Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The First Thespian ~ a short comedy

Thespis of Icaria, a Leading Man
Glaucus, a member of the Greek Chorus
Jerkus, a rival member of the Greek Chorus

Time:          6th century B.C.
Location:    Ancient Greece. On stage at Athens Amphitheater. 10 minutes until Curtain.
Props:         Sword. Sword belt. A mask of Tragedy and 2 masks of Comedy (Optional. Actors may pantomime those faces instead.)
Costume:    Matching togas. Thespis’ toga is too short. Glaucus’ toga is baggy and too large. Jerkus’ toga is just right.


Glaucus:     (Enters from wing, calling off-stage) Thank you, Ten!

Thespis:     (Enters from opposite side of Glaucus, doing vocal warm-up exercises...culminating with) DRACH-mah. drrrrach-ma. drach-MAH!

Glaucus:     Thespis, stop worrying. Tonight you will give an Olympian performance. If your voice fails, you can always rely on your lovely face.

Thespis:      But I'll be wearing a mask.

Glaucus:     Even wearing the mask of Tragedy, your unique talent shines through, my boy. Like a star in the heavens! No doubt, after tonight’s performance, Zeus himself will reserve a spot in the night sky for your soul to sparkle when you ascend.

Thespis:      Does my face look lovelier when I speak in this direction, (turns head in profile to audience) or speak in this direction?

Glaucus:     Where will your audience be seated? Speak in the direction of their ears.

Thespis:      But what if I misspeak, Glaucus?! What if tonight, in front of all the free citizens of Athens, I, Thespis of Icaria, flub history’s first line?

(Groups of ladies and men are arriving for the show.)

Glaucus:     Welcome to Athens Amphitheater, Senators, Ladies. Have you come to see tonight's Choral performance? Most excellent. We have a very special treat for you tonight. Very special indeed. (to Thespis) See how the nymphs look longingly upon you, and even the satyrs...

Thespis:     Satyrs! (Leading man smile.)

Glaucus:     ...much admire your comely good looks.

Thespis:     But tonight, Glaucus, will god-like beauty be enough?

Glaucus:     I said good looks.

Thespis:     I don’t want to be known merely as a glorious physique, an Adonis.

Glaucus:     (under breath) Narcissus more like.

Thespis:     I want to be remembered—nay Glaucus, celebrated down through history for my skill as …as an…what do we call this? Is it choric refrain anymore? With only one singer? We don’t have a word for this in Greek. Am I really the first...ever…to try this?

Glaucus:     To my knowledge, dear Thespis, which admittedly is not so vast as your own, I never before heard of a Chorus member who attempted a solo.

(Jerkus enters)

Jerkus:        Nor should it be attempted.

Thespis and Glaucus in chorus: (intense dislike) Salutations, Jerkus!

Jerkus:        Since the dawn of Chronus, there has always been a Chorus. We are the necessary foundation of a story well told. How else would the audience understand the playwright’s meaning? Without the Chorus to explain it to them? In song.

Glaucus:     But never before has a single member of the Chorus stepped forward by himself, under his own spot of torchlight, and spoken in the voice of another man or acted out the deeds of another man or pretended to be another. Indeed Thespis, what you are attempting is the birth of a new kind of theater.

Jerkus:        Don’t break a leg stepping under that spot of torchlight.

Thespis:     (acid) Why thank you, Jerkus, for your too kind words. (Stage whispering to Glaucus) But Glaucus, how does one person pretend to be another?

Glaucus:     Uhhh…alright, let's start with your name.

Thespis:     Surely you know me, Glaucus. We have sung together the stories of gods and heroes in wild, dithyrambic refrain for 8 years. Thespis. Of Icaria.

Jerkus:       Genius!

Glaucus:     Dear Zeus. Yes, I do know you, Thespis, my lovely boy. Now introduce yourself as the person you pretend to be.

Thespis:     Oh! Of course. Right! (grabs Glaucus by the forearm in a Greco-Roman handshake. Casually introduces himself as if to a business associate.) I am Pericles.

Glaucus:     You are? Really?! This is how an orator, a statesman, a general of Thrace greets his warriors?!

Thespis:      I am Pericles?

Glaucus:     Mean it. Again!

Thespis:      I am Pericles!

Glaucus:     More authority! Again!

Thespis:      I am Pericles! I am Pericles!

Glaucus:     (tents fingertips together and nods) Goooooood.

Jerkus:       That was good?

Thespis:     (to Jerkus) I shall instill fear and respect for Pericles in the audience.

Glaucus:     Not the audience. The armies of Thrace! If you pretend to be Pericles, then pretend to stand where Pericles stands. (Turns Thespis by the shoulders toward audience.) On a hilltop, above the valley where Thracian warriors have assembled to receive your command.

Thespis:     Yes, I see. And then, I shall roar like a fearsome lion. (Roars!)

(Jerkus roars in laughter, mocking Thespis.)

Thespis:     (ignoring Jerkus) To instill fear and respect in the audience...(catching on) the armies of Thrace!


