The Greek Festival will share tenets of Greek classicism with Wildcats through lecture, anthropology and theater throughout this week and next week.
Kathryn MacKay, a history professor, has orchestrated the events of Weber State University’s portion of the celebration. MacKay saw the start of Utah’s Greek tradition.
“The Greek Festival began on the U of U campus when I was there as a graduate student,” she said. “Now the production has moved to Westminster. WSU has sponsored the Greek plays on their tour for may years.
“Utah has a rich tradition in theater, as had the ancient Greeks. Most Greek cities had a theater. Theater was where political and social concerns could be played out and discussed. Theater was more than entertainment; it was about working out civic questions, it was about participation in the democracy. Seeing these ancient Greek plays today helps us realize we are still exploring the same questions, questions such as ‘what is the nature of family and family obligations? How does the individual relate to society? How do they relate to political power? To outsiders?’ Like all art, theater is an investigation of what it means to be human.”
The festival features many attractions, including readers theater, guest speakers and astrology presentations.
According to the festival’s mission statement, “the Classical Greek Theatre Festival (CGTF) is an annual theatrical event created to introduce and sustain the appreciation of ancient Greek theatre throughout communities and campuses in various southwestern and western states. CGTF is committed to the idea that Greek drama, like Shakespearean drama, has much to offer contemporary audiences. . . . While there are many Shakespearean festivals throughout the USA, there is only one touring Greek festival: The Classical Greek Theatre Festival of Utah.”
The crowning event of the festival is this year’s production of “Oedipus,” written by Sophocles.
Ryon Sharette, the actor cast as Oedipus, said he feels strongly about the benefits of Greek theater.
“People should get involved in the Greek Festival for the same reason that people should listen to Mozart — because it enriches lives,” he said. “It’s important to know what this world has to offer, and art is the greatest thing humans are capable of offering to this world, and Greek theater is an important part of a well-balanced art diet. It surprises me how many people don’t know about ‘Oedipus’ in particular. Greek theater marks the birth of Western entertainment tradition; every performance that involves a script traces its roots to Athens.”
Jim Svendsen, an expert on Greek theater and culture, will provide exposition before the play, something Sharette said is essential to an audience’s understanding of the story.
“Jim Svendsen is a nationally recognized lecturer on Greek theater. . . . Anything I could say about the academics of this show would be paraphrasing what I’ve heard from him,” Sharette said. “There are some differences between our culture and the culture of ancient Athens. There are some differences between our entertainment and theirs. Jim explains all that better than I ever could. That being said, departing from academics, the show contains adult themes and gruesome imagery. It was also directed for a much larger venue and will be physically reformatted to fit your stage mere hours before the performance.”
“Oedipus” will be performed in the Wildcat Theater on Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m., with Svendsen’s lecture beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10, or $8 with a Wildcard, and can be ordered from the WSU box office.
Sharette said the cultural significance importance of the play can’t be emphasized enough.
“This story is mandatory reading material for so many high schools and college classes for a reason. It’s brilliant. Anyone who knows the story of ‘Oedipus’ knows its worth. People in academic circles like to kick around possible lessons embedded in the story. It’s a story of martyrdom. Oedipus’ fate is a sort of crucifixion, and it’s of value to watch simply to make us question and value the human condition.”