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December 03, 1965 - Image 6

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1965-12-03

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!PAGE SIX

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3, 1965

PAGE SIX THE MICHIGAN DAILY FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3.1965

I

Ypsilanti

Greek

Theater; Realization of

Dream

By LINNEA HENDRICKSON
The Ypsilanti Greek Theater,
soon to become a reality, began
as a dream in the mind of Mrs.
Henry J. Owens, former high
school English teacher, and pres-
ently founder and president of
the theater company. She and her
husband, J. Henry Owens, head
of the foreign language depart-
ment at Eastern Michigan Uni-
versity, acquired a taste for Greek
theater in visits to Athens and,
Epidauros.
Her friends persuaded her to

set up a threatre in Ypsilanti,
and through her vision and en-
ergy, and with the aid of generous
contributions and widespread sup-
port, the dream is coming true.
Begins in June
The Ypsilanti Greek Theatre's
first festival is scheduled for this
coming June, with the presenta-
tion of the "Oresteia," of Aeschy-
lus, and the "Birds" of Aristo-
phanes. The "Oresteia" is con-
sidered Aeschylus' masterpiece,
and is the only extant Greek
trilogy. The "Birds," representa-
tive of comedy, is a satire on

public affairs, mores, and values.
Mrs. Owens suspects that all
of the people connected with the
theater may be working "25 hour
days" from now until June to
meet the deadline. This week, she
and Alexis Solomos, artistic direc-
tor, ,and former director of the
National Greek Theatre in Athens,
Greece, are in New York making
contacts and furthering plans for
the theater.
The town of Ypsilanti has given
the theater the thirteen acre plot
of land of Riverside Park, along
the Huron River in downtown

UE

Ypsilanti, which has an estimated
value of $50,000. The theater it- +
self will only cover a small por-
tion of the land, and the rest will
be landscaped to -provide a fitting!
setting for it.
The Greek government has
shown interest in sending classical
sculpture for the park. Construc-
tion is scheduled to begin shortly
on the $2% million theater design-
ed by Harry Weese and Assc o tes
of Chicago.
Noted Architect
Mr. Weese has designed the
new Arena Stage Theatre in
Washington, and the American.
Embassy in Ghana in addition to
other important buildings, and is,
considered one of America's lead-
ing creative architects.
The theater is to be more than+
four stories high, and more than
200 feet in diameter, with a steel
and concrete roof constructed+
similarly, in engineering dynamics,,
to a suspension bridge, which will
create the feeling of an open-air
theater like those of Athens and
Epidauros.
Weese says the auditorium en-'
gineering used by the Greeks has
been retained substantially in the
Ypsilanti theater's seating plan.
Modern technology could not im-
prove upon Greek architecture.
The theatre will be the first of
its kind to be constructed any-
where in the world for over 2000
years:

Weese said, "The Greeks never
enclosed a theater, so I had to
guess what they would have done
if they had wanted to enclose one.
A tent seemed to be the obvious
answer. This is a steel and con-:
crete tent placed atop a classic
Greek theatre."
Unique Effect
This will create a unique effect.
The ceiling should appear to float
above the theatre without visible
support. The 1900 seats are to be
more steeply-tiered than is normal
in modern theaters, at about the
angle of the ancient theaters at
Athens and Epidauros.
The seats' will rise in a semi-
circle up from the orchestra in
which the actors perform. Form-
ing a background for the or-
chestra is the scene building,
originally a place to which the
actors retired when they were not
on stage. This eventually became
an important scenic element.
Its front is used as a supple-
mentary playing area with en-
trances and exists through doors
and other openings in its front.
The scene building of the Ypsilan-
ti theater will be nearly 50 feet
high and 80 feet wide, and is to
be used for anything from a blank
wall to a complete and detailed
set.
Modern Technology
The theatre, while following the
Greeks in basic design, otherwise
makes use of every possible mod-

