A classic Greek tragedy modernized for our times

It premiered nearly 2,500 years ago, but even today the play Antigone can still pack a relevant punch.

Antigone is a classic,” said M. Shane Bjornlie, professor of Roman and Late Antique History at CMC. “It deals with family betrayal, transgressive behavior, and all sorts of really difficult topics.”

On Oct. 2, CMC students, as well as students at Scripps and Pomona colleges, will have the chance to stream a virtual performance of Antigone in Ferguson, an updated adaptation of the Sophocles tragedy conceived in the wake of Michael Brown Jr.’s killing in 2014.

This version, according to Bjornlie, “deals with issues of racism, and violence and misogyny. It takes a time-tested classic and turns it into something that a modern audience can relate to, at a time when we are grappling with these kinds of issues.”

Tracie Thoms as Antigone
Tracie Thoms plays Antigone

In the original version set in Thebes, teenaged Antigone breaks the law and is imprisoned for burying her brother Polyneices, who was killed in a battle against their brother Eteocles at the end of a civil war. By burying her brother, Antigone defied their uncle, King Creon, who had proclaimed that Polyneices was not to be buried, thus condemning his soul to wander the earth for 100 years. The story echoes that of Michael Brown, a black teenager killed by a white police officer. Brown’s body was left on the street in Ferguson, Mo. for hours after his death.

Antigone in Ferguson was originally produced in 2014 through a collaboration between Theater of War Productions and community members from Ferguson, and has since toured the U.S. and the world.

The performance on Oct. 2 will feature Jason Isaacs as King Creon in a live dramatic reading of the play along with choral music performed by a gospel choir from Ferguson and New York City. The performance will be the catalyst for a panel discussion after the reading on Oct. 2. In addition, there will be an Artist Talk and Q&A with Bryan Doerries (Artistic Director) and Phil Woodmore (Composer and Conductor) on Monday, Oct, 5 from 7-8pm PST that will be open to students/faculty from sponsoring institutions only. 

Soloist De-Rance Blaylock
Soloist De-Rance Blaylock

For Bjornlie, who is currently teaching Freshman Humanities Seminar, “Tales of the Heroic” the story of Antigone “is germane to the issues we are talking about in class. I’m keen for my students to see this production.”

Bjornlie, is also encouraging students in his Roman history courses to watch the show to learn “how the ancient world can relate to the modern experience, at least in terms of understanding the human condition.”

As chair of the College’s Classical Studies Program, Bjornlie often partners with classical studies colleagues, Prof. David Roselli (Scripps) and Prof. Benjamin Keim (Pomona), such as sponsoring and bringing events such as Antigone in Ferguson to CMC students. 

“This is a great example of how the classics community here at the Claremont Colleges comes together to benefit our students,” Bjornlie said. 

The Gould Center for Humanistic Studies contributed funds to sponsor the event. 

The performance will stream via Zoom on Oct. 2, 2 PM – 4:30 PM PDT

To RSVP, https://www.eventbrite.com/e/antigone-in-ferguson-tickets-121540744639

- Anne Bergman