Monday, August 31, 2009

The PhD Project

Greetings...My name is Rick St. Peter, I am a 38 year old husband, father, theatre director and teacher at a major crossroad in my life. I recently completed 5 1/2 years as the Artistic Director of a small pseudo-professional theatre in a town that didn't really want or need professional theatre. During that time, as the economy tanked, the local politics got ridiculous and the money became impossible to find, I found myself hating theatre. Was this what I trained for? Was this what I worked years for? I walked into a mess in 2003/04, solved some of the mess, made other parts of it worse and finally needed to walk away. Would I have done some things differently? Of course, but the decisions I made, I made to the best of my ability. I make no apologies...I only wish I could have found a play about a bourbon drinking racehorse who plays basketball and was friends with Abraham Lincoln and Adolph Rupp...Oh well, c'est la vie!!

What I realized is that I didn't hate the act of creating theatre, I hated the process by which WE had to create theatre. So about a year ago, I began contemplating making a major change...I was going to go back to 38 or 39...with a wife (a vastly patient, supportive and long suffering wife!)...and a 10 year old daugther (who is perfect)...and a 4 year old son (who is a boy)...and we are going to have to move...more on that later.

I began to research PhD programs and settled on 3, one of which I really like and will not name until all the details are worked out. In the course of my research, I realized I had to read, or reread, 125 plays (127 if you count The Orestia as 3 plays), many of which I haven't read since grad school, a number of which I was able to sneak through grad school without reading, a few I had actually never heard of.

So, here is the gist of my blog: I am going to read all 127 plays and record thoughts about them, me, my life, my career...what have's my damn blog, so it will be about whatever I want it to be, but the focus will be on 2500 years of dramatic literature as distilled in these 127 plays...

I have decided to select plays at random, because if I went chronologically, I would probably get bored and quit by Aristophanes...

So, here goes, play #1 is none other than Paphnutius by the legendary Hrosvitha of Gandersheim...(hold your applause!!)

Hrosvitha is pretty cool simply for the fact that she is the first recorded female playwright in the history of western dramatic literature. She was a Saxon nun who lived approximately 935-1001 AD (or CE depending on who you worship), and her plays were largely influenced by the Roman Terence and anticipated the coming of the Latin liturgical drama and served as a bridge between the fall of Rome and the coming of Medieval religious drama.

Paphnutius could be categorized as the greatest play never written by the Taliban, except for the fact that they would kill Hrosvitha because she was a woman...who could read...and she wrote plays...damn her all to hell! It is interesting to see how much (or little, depending on your thoughts) we have evolved in roughly 1000 years.

The story concerns the conversion of Thais the Harlot by the Hermit Paphnutius. Dressed in the disguise of a lover, the hermit Paphnutius goes in search of Thais the harlot, that he may recall her from her evil ways. Moved by his pleading, Thais is converted (quickly). Paphnutius proposes a penance which confines her to a narrow cell for five years (as near as I can tell she only serves 3). Thais, by this worthy expiation, is reconciled to God, and 15 days (for some reason) after the completion of her penance, she "goes to sleep in Christ." The End... is incredibly didactic, Paphnutius the hermit basically sounds a lot like a cult leader (he's got his own disciples) and he simply doesn't mind his own business. He doesn't even live in the town of Thais, he doesn't know her, she is basically a goodtime girl getting her kicks who has a regional off he goes to squash her fun...My main complaint, as with a lot of dramatic literature, is that THE WOMAN IS THE PROBLEM...all the men get off scot free, the bastards. Only Thais is guilty of sinning...

Some cool lines:
From Scene 2
Paphnutius: A certain infamous woman lives in this neighborhood.
His Disciples: This is dangerous to the people.
P: Her beauty is unsurpassed, her wickedness is unspeakable.
Disciples: Horrible! What is her name?
P: Thais
Disciples: That harlot!
P: Yes, that one.
Disciples: Her wickedness is known to everyone.

From Scene 4

Thais: Come together, hasten, my wicked lovers.

Lovers: The voice of Thais is calling us; let us hasten to go to her lest we offend her by being late.
T: Hurry, come to me that I may speak to you.
Lovers: O Thais! Thais! Why do you wish a funeral pyre for yourself? What are you building? Why do you heap your many and precious treasures near the flames?
T: You ask?
Lovers: We wonder greatly.
T: I shall explain quickly.
Lovers: Please do.

