At its roots, the word theater derives from the language spoken at the birthplace of classical theater- Greece. Theasthai, the origin word of our contemporary label for the home of dramatic performances, literally translates to “behold.” This etymological analysis underscores one of the beautiful truths of theater as an art form: theater is a call to see to behold (as opposed to just looking). Through it we may see alternate realities, the reel of the most vivid imaginations, or, as in the case of Albert Camus’ State of Siege, more naturalistic interpretations of our world.
State of Siege is the play which EF Academy’s Drama Club worked to prepare and perform this year, beginning in September and presenting in late March. This work a 1948 production originally written in French. It centers around a series of events and narratives after the sleepy town of Cadiz meets the plague. This concept is symbolized by an ambitious, cold opportunist who seizes control of Cadiz and catapults it into the manipulation and censorship of a totalitarian regime. The story is visually and oratorically stunning, made especially relevant in light of a global political scene veering towards fascist ideologies with quickening speed.
State of Siege is not a musical, and it calls for a relatively simple set and collection of costumes and props. Nonetheless, getting it polished and appropriate for performance was a massive challenge. Performing such a raw, unembellished script takes a kind of confidence and mindfulness that can sometimes be compensated through other, more convenient means in more ornate or flashy pieces. Importantly, and as our Drama Club instructor Mr. Giovanni Villari reminded us consistently throughout the year, acting in a performance is a commitment. Once you join a cast, you find you have an obligation to your fellow members to work hard and be reliable. For me, this sense of duty feels interestingly similar to the kind felt in the co-reliance of players on a sports team.
In my personal experience, I found the play to be a great source of strength through a trying election season in the United States, increasing tension in Europe and ongoing instances of terrorism globally, and particularly in countries such as Syria and Turkey. State of Siege, though in many instances extremely dark and a testimony to the worst, most selfish tendencies of humanity, is paradoxically also a testimony to the best of humanity. It is a tale of the capacity for human evil, but more powerfully, for solidarity, self-sacrifice, and above all, love. I am very happy to have partaken in such a wonderful activity, and to have had the opportunity to work among such talented peers, whether that is through their contributions to set, props, costume design, lights and sound, managerial functions and/or acting in the performance. Special thanks also to Mr. Villari, without whom none of this would have been possible.
Written by Maya Nylund, former student at EF Academy New York