It’s An Old Song, But We’re Gonna Sing It Again: The Myth of Orpheus & Eurydice in Modern and Postmodern Theatrical Performance
Date of Award
Open Access Thesis
Theatre and Dance
Since theatre was established as an art form, productions have adapted myths into performance, creating an array of theatrical texts based on the oral practice of storytelling of ancient civilizations. This concept of adaptation, where playwrights draw from stories of the past in new works, has expanded in recent years to include new scholarship regarding the dramaturgy of theatrical adaptations and what it means to adapt a work, whether originally for theatre or not, into a text meant for theatrical performance. One such myth that has captivated audiences since its first recorded utilization has been the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and many playwrights have tried their hand at creating their own unique theatrical performances based around the myth of the original ill-fated lovers. The myth, both because of its easily recognized archetypes and the lasting quality of its themes, has continued to fascinate and inspire works of art, music, and literature, as well. How, then, does the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice adapt so easily to contemporary performance through various styles and methods employed by a diverse array of playwrights, and how does the myth evolve based on the playwright’s use of their own distinctive voice?
This research will explore the idea of theatrical adaptation of myth, the implementation of a story, whether based in historical fact or not, from the past that evolves within a new work created for modern performance, in relation to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through its representation in multiple works of modern and postmodern performance in the 20th and 21st centuries. These works will include: Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending, Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus, Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, and Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice. Each playwright created their own unique interpretations of the myth when bringing the story to the stage, and each production has found new ways to showcase the intrinsic power of adapted myths in performance for modern audiences. This is done by the use of universal truths and archetypes held within the myth, ones that are often shared between the five above works, while also employing specific themes and styles specific to the playwright. Additionally, outside forces, such as the prevailing theatrical forms of the playwright’s time and societal influences, were influences upon the way each story was told, further showcasing the timeless nature of the myth and its ability to adapt to suit various playwright’s needs. However, despite the myriad differences between the works based on the playwright’s unique interpretations, many of the plays share strong similarities, both based on the use of archetypal traits of the characters and because of the similarities in how the playwrights interpreted the myth to fit the tastes of their audiences. This research will focus on analyzing each version of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice listed above through both the playwrights’ adaptations of the myth within the scripts themselves and through the interpretations of the works from the creative teams who utilized the scripts for live performances. The works will also be compared to each other and placed within their respective performances through production reviews and academic analyses to showcase both how the myth has captivated audiences in different ways and how the myth has evolved through modern theatre history to bring new audiences to performances.
Hagan, T. B.(2022). It’s An Old Song, But We’re Gonna Sing It Again: The Myth of Orpheus & Eurydice in Modern and Postmodern Theatrical Performance. (Master's thesis). Retrieved from https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/6701