The Savannah State University Players by the Sea will open their new season with something old.
Lysistrata is an ancient Greek comedy, written in 411 BC by Aristophanes. It will be presented Oct. 2-5 in Kennedy Auditorium.
The play is being directed by drama instructor Teresa-Michelle Walker. “It’s a Greek classic, probably the most popular of the Greek comedies,” Walker says. “These women under the leadership of Lysistrata unite from all the surrounding towns to stop the Peloponnesian War.
“What Lysistrata suggests is if women withhold sex from their men, they’ll eventually sign a peace treaty,” she says.
“I always ask my students, ‘Do you think this would work today?’”
It’s no wonder Lysistrata and the other women were tired of war. At the time period seen in the play, the Peloponnesian War had been going on for 20 years, and there was a dearth of eligible bachelors because so many men had been killed in battle.
The women block access to a public building as part of their stand against the war.
“Greek plays usually show women as very sex-starved and weak,” Walker says. “This woman is strong. All the women around her are weak and begging to have sex. Lysistrata sees the Acropolis as the place where all the money is. She figures they can’t fight a war without money.”
Eventually, the men are in so much pain, they agree to sign a peace treaty. With the United States involved in an unpopular war, Walker says Lysistrata is just as timely now as it was in 411 BC. “We need something lighthearted,” she says. “People are sad, the economy is bad. We need something to make people forget their problems and laugh.”
The production marks a new beginning for theater at SSU. “ We really wanted to revamp the whole theater program,” Walker says. “We really wanted to stage a Greek classic, yet something that is lighthearted. This is something the students will have fun with and relate to. It is definitely something that is timeless.”
The season will close with a Shakespearean drama. “We’ve taken our program and tried to provide shows of every genre of theater,” Walker says. “Before, most of the productions were African-American theater. We want our actors to be well-rounded.”
Up next will be Nora, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, written by filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. The third production will be Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage, followed by Pericles.
“We’ll finish off the season with Shakespeare, which they’ve never done here, that I know of,” Walker says. “I’ve talked to two past professors who say Shakespeare wasn’t done while they were here.
“I was looking at our actors’ resumes and noticed they were lacking in some areas,” she says. “We really want our actors be well-rounded, not just wonderful actors for a black school.”
David I.L Poole has been hired at SSU as a drama instructor, technical director and designer. “He has just been instrumental in this production,” Walker says.
“Our performance will be a little different because we have an African influence in the costumes and full masks,” she says. “They are just gorgeous. I can’t help staring at them. It’s a fusion between Greek and African with over-the-top hair and jewelry.”
Everyone involved has been putting in long hours in preparing for the production. “We’re here from 8 a.m. to midnight,” Walker says. “We’re burning the midnight oil. Even my daughter is here. She’ll be two in November. We eat, sleep and think theater.”
Poole is excited to be a part of the drama renaissance at SSU. He will direct Nora, which will feature Victorian costumes, and Pericles, and has enjoyed designing the costumes for Lysistrata.
“I’m pairing the ancient Greek notions with African patterns, colors, textures and mask work,” Poole says. “We’ve been building sets and costumes like crazy. It evokes a warm comical environment with this play. The students are learning a lot and having a great time doing it.”
Revamping the theater department is overdue, Poole says. “I think it’s a wonderful idea,” he says. “When I was brought onboard, we both sat down in meetings. We talked about how we can make it better.
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but a very interesting year,” Poole says. “We’re doing pieces that aren’t classic African-American pieces, except for Blues for an Alabama Sky. I think it’s very important for actors to get all the flavors of the theater, not just specific genres.”
Students in the drama department are ready for the challenge. Leneshia Dixon came to SSU from Chicago.
“I will be an actress, I promise,” Dixon says. “When I was little, I would act by myself, in my room with my dolls. My dolls were my co-stars.
“I always say thanks to my mom for putting up with me and being my co-star,” she says. “She and my father have always supported me in this.”
There are 12 in the cast, with seven women and five men. Dixon has the role of Lysistrata.
“Lysistrata is totally gracious, dominant — she’s just it, period,” Dixon says. “She’s running things. She’s very intelligent.
“The costumes look so amazing. Professor Poole and Professor Walker do so much. Everything is looking really good.”
Elizabeth Oliver of Savannah is the leader of the chorus of women. The theater minor is majoring in mathematics.
“I started in theater by taking a class with Professor Walker,” Oliver says. “From there, I just fell in love with it. The rest is history.”
Oliver says Lysistrata is a perfect model for the updated theater department. “This is a different experience, not quite what we’re used to, but it’s an amazing, amazing change,” she says.
Ashley Farmer of Savannah plays Myrene. “Myrene is kind of the hardheaded one out of the group,” Farmer says. “Lysistrata is trying to get women to stand up, but she’s kind of hesitant. She’s still tempted by her husband, but in the end, she ends up following Lysistrata.”
At first, Farmer expected something quite different. “I thought it would be a serious play,” she says. “I was really surprised.”
Farmer is a theater major. After graduation, she’ll get a teacher’s certificate from Georgia Southern University. “While I’m pursing an acting career, I’ll be teaching so I won’t be a starving artist,” she says.
Audiences will be as surprised as she was, Farmer says. “They won’t expect it to be as funny as it is,” she says. “It’s hilarious.”
SSU Players by the Sea: LysistrataAn ancient Greek comedy with African influences.When: Oct. 2, 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 5 at 3 p.m.Where: Savannah State University's Kennedy Theater.Cost: $10 general admission and $5 SSU students, faculty and staff, payable at the door.