Yesterday, I decided on Aeschylus’s Persians to design some fantasy costumes for this month. It’s probably the oldest extant play in the world, and somewhat different from the usual conception of how a plot should unfold, but still to my mind quite fascinating. It’s the only extant Greek tragedy which is based on contemporary, rather than mythological, events. Aeschylus himself actually took part in the central event, the defeat of the Persians at Salamis, which makes it even more surprising that Xerxes and the Persians, the ultimate enemy for the classical Greeks, are treated as three-dimensional characters and not propagandistic caricatures. (There is a school of thought that claims that, in fact, they are caricatures, and the whole play is a jingoistic taunt; I think of this as being rather akin to the interpretation of Jesus’s “turn the other cheek” as some kind of overly-clever martial-arts advice: turn the other cheek, and use the enemy’s strength against him!) Although it’s not much like the kind of structure we would expect from a play today, I like the pacing out of the scenes: the old men of the chorus setting the scene of a city empty of its young men, the queen and the chorus anxious for news, the devastating report of the messenger, the invocation of the ghost and his firey denunciation, and finally the entrance of the crushed Xerxes and final lamentation.
Anyway, since this is just for fun and not for a real production, I decided I wanted to give the costumes a sort of art-deco style. I love early deco stuff, when it was more ornate; the Ballets Russes and Cubism, two of my favorite things, were big influences on the deco style, so it’s natural that I’d like it, I think. I begin with the Chorus of Old Men of Susa. By the end of the month I will have the whole cast designed (it’s only 4 characters other than the Chorus.)
Today, I took a bike ride down the Connecticut river a ways, and brought my watercolors with me. I stopped and ate my lunch in a pretty little cemetery, which was very old, first created in the 1660s. I picked one grave and sketched it…not sure how successful it is, but it was fun. It wasn’t until I was almost finished that I realized the guy had died on Christmas.