T: Behold!
Lovers: Stop, stop Thais. What are you doing? Are you insane?
T: I am not insane. I am in my right mind.
Lovers: But why waste 400 pounds of gold and many other riches? (Thais was DAMN good at her job)
T: All which I unjustly extorted from you, I would burn that you may have no spark of hope that I may yield any more to your love.

And on it goes...there is some argument about whether Hrosvitha's plays were ever performed or were simply read in her abbess. There is actually some interesting things in it, Thais's conversion at the hand of Paphnutius is a wee bit quick, but what the hell, it was like 975...they had to do things quick, before the plague, barbarians or the Taliban got them...So Thais converts, serves her jail time in the name of God, and for some reason, dies 15 days later, happily and presumably Paphnutius moves on to some other town to terrorize women there...The End...

1 play down, 126 to go...hope you will go along with me on this journey! By the way, I am currently obsessed with Julie Powell...

Until next time, "Come together, hasten, my wicked lovers!"


Rick St. Peter
August 31, 2009

PS I know Wikipedia doesn't count as a source, but this ain't supposed to be scholarly so if you don't like it, piss off...

If you made it this far, you must either be killing time at work, bored out of your mind or you clearly don't have enough to do, thanks for hanging in there!!


  1. I disagree with you only on one point. The town may not want professional theatre, but they sure do need it. If it continues to lumber on the way it does, thinking its amateur community theatre is "as good as theatre anywhere"...which I continually here too many locals say (usually those from the "theatre community" and usually from those who don't see much theatre outside of Lexington...or, I suspect, really all that much inside of Lexington), the city will continue to be a second class one, pretty much devoid of the kind of professional arts that attract a vibrant populace and make for a thriving cultural environment. But that may just be fine for the stodgy who prefer the status quo.

  2. This sounds like a fascinating project and I'll definitely be tuning in, probably more to hear how you and yours are doing than to hear about the plays, but still...
    The whole "the woman is the problem" thing -- what's up with that? Sounds like a thesis right there.
    Also, in my copious free time, I'm working on a play about a bourbon-drinking race horse who escapes the drudgery of the east ky coal mines for the crazy cosmopolitan life of Louisville. It's an allegory. Hope you like it.
    Best of luck on your journey.

  3. Hi Rick! James and I are now reading plays in the hope of finding our gems for Henley Street's season know, the ones that someone will fund, sponsor, stay true to our mission, make some money without selling out to plays we think will sell, be different then what anyone else is doing, entertaining, AND thought provoking…whew.
    Anyway, your blog is timely and has made me feel a whole lot better about our struggle AND the amount of plays we are reading through. Best of luck with your PHD program. I look forward to reading your future play posts!

  4. St. Peter, you could tell your friends at Henley Street about this very funny translation/adaptation of TARTUFFE by a noted dramatist that has gotten very good reviews.

  5. My dad is the greatest, however, he cannot figure out how to leave comments so he emailed this to think he likes the Kennedy's?

    Here tis...

    Hello Son, time for some words of encouragement from a proud Father. I have told you many times, as Ted Kennedy told his son Teddy, you can do anything you put your mind to. I believe that and know that about you. You did not fail the theater people in Lexington, they failed themselves and like in sports, you don't fire the players, you take it out on the leader. So chalk it up to life and as Sen Kennedy always did, continue on, overcome and learn from it. As for your new adventure, journey on and make it happen if that is what you want.

    My new adventure I am working on is a book. Since Aug 1960 I have been a strong support and follower of the Kennedys". Now 49 years later, the journey has come to an end and I am working toward writing a book on the reasons for the journey and support. Lets keep up with each other and talk often about how we are processing and lets each achieve our new endeavors. Remember, you always have a proud father in your corner and as Sen Kennedy often said, "the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die." Don't let your dreams die and keep life and your family in the proper prospective. Remember Lara, Olivia and Aidan are more important than any negative you might feel in your life. They are the positives and the support that will help you through your times. Good luck and work hard. Pops

  6. the play with the talking horse sounds great. maybe as you read these other plays you can write that one. a modest proposal for the bluegrass.