Partying with Grecian gods

By Sophia Coleman

Sex, wine and profanity are three common themes in the “Festival of Dionysus,” a then-and-now celebration of Greek theater and the Spring Equinox in honor of Dionysus, the god of hedonism.

Though the mysteries of Ancient Greece are buried under the rubble of countless wars and fallen monuments, its revelry and debauchery survive in The International Bedlam Society’s rendition of the festival, which celebrates the stories of the gods.

“We’re offering an immersive atmosphere,” said Dietrich McGaffey, director of the festival. “On one hand, we are doing recreations of scripts from classic Greek theater with the plays of Sophocles and Euripides, but we’re also providing the environment to get back to the original way that the pieces were performed.”

Historically, Grecian plays were rarely held indoors and instead performed in the streets or forested areas, according to Chris Faraone, professor in the Department of Classics at the University of Chicago. There was a small stage approximately three or four feet off the ground, but no curtain and no changes of scene.

Faraone said during the Festival of Dionysus, which usually took place in Athens over five days, people would begin by singing hymns devoted to the gods, then move on to tragedies. The fifth day was devoted to comedy, where anyone famous—Socrates, for instance—could be made fun of. Profanity was an essential part of the script, so much so that Faraone said he couldn’t teach Aristophanes, a comedic Greek playwright, to undergrads.

“It was always done in honor of a god,” Faraone said. “The idea was that if you did a fantastic piece, you would please the gods. It was their way of worshipping.”

McGaffey and the rest of the Bedlam Society made the effort to bring elements of the outdoors into the private loft at Transamoeba Studios, 1325 S. Wabash Ave. Vines, bushes and trees decorate the cabaret-style seating surrounding the stage and create an interactive atmosphere complete with wine and Greek food. People are encouraged to come in costume but can also rent them at the production for $2.

“Audiences will feel as though they’ve left the normal world,” said producer Anthony Moser. “We wanted to come back to it and make it more organized but also more wild and over-the-top.”

In the spirit of original Grecian theater, Moser said the group worked collectively to write modern scripts for classic Greek plays. Plenty of research was involved, with the ultimate goal of taking six extensive tragedies and reducing them to 10 minutes as part of a two-hour experience. The production is hosted by Dionysus and begins with the “Titanium Machia,” the story of the birth of the universe and Zeus’ ascent to king of the gods.

“All of the small things we actually  do get right because we stuck to the original stories but are telling it in a ridiculous way,” said Andrew Kyser, who wrote the act “Paris and the Golden Apple of Discourse.” “The spirit of it is absolutely wrong.”

Moser said those not familiar with Greek mythology might be surprised at the backstory of each iconic god and mortal, and mythology fanatics will be pleased with the amount of accuracy and detail.

“You can come in not knowing anything about Greek mythology and be fine as long as you’re willing to play,” McGaffey said, offering one suggestion. “You should maybe bring a poncho.”

The Festival of Dionysus begins at 7 p.m. with live music. Greek food will be catered by Edible Alchemy and drinks by the Whiskey Alliance. Entry is $10; $8 if in costume. Cash only at the door. The Production will be on March 16, 17, 23 and 24.