Whether we realize it or not, myths are ubiquitous in our society. The stories may not be presented in their traditional form, but modern pop culture is laden with references and reinvented takes on the classics.
“They express something about the experience of being alive and being human that is eternal,” says Mark Henderson, director of the Thousand Faces Festival, an event that explores myths from around the world through artistic mediums such as dance, theatre, music, visual art and storytelling. “They’re always stories of a deeper discovery of who we are at our core, what is at the root of all our cultures. But by finding out what is at the root of all our cultures, in my experience anyway, we find out that our cultures are connected at the root. I think that’s an important thing to know and remember because we’ve been subject to this sort of bullshit paranoia from both sides of the spectrum over the last 20 years.”
This year’s festival follows the theme of Serendipity and Terror, which has found Henderson exploring Euripides’ ancient Greek myth Medea and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, although, he’s transported Medea from its historical origins into the ’60s with an esthetic reminiscent of Mad Men.
“In a lot of ways in Western culture it’s the last credible age of heroes,” he says of the time period, noting John F Kennedy and John Glenn as examples. “The last people who you could really believe in that were part of the establishment at all. With Euripides it’s about tearing the guts out of the notion of heroism.”
Indeed the story does just that, considering Medea’s husband Jason—who becomes the unlikely hero of the story through serendipitous events too numerous to list here—gets caught up in a torrid affair that leaves her exiled.
“It’s just another example of just how brilliant Euripides is at getting us, in sort of a twisted but very artful Jerry Springer kind of way, cheering for the downfall of the asshole,” he laughs. “Then out of nowhere turning it around and showing the incredible pain, the basic humanity and kind of rubbing our faces in it that we were cheering to have this happen.”
In contrast, Macbeth—considered one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies—takes place in its original Scottish setting and examines the psychological ramifications that occur when power is gained through evil. Henderson notes a sort of reverse serendipity is borne out of Macbeth’s own terror and the attempts to escape it and in doing so attempts to gain control of everything, all of which occurs after he kills King Duncan.
“He doesn’t touch the sword again or kill anybody until the final battle and that’s when he gets some kind of redemption, when he just kind of says well then … I don’t care. Maybe you’re the nemesis, maybe you’re the only one who can kill me, maybe you’re not,” he says, referring to the climactic battle against Macduff. “He regains some kind of humanity, even though he’s essentially being cornered like a beast.”
Fri, May 16 – Sat, May 24
Various locations, admission by donation