Pseudolus at the Ludi Megalenses: Re-Creating Roman Comedy in Context

Nancy Sultan
2015 The Classical journal  
This is a post-production report on a student reenactment of the Roman Ludi Megalenses (Megalensia), including a ludus scaenicus, at Illinois Wesleyan University in May 2013. Students studied and re-created some of the rituals commonly associated in antiquity with the worship of the Magna Mater, including a procession of both Phrygian worshippers and Roman citizens and a staged reading of Plautus' Pseudolus in Latin and English. We grappled with questions of text and metatheatricality,
more » ... l and sacred space, actors, music, movement, costumes (including masks), authenticity, audience reception and occasion. The reenactment allowed us to gain a unique historical perspective by "living history," providing a laboratory for learning about ancient Roman ritual and theater practice. In my twenty years at Illinois Wesleyan University, I have worked with our School of Theatre Arts, School of Music, and students across disciplines to produce three main-stage productions of Greek plays and a number of workshop performances. In staging college productions of ancient drama as pedagogy, we strive for authenticity with the elements that we deem most important (and possible to recreate), while making the productions accessible to the students and a general audience. Despite the historical and religious importance of the festival context of the performance, however, there are no good models for how to stage are-enactment of the rituals of, say, the City Dionysia or the Megalensia. Nevertheless, my experience with intense immersion in the performative aspects of Roman theater at the 2012 NEH Summer Institute on Roman Comedy in Performance in Chapel Hill 1 inspired me to attempt to reenact the Megalensia, including a reading of Plautus' Pseudolus as the ludus scaenicus, with the sixteen students enrolled in my 200-level general education course "Greek & Roman Comedy" during our three-week May Term. Although we had only a short time for research and rehearsal, the learning experience was far more satisfying for all of us than the typical lecture/discussion format. With financial support, collaboration from faculty, students, and administrators, and a good sense of humor, this experiment can be performed on any size campus. 2 Roman Festival as Living History: Goals and Limitations Students find it difficult to understand Roman comedy without the context of the cultural, social and political references of the day. They are often disgusted by the jokes in a Roman comedy and do not think they are funny; they can react even more negatively when they encounter Roman religious rituals that involve blood sacrifice, cross-dressing and phalluses. Students will frequently say, "I'm so glad that we don't believe that," or "In our society we are
doi:10.5184/classicalj.111.1.0099 fatcat:s4tdz7xlhvbvjdpy5savhwe7wm