Antigone, for director Nakeisha Daniel, is the perfect play to produce in the final days of a presidential administration that routinely displays authoritarian tendencies.
“We had several meetings about which classical plays really hit the mark, and during one conversation, six people said we should do Antigone,” Daniel said. “So we started digging into the story and realized there were a lot of parallels with what’s going on in our country right now.”
Daniel eventually settled on Emily Mann’s rendition of the play for the College of Charleston production, which updated the original Greek classic in several ways that seem befitting of the zeitgeist. Perhaps the most notable update is the addition of an opening monologue from Creon — the new king of Thebes — in which he discusses how, under his rule, patriots will be rewarded and traitors will be punished.
“The definitive ‘law and order’ stance seemed so prevalent,” Daniel said. The role of Creon will be played by Steven Witt, a nontraditional student with a military background.
“He brings a lot of life experience to the role,” Daniel said. “I’ve been leaning in on his experiences, trying to help him pull from them. It’s been wonderful for him to use that military background on stage.”
Standing in opposition to Creon is his niece, Antigone, played by Carsyn Cantey. Antigone, as the story goes, defies Creon’s command by giving her brother, Polyneices (a dissenter, in Creon’s eyes) a proper burial. Creon is outraged by Antigone’s dissent, and his anger sets the stage for a series of struggles which address, among other themes, the philosophical intersection of morality and law.
“Our nation is currently divided, and what’s dividing it is basic human equality,” Cantey added. “We’re focusing this show on demonstrating how the [Black Lives Matter] protests illustrate that, regardless of the circumstances, human rights should be applicable to all.”
One of the biggest joys for Daniel has been watching Cantey spar with Witt during rehearsal. “She’s so fierce and vulnerable,” the director said of Cantey. “It’s been beautiful to watch her and Steven go toe-to-toe on stage.”
That stage has also been set up to allow for proper social distancing. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced CofC to present Antigone solely in a livestream format, which has brought about a unique set of challenges and rewards.
Daniel, who has a strong history of acting in classical plays and musical theater, recently started directing. This will be her first time orchestrating a livestreamed production, and she called the medium an “interesting blend of theatre and film.”
“Probably the most challenging part has been keeping in mind where the cameras are and what shots we need to set up,” she said. “We have to think about how specific shots will help tell the story to people watching at home, so they can keep up with what they need to know.”
While the pandemic has been notoriously hard on the theater industry, Daniel believes that it’s led to a reimagining of what the medium can be, and highlighted new tools that may enhance performances. Zoom, for instance, has allowed actors to attend rehearsals when they can’t be physically present. She’s also optimistic about how using livestream in conjunction with live shows may broaden theater’s appeal and make shows more accessible to a wider audience.
With that said, the immediate future of theater is still murky. Work can be hard to come by. Daniel isn’t sure what her next project will be, or when it will come. This hard truth has made working on Antigone that much more exhilarating — a feeling that’s been echoed by the 11-person cast, Daniel said. “We were all so hungry to get back to work that everyone has been open and on-board at all times,” she said. That enthusiasm, coupled with the innovative ways in which theatre has adapted during the pandemic, gives Daniel hope for its long-term survival.
“I don’t think we’re going to die,” she said. “We’re going to have to pivot and rethink some things. But in the long run, it will be great, creatively speaking, to put the lessons we’ve learned [during the pandemic] into practice.”
Antigone will be livestreamed Nov. 19 and 20 at 7:30 p.m. It will be available online afterward. Tickets are $25 for groups of three or more, $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, military and minors, and $8 for College of Charleston students. Show and ticket information is available at www.showtix4u.com/events/cofcstages. Interested parties can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 843-953-6306.