most intriguing for D.J. was the juxtaposition of ancient and modern history.
“We had been visiting all these old sites, and then we went to a town called Matala on Crete. In the 1960s, people like Janis Joplin lived in the caves carved into the seaside cliffs there. We saw a lot of ‘hippie art’ in Matala. It was really interesting to see modern history against all that ancient history.”
D.J. says the trip to Greece was his first journey out of the country, and he hopes it won’t be his last. He is grateful for the opportunities offered him and other students through the study-away program.
“I will definitely tell other students to try to travel while you are here,” he says. “To be able to learn about another country, and then actually be able to visit it and see in person what you had been studying – it’s a really great experience.”