Another Fringe Vlog and Notes about Comps

For your viewing pleasure, an interview with the venerable Alex Higgin-Houser, who plays multiple roles in our upcoming Fringe show. We'll be doing more of these "Profiles in Orange" so stay tuned!

For those lucky folks who are going to be around the twin cities from July 31-August 10, here's a link to show times and tickets for our sweet sweet show.

But without further ado, here's Alex!

I realize I haven't been particularly diligent about keeping up this blog, and for that I do apologize. Between my senior project, graduating, joining the real world and fringe-ing, there hasn't been much time for blogging.

But my senior comps show went incredibly well. We performed "The Love of the Nightingale" by Timberlake Wertenbaker, a powerful and beautiful and incredibly challenging script about the myth of Tereus and Philomele. For those less familiar with Greek Mythology (or unwilling to click on the wikipedia link above), Procne, a princess of Athens, marries Tereus, a king from the north and moves far from home. When she grows lonely, she asks her husband to bring back her sister, Philomele for a visit. But on the journey, Tereus is overtaken by lust, rapes Philomele and cuts out her tongue to silence her. The play implicates the silence of the community along with the actions of Tereus and ends with a call to question a society that would allow this to happen.

So it's a real happy-go-lucky piece, as you can imagine.

It was definitely an enormous challenge. I have much more experience with comedy, but even the most seasoned director would have their work cut out for them while navigating this partially classical, partially modern, completely inventive reimagining of the narrative. I used the same five talented actors to play both the male and female chorus, blurring the gender lines and combating some of the dated gender roles (women good men bad) of the 1989 script. My chorus was amazing, my leads were stellar, but the best part of all was putting this piece in front of an audience. Sexual violence and the prevalence of rape in our society is something that disgusts and terrifies me. And it's an issue that doesn't get talked about, especially not on our campus.

After each performance, we had a panel of faculty members and students from sexual violence prevention groups lead a discussion about the themes and ideas brought up in the play, and it was incredible. Every night, people found new questions to ask, new ways to interrogate the text, the performance, and the world around them. But the most rewarding part for me was seeing my actors become advocates. At first, they had the most questions, and they were eager to reconcile their experience within the fiction of the play with the reality of sexual violence. As the discussions went on, the actors started fielding more audience questions and using what they had learned to become informed activists to promote awareness of and prevent sexual assault in the community. I was so proud of them and thankful for the opportunity for dialogue, especially in conjunction with a play that is all about the destructive power of silence in a violent world.
But I think the best way to talk about this play is to let it talk for itself.

This is from Scene 15 - the first time Tereus sees Philomele after the rape:

TEREUS: Now I wish you didn't exist.

PHILOMELE: When will you explain, Tereus?

TEREUS: Explain?

PHILOLMELE: Why? The cause? I want to understand.

TEREUS: I don't know what to do with you.


I was the cause, wasn't I? Was I? I said something. What did I do?

Something in my walk? If I had sung a different song? My hair up, my hair down? It was the beach. I ought not to have been there. I ought not to have been anywhere. I ought not to have all...then there would be no cause. Is that it? Answer.


PHILOMELE: My body bleeding, my sprit ripped open, and I am the cause? No this cannot be right, why would I cause my own pain? That isn't reasonable. What was it then, tell me, Tereus, if I was not the cause?

You must know, it was your act, you must know, tell me, why, say.

It was your act. It was you. I caused nothing.

And Procne is not dead. I can smell her on you.


You. You lied. And you.
What did you tell your wife, my sister, Procne, what did you tell her? Did you tell her you violated her sister, the sister she gave into your trust? Did you tell her what a coward you are and that you could not, cannot bear to look at me? Did you tell her that despite my fear, your violence, when I saw you in your nakedness I couldn't help laughing because you were so shriveled, so ridiculous and it is not the way it is on statues? Did you tell her you cut me because you yourself had no strength? Did you tell her I pitied her for having in her bed a man who could screech such quick and ugly pleasure, a man of jelly beneath his hard skin, did you tell her that?
And once I envied her happiness with her northern hero. The leader of men. Take the sword out of your hand, you fold into a cloth. Have they ever looked at you, your soldiers, your subjects?

TEREUS: That's enough.

PHILOMELE: There's nothing inside you. You're only full when you're filled with violence. And they obey you? Look up to you? Have the men and women of Thrace seen you naked? Shall I tell them? Yes, I will talk.

And from Scene 8 - what I found to be the core of the piece:

What is a myth? The oblique image of an unwanted truth, reverberating through time.

And yet, the first, the Greek meaning of myth is simply what is delivered by word of mouth. A myth is speech, public speech.

And myth also means the matter itself, the content of the speech.

We might ask, has the content become increasingly unacceptable and therefore the speech more indirect? How has the meaning of myth been transformed from public speech to an unlikely story? It also meant counsel, command. Now it is a remote tale.

Let that be. There is no content without its myth. Fathers and sons, rebellion, collaboration, every twist and fold of passion, we have uttered them all. This one,
you will say, watching Philomele watching Tereus watching Philomele, must be about men and women. Yes, you think, a myth for our times, we understand.

You will be beside the myth. If you must think of anything, think of countries, silence, but we cannot rephrase it for you.

If we could, why would we trouble to show you the myth?


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