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Classical Entertainment Society Premieres First Annual Festival


Step into the third floor Ida Noyes theater and you’ll find yourself in a world of prophets, Greek gods, and blood-thirsty mobs bent on destruction. Somewhere off in the distance, Dr. Horrible does battle with Captain Hammer while the ever-vigilant Bad Horse watches on, whinnying loudly every so often to announce his presence. But the Doctor’s painfully awkward and hysterical interactions with pretty Penny soon give way to melancholy, as an aging actor takes us from the friendly local laundromat to a lonely bar, reflecting on the sacrifices he made to succeed in his line of work.

What a seemingly bizarre universe. What fascinating cast of characters with which to launch a festival.

March 1 marked the start of the first Classical Entertainment Society (CES) festival in Ida Noyes Hall, kicking off a week-long extravaganza of student-directed plays and musicals. From homages to the Ancient Greek world to modern sensations like Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog, the CES festival’s playbill features a whole spectrum of pieces that both preserve and stray from the traditional, serving to convey a modified notion of “classical entertainment” to please audience members from all walks of life.

This new approach to classical entertainment didn’t emerge until recently when CES restructured and re-evaluated its priorities for the 2012-2013 season. Up until then, CES centered largely on plays rooted in conventional ideas of the classical play, with Greek, Shakespearean, and some contemporary “classics” in the mix, adhering to the traditional feel established by the organization’s Classics Department founders in 2004. That all changed this year when the CES council sat down to not only reinforce, but to also redefine the meaning of “classical entertainment” in a world where the term undergoes constant transformation.

 “Originally [we mostly put on] Greek drama, comedy, and occasionally tragedy. As time’s gone on, [we have] moved towards anything that people have deemed classical because we realized that different people feel that different things are classical,” explains festival production manager, Carlo Steinman.

“We really feel that CES provides an opportunity for a meld that is not really filled by any RSO on campus. You can have things that people really genuinely enjoy or something more classical.”

To accommodate for this new idea of classical entertainment, the CES council turned its focus to preserving the elements of classical plays in their work instead of on traditional time periods or genres.

“One of the things we settled on was that we shouldn’t be closing things off, we should be opening up,” says Eric Shoemaker, the festival’s artistic director. “So [plays don’t] have to be something Greek or Shakespearean to be classical or classic, they just have to have roots in classics. Take Dr. Horrible, it’s not a classical piece. However, it has its roots in the classic story of good versus evil and that makes it a piece of entertainment that is classical.”

But CES’ insistence on a more inclusive approach to classical entertainment was also founded on another goal: distinguishing themselves from the University Theater (UT) group. In expanding their definition of “classical,” CES sought to give students more room to put on productions that may not necessarily fall under the UT umbrella.

“We’re the only non-UT theater group on campus, and one of our goals is to be as inclusive and moldable as possible for people who want to direct, act, or stage anything out of what UT does,” explains Shoemaker. “For example, Tiresias wouldn’t have ever worked with UT because it’s so small and it’s intentionally low-tech, but [those are elements that] work really well with us.”

This emphasis on opening up is reflected nowhere else than in the festival’s playbill. Four plays are headlining this year’s CES festival, each offering their own unique take on classical entertainment. While Dr. Horrible gives audiences the infamous battle between hero and villain (but is Dr. Horrible really the villain?), Anton Chekhov’s Swan Song has been translated to bring a Russian masterpiece to the University audience. Then there’s Tiresias, Shoemaker’s own play featuring the life and times of Thebes’ infamous blind prophet, transformed into a woman for seven years. Set to close the festival is CES managing director Michelle Feng’s dance adaptation of Bakkhai, an adaptation of the Greek story that embodies CES’ dedication to introduce new and fascinating alterations to classical tales.

All four pieces were selected after months of festival planning that saw the CES council hurdle over financial and technical difficulties. For an RSO that was otherwise known because of their annual chariot races on campus, the festival was a whole other artistic and marketing initiative for CES. But the council was able to finalize a set of pieces that would give audiences a thorough glimpse into the new CES.

“We didn’t want the festival to highlight only one aspect of CES,” says Steinman. “We wanted a good sampling platter of all the things that CES does.”

“It seemed that we could really help put together a festival that gave opportunities to pieces that wouldn’t necessarily see the light of day, productions that are going to go with choices that other groups may not think to make. We hoped to find another outlet to help that come true.”

But in the end, the CES council aims to entertain and delight audiences, showing them how dynamic theater can be. As much as they strive to redefine the classical, if there’s one tradition CES does maintain, it’s the tradition of taking their audience through the delightful world theater has to offer.

“It really is about entertainment but on a grand scheme,” emphasizes Shoemaker. “Really what we want is for you to come away with the scope of possibility of performance on campus and a sense of fulfilment, the fulfilment of an enjoyable performance experience.”

Head on over to Ida all this week for CES Fest! For more information on the shows and tickets, visit the festival’s Facebook page.

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Annie Pei

U Chicago

Annie is a Political Science major at the University of Chicago who not only writes for Her Campus, but is also one of Her Campus UChicago's Campus Correspondents. She also acts as Editor-In-Chief of Diskord, an online op-ed publication based on campus, and as an Arts and Culture Co-Editor for the university's new Undergraduate Political Review. When she's not busy researching, writing, and editing articles, Annie can be found pounding out jazz choreography in a dance room, furiously cheering on the Vancouver Canucks, or around town on the lookout for new places, people, and things. This year, Annie is back in DC interning with Voice of America once again!