Sister cities connection: Director takes classic play from Santa Barbara to Kotor, Montenegro
Jonathan Fox first directed An Illiad for Ensemble Theater Company in Santa Barbara. Now, his new version will be part of Kotor's summer arts festival.
It was a classic Greek poem by Homer brought to life on stage in Santa Barbara during the pandemic. Now, An Illiad is going to be staged again by the same Santa Barbara director. But this time, it will take place halfway around the world, in Santa Barbara’s sister city of Kotor, Montenegro.
"They've had a collaboration in three different areas...one was music, one was culinary art, and one is in water polo," said Jonathan Fox He was with Santa Barbara’s Ensemble Theater Company for nearly two decades. He served as a director, and as the company’s artistic director, before leaving this spring.
The project in Kotor is his first project since then. During a visit to Montenegro, he connected with people connected with the community's music festival, and they were excited about the concept of bringing a play into the mix. A collaboration was born.
In 2021, Fox staged An Illiad with Ensemble. He kept it simple: It was one actor, and one musician. But, because of the pandemic, they had a major problem: They couldn’t have live audiences. So, inspired by London's Old Vic Theater, they did a series of live, streaming performances so audiences could enjoy it at home.
Now, Fox is taking a live version of the production to Kotor. Actor Richard Baird, who has worked with Fox at Ensemble, and has also done An Illiad in San Diego, is starring in the production.
"It's told by Homer, who was a poet but also a soldier...he was kind of known as a war poet," said Baird. "We're in the ninth year of the Trojan War when this takes place. The Greeks and the Trojans have their quarterbacks...it's a war story. It exposes what attracts men to war, and the glory they are seeking, but it also exposes the horrors of war."
It’s a challenge for Baird, because he plays all of the characters in the story. "He (Homer) plays absolutely everyone that he refers to."
The sisters cities production is taking on an international flavor. Fox is using a cellist from Montenegro as the musician. Dmitri Prokofiev is composing music especially for the production, which will be staged one night in the courtyard of a monastery, and one night in a nearby forest.
The international nature of the show created its own challenges. Just to do the interview with KCLU, Fox talked to us from Greece, Baird was in Santa Diego, and Prokofiev was in Montenegro.
The team will assemble the week of the August 1 and 2 performances for rehearsals. But, because Fox and Baird have done the production before, they say they hardest thing will be blending in the music.
Baird says while they are doing the production halfway around the world, the story, and the message it contains are universal. "The story itself is 3,000 years old. It dates back to the earliest way of doing theater, where you really just needed one person telling you a story. I think being able to take it internationally is incredibly exciting, to see what the reaction to the story will be."