Glaucus:     (beat) I like where you are going. Choose something else.

(Thespis struggles to come up with a new idea.)

Glaucus:     For example, draw your sword, thus. Instead of roaring like an actual lion, speak your name…with a roar in your voice!

Thespis:     (draws sword) I…Am…Pericles!

Glaucus:     You make me shudder. You are so real. Honestly, Thespis, there should be a word, a name, for what you can do. Let us pretend to be another person. You imitate or mimic the words and actions of a character in a story...

Jerkus:       Thus you are a pretender? An imitator? History's first mimicker?

Glaucus:     No, I don't like the implied guile of pretender. Imitator sounds cheap.

Thespis:     And mimicker? I can’t even pronounce mimicker without tripping. What about charmer? Because I charm the audience into believing that I am indeed Pericles.

(More guests arrive at the amphitheater.)

Glaucus:     Good evening, ladies. Oh yes, many good seats left. Just beyond the urinals. Upwind, I assure you! (calling after them as they pass by) Thank you for supporting local theater!

Jerkus:       Charmer sounds like spells and magic, a snake charmer. A charlatan.  

Glaucus:     (to Thespis) My dear boy, you are the leading man of the Chorus.

Jerkus:       Leading man? (beat) No, that will never catch on.

Thespis:     Will the audience accept me, Glaucus? Are they willing to accept that I, Thespis of Icaria, humble singer…

Jerkus:       Humble!

Thespis:     …of the Athens Amphitheatre Choral Company, speak for Pericles? That I truly am the Great Pericles?

Glaucus:     (ruminates) That depends on your motivation.

Thespis:     My what? What in the name of Melpomene is motivation?

Jerkus:       This I gotta hear.

Glaucus: Ah! Motivation is “why are you talking? Why are you doing such-and-such?” In real life, when we talk or do something, it's because we want something. We are motivated to talk because we want something. What does your hero want that motivates him to say "I am Testicles!" (pronounced Testa-cleez)

Jerkus:       (raucous laughter) Oh Glaucus, the hero in this play is named "Pe-ri-cles". Good thing Thespis is history's first "Leading Man".

Thespis:     (movie star smile to more passing nymphs and satyrs) Thank you for coming tonight. Stay after the performance. I would be happy to autograph your papyrus. (rakish wink)

Glaucus:     Quite true! I have no mind for memorizing lines. I would flub history’s first line for sure if I were standing in your sandals. Instead of a Leading Man like you, Thespis, I am merely your follower. Perhaps I could be called history's first…uhh… Thespian?!

Jerkus:       History’s first…uh…Th-th-th-theth-pian. Malarckus!

Glaucus:     And here's Jerkus, history’s first critic! 

Jerkus:       Well I, for one, need the Chorus to back me up, to keep me in step with the group mind, to keep me in line!

Glaucus:     What you do, Thespis, is Art.  And Craft. It requires Art, Craft, and a courageous heart to step forward into the torchlight and stimulate our intellects, arouse our emotions, stir our psyches with only your words and actions.

Thespis:     Brother, you should be directing this whole show.

Glaucus:     What would that make me then? A Director?

Thespis:     No, a tyrant.

(All 3 share a knowing laugh. Pause. Laugh again.)

Glaucus:     Speaking of tyrants, (indicating Jerkus) Pericles wants to defeat a tyrant. That is his motivation. He stands above the battlefield, (indicating the  audience) addressing archers, spearmen, charioteers, and common soldiers, trying to rouse them to righteous indignation against an evil tyrant. Pericles appeals to their clan pride as Thracians! He wants to motivate them into fighting and dying for Thrace. When he says “I am Pericles!”, he is declaring, “Pericles has arrived! Let the fight begin!”

Thespis:     And this is motivation?

Glaucus:     If your motivation is true to real life, Thespis, if we recognize and sympathize, then yes, I believe the audience will accept you as the hero.

Jerkus:       They are lighting the torches. The flutes will start soon.

Thespis:     How is my hair?

Glaucus:     Tousled. Like a hero. Sword belt secure? (Thespis tightens his sword belt) Loins girded? (Thespis flashes his underwear under his toga) Good and good. Ok, here goes. Let us each don our mask.

Jerkus:       Don’t flub your precious line.

(They face audience side-by-side, with Thespis in the middle. All 3 solemnly pull down a mask from atop their heads. Thespis is Tragedy. Glaucus and Jerkus are Comedy. Actors may pantomime if no actual masks are available.)

All 3 in chorus:  Ahhhhhhh…. (Glaucus and Jerkus repeat chant over Thespis’ line.)

Thespis:     (with a roar in voice) I…Am…(draws sword)...Testa-cleez!

(Glaucus chokes on chant. He pulls up his mask. Now his face has become Tragedy. Jerkus pulls up his, but remains Comedy under his mask. Fade to blackout as the panting Thespis, oblivious of his flub, turns to Glaucus for approval.)

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