From Windsor to Toronto & Working as a Collective – Performer Erik Helle on “Elektra” at the 2016 Fringe
Madryn McCabe had the opportunity to talk to Erik Helle, who is performing in Stichomythia Theatre’s Elektra at the Toronto Fringe Festival 2016, about bringing the show from Windsor to Toronto, timeless classics and working as a collective.
MMC: Why don’t you tell me a little about the show?
EH: When the king of Mycenae, Agamemnon, returned from the Trojan War, he took the Trojan princess Cassandra as a trophy bride. Upon their arrival home, they were both killed in their bed by Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover Aegisthus. Because of a prophecy that her son Orestes would one day kill Clytemnestra for her deeds, the daughter of the broken family, Elektra, snuck Orestes away to save him from any further harm she feared Clytemnestra would cause him. The play begins seven years later as Elektra walks the streets mourning her father and cursing her mother. This is now her daily routine as she waits in grief for Orestes to return again one day to avenge Agamemnon’s death.
Our play is being performed at Artscape Youngplace, the first Toronto Fringe show to be hosted there. It will be in an intimate space and staged in the round and accompanied by live music. We have a very simple lay out as the story of Sophocles and particularly this translation of John Barton and Kenneth Cavander is overwhelmingly powerful.
MMC: I see that this is a remount of a previous production that was mounted in Windsor. How has the show changed since its first performance? Do you think there’s a difference between a Windsor audience and a Toronto audience?
EH: We have some new cast members so, of course, their choices and vision are going to change the images and blocking of the play. It’s not a carbon copy of the original and we’ve clarified some things as well as made some thematic changes.
When it comes to the Windsor audience, the easiest community we had to reach out to was at the school. We had performed it as a side project after classes and we had peers, friends, family and a whole pool of people that we could reach that were enthusiastic and supportive. But it can be a little difficult to reach out to the arts community in Windsor for a number of reasons. What is great about Toronto is that the whole city is an incubator for artists and their works. A lot of it comes down to accessibilty. Toronto is a well-connected city with lots of theatres, galleries and concert halls all across it. You are never too far from stumbling into something, it seems. Windsor isn’t connected the same way. You have to seek it out to find what you are looking for. There isn’t as much chance of stumbling into a show. The less regular it is, the less casual theatre-goers there will be. It is getting better though. The city is going through changes and I think that after we left there were more artistic buds getting ready to flourish. The community wants it to grow, so it should be a matter of time.
MMC: Elektra is a traditional ancient Greek play. How do you think modern audiences will respond to it? Have you adapted the show at all for modern theatre-goers?
EH: The play, like most of the classics, is timeless. It’s humans dealing with humans. The message and themes centre around human emotion and trauma. The focus isn’t on political, technological, or social movements. When you watch this play, it’s like a soap opera. A really messed up family and their domestic dispute. That’s what there is to love about a play like this. It is about people at their wits-end and what choices they make because of it. That translates across the history of the human race. The emotions of rage, anxiety, loneliness, or joy of these ancient characters are the same that we people feel today. When it comes to subject matter, there is nothing to adapt about the play. The text is heightened but it would be the same story no matter what.
MMC: You talk strongly of the repercussions of past deeds to a person’s life now. What about that resonates with you? How do you balance the desire for justice against the desire to move on?
EH: I like to think that people think about this a lot – about what in their past is going to come back and bite them, or even come back and help them. What we’ve done in the past can determine so much of our future if that is what you choose to live in. Elektra lives there. She lets the events of her history overwhelm her judgment and that is what creates her present state as well as her future. Other characters have let it go and chose not to let that dictate their lives. They choose rather to make an adjustment in their present to stop a cycle of violence. These other characters, like Chrysothemis or Agisthus, who aren’t even all that alike in character, are connected by this philosophy instead. It is really the majority of the characters that want the violence and cycle of hatred to stop. Some out of selfishness, some for more wholesome reasons. All it can take for things to escalate and continue is an angry and headstrong person like Elektra, locked in tradition or stubbornness or unshakable values. She looks to satiate an immediate blood lust, rather than prevent more heartache. She has no long-term plan.
MMC: This show is being produced as a collective. What was it like rehearsing and exploring the play as an ensemble without a designated director?
EH: It takes a lot of patience and communication and open-mindedness. A process like this is not something the cast has ever done before. It comes down to that rule of improv to say ‘yes, and’ rather than ‘no, stop.’ So there are a lot of visions in the room but so much of the excitement comes from discovering where we are thinking the same things or how we can combine ideas. Or that wonderful moment when the whole group says together “Yes that’s it!” and we just springboard into a new discovery.
Presented by Stichomythia Theatre as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival
By: Sophocles, translated by John Barton and Kenneth Cavander
Company: Stichomythia Theatre
Company origin: Windsor and Toronto/Ontario
Cast: Alice Lundy, Daniela Piccinin, Erik Helle, Eric Bleyendaal, Shawn DeSouza-Coelho, Alyson Parovel, Elizabeth Kalles, Cara Rodger, Grant Gignac.
Will Jarvis – Original Sound/Music Composition
I walk, I dance, I weep. My father’s skull was split with an axe, seven years ago. The House of Atreus now ruled by the selfsame hands that murdered him. O, Apollo, hear me! Let the cruel actions of those that slither through our Kingdom feel the wrath of the Gods. Their bloody retribution must come. Until justice is restored, I will not rest.
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw St, Toronto
June 29th – July 3rd at 9pm July 5th – July 9th at 9pm
Available online: http://fringetoronto.com/fringe-festival/shows/elektra/
Fund What You Can Page: https://fwyc.ca/campaigns/elektra-sophocles-translated-john-barton-and-kenneth-cavender-2