Chances are you’re familiar with at least one Greek play, even if only indirectly. Tales by ancient Greek playwrights have endured for centuries and inspired countless subsequent works, from Shakespearian dramas to modern music, film and television created around the world.

The lasting nature of Greek theater and its power to appeal across time periods, regions and civilizations is the subject of “Re-imagining the Greeks: Contemporary and Cross-cultural Approaches to Greek Tragedy,” an international conference taking place in Amherst’s Kirby Theater March 23–25.

Organized by Yagil Eliraz, visiting assistant professor of theater and dance, the three-day conference includes scholarly discussions, performance workshops, live performances, a book launch and a film screening highlighting cultural connections to Greek theater.

“The themes and topics in Greek theater are universal and existential, and have become a source material for understanding humanity across cultures,” says Eliraz. “There are artists all over the world who use these texts.” The conference, he says, will bring a global perspective to Greek theater, rather than an exclusively Western one.

To emphasize the universal nature of Greek theater, each day of the conference is organized around one culture and its relationships to ancient Greece. Scholars and artists from around the world will share and present their ideas.

The conference begins on March 23 with “Japanese Adaptations.” Mae Smethurst, professor of classics at the University of Pittsburgh, and Izumi Ashizawa, assistant professor of directing and devising at Stony Brook University, will discuss intersections between Greek theater and two Japanese traditions: noh, a major form of classical musical drama, and Butoh, a form of dance theater. After the discussion, Butoh artist Yokko will lead a workshop to be followed by a live performance of her award-winning one-woman show Butoh Medea.

The second day focuses on “Black Interpretations” of Greek theater and features a discussion of South African and Nigerian adaptations of Antigone and the myth of House of Atreus. Astrid van Weyenberg, lecturer at the University of Leiden, Netherlands, will lead that discussion. Also, scholar and percussionist Chief Baba Neil Clarke will lead a discussion about African drumming in its social context and a workshop combining ancient Greek texts and African music. The day ends with a screening of Spike Lee’s 2005 film Chi-Raq, based on Aristophanes’ ancient comedy Lysistrata. 

The final day of the conference focuses on “American Interpretations.” Sarah Olsen, visiting assistant professor of classics at Amherst, will discuss dance in ancient Greek tragedies and the work of Isadora Duncan. Helene Foley, professor of classics at Columbia University, will discuss the representations of war in American adaptations, emphasizing the works of Ellen McLaughlin and Peter Sellars.  After those two talks, Eliraz and Wendy Woodson, professor of theater and dance at Amherst, will present a workshop of Aeschylus’s The Persians with live musical excerpts. The final event of the conference will be a screening of La Medea, a musical re-imagining of Euripides’ violent tragedy presented as a Latin-disco-pop variety show.

Additional information is available on the conference website:

“Re-imagining the Greeks: Contemporary and Cross-cultural Approaches to Greek Tragedy” takes place Thursday, March 23–Saturday, March 25, in Kirby Memorial Theater, and is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty and The Arts at Amherst Initiative, with additional support from related academic departments.