Two-thousand years later, Birds still has something to sing about.
It was on display Wednesday night. “A-well-a bird, bird, b-bird’s the word!” sang the Dan School of Drama and Music’s cast of Birds on Nov. 7, at the play’s opening |night in the Rotunda Theatre at Theological Hall.
Written by Aristophanes, an Ancient Greek playwright, the original version of Birds was first performed in 414 BCE. The story follows two Athenian citizens in their pursuit to develop a new society among the wild birds in the north. The story reveals the deeply human difficulty of creating an ideal kingdom, while avoiding a descent into tyranny and corruption.
Aristophanes set the play within the context of his own society. However, the political themes transcend time and place.
The show’s director, Craig Walker, director of the Dan School of Drama and Music, believed it was important to uphold the “Aristophanic principle that satire should begin at home,” and so the version presented by the Dan School is a modern take on the Ancient Greek play.
Set in Eastern Ontario, this version follows two Queen’s students on their journey into the wilderness north of Kingston to start a new civilization among the provincial birds.
Jennifer Wise, a theatre historian, playwright, and former professor at the University of Victoria, was responsible for translating the classic story into a modern tale.
By re-telling the story in a 21st century context specific to Queen’s, she’s made the comedy accessible to a new generation. The audience welcomed the script’s campus-specific humour—including references to the Daughter Drop-Off debacle and a joke about Smith’s MBA program—and relevant political and pop culture references.
Beyond the script, the show took advantage of the Rotunda’s intimate space to create an immersive experience, wherein the cast engaged with the audience on a near personal level. The show optimized this setting through a well-designed set, immaculate costumes and a choreography that saw cast members in every corner of the room.
Furthermore, the costumes were critical to the success of the modern adaption.
Depicted as two Athenian citizens in the original version of Birds, Costume Designer Laura Dionne succeeded in reimagining protagonists Peisetairos and Euelpides as stereotypical male students at Queen’s.
Peisetairos was outfitted in a tricolour Rugby Sweater and a bucket hat, and Euelpides wore a plaid button down with a black vest embroidered with a red Queen’s logo and a backwards Queen’s baseball cap.
To complete the look, both characters sported khaki-coloured cargo shorts and slides.
While costumes were a strong point of the show across the board, the masks used to represent the ensemble of local birds deserve recognition. Designed by
Clelia Scala, each bird wore a unique, textured headpiece that painstakingly differentiated between species—a range that included a cardinal, a blue jay and a pair of owls, among others.
The musicians were also each outfitted with a bird mask.
With the help of their eye-catching costumes, the ensemble of birds dominated the show. Their command of the stage with larger than life personas and expressive movement, brought new life to a millenia-old production.
The birds made regular efforts to engage with the enthusiastic crowd, referencing the audience in their dialogue and fixing thegaze of their masks on individual members during dance sequences.
Birds closed with a full cast rendition of “Surfin Bird” by The Trashmen, reaffirming that the Dan School of Drama has succeeded in their modern-twist on Aristophanes’ classic comedy.
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