Dr. Rosie Wyles (University of Kent) reports on a recent project which was supported by an Institute of Classical Studies public engagement grant.
The 3rd April 2019 saw a day-long celebration of Classics at the University of Kent. The Department of Classical & Archaeological Studies (CLAS) hosted two workshops on Greek comedy for local members of the U3A
(the University of the Third Age, which is made up of retired members of the community, and which has over 1000 branches across the UK) and an afternoon of public lectures showcasing the research of our postgraduates and staff. The day’s celebrations were topped off with a performance of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata put on by our undergraduate students.
‘Greek Comedy in Action’ formed a major part of the day’s celebrations with the workshops, one of the lectures and the evening production all engaging with Aristophanes. We gained a fantastic response from local branches of the U3A to our advertisement of a workshop on Lysistrata – so much so that we had to add an extra one in the afternoon to allow everyone to attend!
The workshops offered an introduction on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and an opportunity to exchange ideas on the play’s resonance today. Dr Rosie Wyles (Lecturer in Classical History & Literature) ran the workshops and found the discussion highly stimulating. The groups considered issues of gender, war, and civic identity, as well as the challenges of staging Greek comedy today. It was particularly revealing that while the focus questions did not explicitly reference the current political situation, the Aristophanic material soon prompted groups to think about how Theresa May and Brexit protests might figure in adaptations of Lysistrata.
The afternoon lecture on Aristophanes was attended by the Department’s research community, members of the public and school groups, including the wonderfully enthusiastic pupils from Norton Knatchbull School (Ashford) and Simon Langton Girls (Canterbury). The talk set out the significance of props in Lysistrata, and argued for their importance in considering ancient drama in general. You can listen to this, and the other research talks from the afternoon, here. The talk was based on Dr Wyles’ current research, which she plans to publish as a monograph with the title Propping up Athens.
The evening production of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata offered a superbly riotous and informative end to the day. All credit for the performance goes to our undergraduates who came up with the idea for the production and who managed the project from start to finish (with a little administrative support from the Department). Some of those involved knew each other from taking the ‘Athenian Power Plays’ module (which explores the relationship between ancient Greek drama and society) as part of their degree. Above all, however, they are friends from the Kent Classical & Archaeological student Society (KCAS – you can find out more about them on Facebook). The play was hilarious and a standing testament to the hard work of the cast and crew. It also provided an excellent complement to the workshops showing Greek comedy literally in action.
We are very grateful to the ICS for the public engagement grant which enabled the workshops and production to take place. Participants of the workshops acknowledged what a valuable part of the learning experience seeing the production proved to be. The response to ‘Greek Comedy in Action’ has been so positive that the Department of Classical & Archaeological Studies at the University of Kent is now looking to extend this initiative with the U3A by offering further workshops, led by a range of colleagues, to the local community in Autumn. Watch this space!
by Rosie Wyles
(Image credits Rosie Wyles)