ern technical device. There will
be elevators under every section
of the orchestra, and a complex
microphone system. Though the
theater is primarily for the voice,
it will also lend itself to musical
performances.
Unique Construction
The theater will be the only
professional theater like those of
Athens and Epidauros, outside of
Greece. Solomos says that the
theatrical art of this century is
returning to its womb, the Greek
style theater, and the kind of
performance it stimulates.
"Since the whole theatrical
movement of our century tends
toward the abolition of the 3-wall
stage and the substitution of the
arena or platform-stage for it,
it follows that the Greek style
theater is today the ideal home
for any kind of drama, from
Aeschylus to Albee."
Solomos predicts that although
the Ypsilanti Greek Theater will
be the first of its kind it will
definitely not be the last..
He feels that Greek Tragedy and
Comedy, if properly produced, will
be understood and appreciated by
the American public, and that they
"'will discover that the ancient
dramatists are of higher artistic
status and of greater human un-
derstanding than the majority of
our present day authors."
The spectacular qualities of
Greek drama will surprise the

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American audience. "Imagine,"
Solomos says, "the psychological
attraction of a Tennessee Williams
play doubled with the visual and
auditory delight of a Rogers and
Hammerstein musical."
"Look at the popularity of
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' "
Solomos continued. "It brings up
various inner truths in a savage
manner just as ancient plays did.
The wisdom, poetry, and human
experience in Greek theater is
something the American public
can understand."
Seek New Translations
Mrs. Owens says, "Existing
translations of Greek plays are
too literary for our purposes. They
don't play well. By commissioning
new, primarily theatrical trans-
lations by writers who understand
the nuances of drama as well as
those of language, we hope to open
up the Greek repertoire to a whole
new audience."
P. L. Zickgram, associate pro-
fessor of history and social sciences
at Eastern Michigan University,
and a Greek scholar, will be in
charge of the translation pro-
gram. For the first season, since
time is limited, translations of the
"Oresteia" by McNeice, Lattimore
and Roche are being considered.
Translations of "Birds" being con-
sidered are by Robers, Fetts and
Arrowsmith.
The June k presentation of the
"Oresteia" will mark the first
time in modern history that it
has beefi produced in one day. The
performance would normally take
5% hours, but will be abridged to
a 3-hour production.
An orchestra of 20 instruments
will be used for both productions.
The musical score for the "Birds"
has already been composed and
played in Belgium last year. Eldon
Elder, well-known New York de-
signer, will be responsible for sets
and costumes, and the school of
Martha Graham is being ap-
proach for aid with -the choreo-
graphy, which is of utmost im-
portant in a Greek production.
Melina Mecuri may be the lead-
ing lady this summer.
Center for Classic Study
Besides presenting Greek drama,
the Ypsilanti Greek Theater plans
to set up a center for Greek clas-

sicai study in cooperation with
Eastern Michigan University.
Eastern students will assist theA
productions as part of their drama
courses.
Musical programs and modern
drama are also to be part of the
summer festivals. During the year,
the theatre will prpvide an audi-
torium where dramatic and cul-
tural events of Ypsilanti, Easterna
Michigan University and this Uni-
versity can take place. There are
also plans for establishing a major
classical library.
Worldwide Support
Support for the Ypsilanti Greek
Theatre has come from all over
the United States and Europe.
Last July several members of the
Greek Cabinet visited Ypsilanti.
Solomos 'left his job as director of
the Greek National Theater in
Athens to come to Ypsilanti. Tom
Patterson, until recently, executive
director of the theatre, came after
being founder and planning con-,
sultant of the Stratford Festival
of Canada.
There have been contributions
from the area surrounding Yp-
silanti and from other sources.
Stewart Mott of Flint has agreed
to match donations taken in 1965
from Genessee County up to $10,-
000. An anonymous New York
businessman recently donated
$200,000, the largest single con-
tribution, on the condition that
a like amount be raised in the
national campaign, for which
plans are presently being formu-
lated.
Need Funds
"We need money-a lot of
money," Mrs. Owens says, "be-
cause we want to create something
of lasting value.,We feel that the
Greek Theater can do more for
Ypsilanti than the Shakespearean
Festival has done for Stratford,
and that it can become a major
United States cultural attraction
for tourists from overseas-if we
adhere to our artistic goals."
By adding the Greek Theater
to this University's Professional
Theater Programs, the Detroit
commercial theaters, and the other
university theaters, Ypsilanti may
help to make this area an im-
portant focus for the American .
theater.

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