The following article from my school newspaper The Daily Tar Heel started making the rounds last week:
LAB! Theatre puts a techno spin on a Greek tragedy
There are several reasons the Lab!’s remount of “The Bacchae” kept appearing in my inbox: first, anything to do with Carolina and “the theater” will always pique my interest; and secondly, if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was from The Onion. It’s true, Paul Simon sang “every generation throws a hero up the pop charts”, but I’d add that every generation has a charismatic drama major trying to get everyone on stage naked.
I have a soft spot for “The Bacchae” at the Lab! Theater regardless – sure, it’s a play about a mother beheading her own son in a sexual frenzy and carrying the skull around, but it’s also where I first touched my future wife.
Y’see, the worshippers of Dionysus (called the Bacchae or Maenads) were a gaggle of raving, ecstatically-supercharged sex vixens who danced, suckled wild wolves, and tore farm animals apart with their bare hands. Naturally, this translates to a college casting call that says “EVERY HOT CHICK IN THE DRAMA DEPARTMENT – AND YOUR FRIEND – PLEASE BE IN THIS PLAY”.
And in the fall of 1987, director Doug Wagner trucked barrelfuls of dirt and leaves into the basement theater, clad his Bacchae in “Beyond Thunderdome”-attire, and let loose. No doubt I bore my long-suffering readers with stories of UNC’s confluence of talent in that era, but this play was pretty stacked: Fred Weller was chisel-cut awesomeness as Pentheus, local rock hero Quince Marcum was Dionysus, and if you looked down, you would see many women slithering over your feet: among them, future newswoman Laurie Dhue, “L-Word”-star Laurel Holloman, Young Conservatory director at the ACT Amy Rosenberg, artist Kasey Jones, acting inspirer Jacki Greenberg Loewenstein, woman of a thousand talents Alystyre Julian, and, of course, my wife.
Tessa and I met for reals a few days later at a sort of book salon held by Jenny Offill and Lydia Millet, but that night, there she was, bespandexed and with enough hair product to start a flash fire. Many people in that play became friends I hope to take into the 2060s, but you know what? It wasn’t even that good.
But it was memorable, and ultimately proves something I’ve long held as truth. Researchers on creativity and invention say that the most fertile ground for ideas happen when differently-talented people live in close proximity. When a computer engineer, a plumber, an electrician and a violinist all live on the same floor, magic has a chance opening.
Companies have begin to take note of these happenstance breakthroughs, and don’t segregate their departments so rigidly. But the one place that is becoming a totally anaerobic, musty echo chamber is the internet you’re reading this on.
Already your Google searches are silently programmed to give you personalized results within your comfort zone, and you’ve no doubt “hidden” many of the Facebook friends who have horrible politics. Your bookmarks, habits and “news feed” are all arranged to reinforce the things you already know.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and god knows the friendly faces can succor your heart with joy. Plus, there are lawn signs in your neighborhood that can make you want to salt the earth they’re stuck in. But think back to when we were surrounded by slightly-insane, oddly-wonderful people living on the same floor, all of us unburdened of the chore of constantly choosing our company.
I used to endure my suitemates in Hinton James, the ones that collected their spittle in clear 2-liter bottles and displayed them on the shelves, but now I see that they helped make me a better writer (and I hope I helped Trip and Jeff be a better [whatever they’re doing now]). That’s what’s going on right now at Carolina, as they launch another version of “The Bacchae” at their fellow students.
I grudgingly accept that the people I disagree with the most are providing essential fertilizer. I love that this naked-techno “Bacchae” is being done a few hundred yards away from biology majors who think they’re insane. President Obama is going to UNC tonight to be on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon at Memorial Hall, and not just because he loves our basketball team; he’s going because we have always been – and continue to be – a public school full of thousands of accents, where even a Greek chorus girl can grow up to rule the world.