Poetic License, presented by Outer Urban Projects, Footscray Community Arts Centre and the Melbourne Writers’ Festival looks at a new take on the ancient comedy by Aristophanes, The Frogs. Back in the day, a god named Dionysus believed he could save his city from ruin by bringing a dead poet back to life. Once again, the need has arisen and our world, our city, and our neighborhood is in need of poetry and a great poet to save it. We spoke to Irine Vela about how she came up with this take on the text, how the show began as part of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival in 2014 and the way it is being presented.
“When I was at University in the very ancient past of 1979 I did a subject called classical civilization. Aristophanes believed poetry could inspire a nation. In his play he sent Dionysus to the underworld to find Euripides, his favourite poet and to bring him back to life with the hope that his words can inspire” said Vela.
“When he gets to the deepest part of the underworld he finds Euripides, but also Aeschylus another older poet who also wants the chance to be brought back to life. And so a battle between the poets ensues. Dionysus is forced to choose between the poets. There are elements of a slam competition in this ancient work and it also boasts a vigorous literary debate”.
“The work stayed in my mind and thirty- three years later I thought; wouldn’t it be great to revisit the work with Outer Urban Projects and our ensemble of rappers, singers and beat boxers and mix them up with older spoken word performance poets…and see what would come of it. I was inspired by the rap poetry of our youth and wanted to place in a literary and theatrical context” she said.
Poetic License takes The Frogs as template as a source of inspiration to inform a structure that places poets at the centre of the action, but in a non-competitive context.
“In this sense in departs from the premise of the original. There is no preference for the old over the new, and there is no god that chooses one poet over the other. Of course, the audience will have their favourites, but the spirit of the performance is collegial and empathetic. But the heart of the show remains constant – that poetry and culture are perhaps the most effective weapons against a world rife with discontent, alienation and apathy” said Vela.
The show first premiered at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival in 2014, and was restaged by Darebin Arts in 2015. Vela says the show hasn’t changed too much over the past few years.
“The show is essentially the same but some of the original members of the original show are unable to be in this production and so there are new cast members to find, inform and rehearse which means there is also new material to be written, absorb and present as the performers in this show are by and large the creators. Although this is challenging, it is also exciting. It is sad to lose material – but it is awesome to gain new material” she said.
The evening shows are billed with a performance by the haBiBi’s, which Vela is a member of, and the morning performances are complimented with question and answer sessions for the audience after the show.
“The Greek-Australia ensemble – the haBiBis are supporting this season of Poetic License. The haBiBis perform traditional and contemporary music of Greece, spanning urban and rural styles, and we are performing to pay homage to the Greek roots of poetic license” she said.
“The Q and A sessions allow audience members to ask direct questions about how the work was made to the makers themselves. Q and A’s are fascinating for both performers and audience. The informal discussion illuminates how the work is understood and received by the audience and also the process required to create and perform the work”.
The show delves into the spoken word, and how it can change and inspire people.
“Great poets have the ability to write their innermost thoughts without shame. The best of them are anarchic and revolutionary. To be truthful about what you think and to be able to express it with precision, passion and eloquence is one of the most difficult and radical things one can do” said Vela.
“Poets who do it well are highly prized. Poets can bring us in touch with ourselves and in touch with others. Change begins within”.