Mississippi State University’s Shackouls Honors College staged a production of the Greek tragedy, Prometheus Bound, by Aeschylus, September 21 and 22 in Bettersworth Auditorium during the annual Classical Week. To say that the play was exceptional is an understatement. The cast, consisting primarily of MSU first-semester students, prepared for weeks leading up to this two-night performance. From the costumes to the music to the emotion of each line, the production was powerful and professionally executed.
Dr. Donna Clevinger is the director and producer of the plays for Classical Week and a Senior Faculty Fellow and Professor of Communication/Theater. In an interview, Clevinger revealed the origin of the idea to choose Prometheus Bound. “It was a dare,” Clevinger said. A professional colleague from another university told Clevinger a few years ago that it was unlikely that the play could be pulled off in a university setting. This comment was due to the lengthy monologues, and the main character is essentially chained to a rock for the entire play. Clevinger took this as a challenge and got to work.
As she was preparing during the early stages of production, Clevinger had ideas for the music. She explained that she heard cello music when reading the script and recruited a student to help bring this inspiration to life. Eli Denson, an MSU senior seeking a Bachelor of Music Education, composed the cello music for the play. A singular cello player, Jonah Albert, performed the score, adding emotion and power to every line, movement, and sound effect.
Five days before the opening night, the group was forced to move the production inside to Bettersworth Auditorium because of the weather. It was the second time that the play was not held outside. Clevinger shared that each year she reserves an alternate indoor place on campus for this reason. This year, she said, was one of the stronger productions, “not because it was indoors or the sound effects or the lighting. It was the honors students, one of the largest groups to audition, that wanted to be involved from the very beginning.” One of these students was John McCommon, a mathematics major and a first-year Honors College student at MSU.
McCommon first heard about Classical Week and the play at the Honors College Convocation during the beginning of the fall semester, and he felt confident that he wanted to have a hand in the stage production. When McCommon showed interest in the crew positions, Dr. Clevinger assigned him the role of Assistant Stage Manager. When asked what some of his tasks were, McCommon explained: “One of the things that I did was help [the performers] to try and get their movements down, try and get their lines down, and their blocking down.”
Participating in the play’s production allowed McCommon to learn a new set of skills but, most importantly, to make new acquaintances that were also first-semester students in the Honors College. “There was not a single person that was a part of this that I did not come out genuinely liking by the end of it,” McCommon emphasized. He had no previous knowledge or experience in theater or managing a performing arts production but shared that he hopes to participate again next year. “I would like to return and probably for the same position!”
Dr. Christopher Snyder, the Dean of the Shackouls Honors College, attended both performances and said: “Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound was a play that I read in college and was one of my favorite Greek dramas. I never got to see a live production of it, and I have always wanted to!” Snyder met many of the students during their rehearsals and learned more about them and their enthusiasm for the play. “Over 40% of our students are engineering majors, and we have had engineers in leading roles in Classic Week,” said Snyder when asked about the diversity of students that participate in the production. He has been a witness to Clevinger’s hard work since the very first Classical Week. “Dr. Clevinger is a pro. She is going to demand a lot from the students … This is what she does, what she lives and breathes, and I think the students respect that.”
Classical Week is a series of events planned annually by the Shackouls Honors College that began ten years ago. Each year it features a live production of a classical play for two performances and on day three an invited scholar kicks off the college’s Orators speakers series. This series focuses on a single theme for that year. The play serves as the springboard from which the theme is derived. This year’s theme was “Acts of Tolerance vs. Acts of Punishment: Taking the Journey to Find Justice.” Snyder discussed why he felt like the creation of this week was important. “We wanted to engage students in the classical world to remind them that things like comedy, tragedy, democracy, classical architecture, all of this stuff comes from the classical world, and it should not be forgotten.”
To read more about the play, please visit the link that will direct you to The Dispatch: https://cdispatch.com/lifestyles/2021-09-18/msu-honors-college-to-presen....