The Reaction Attraction: The Chorus in Antigone
By Samantha Sarafin, IV Form
Speak up. Move to stage left. Don’t turn your back to the audience. Annunciate and enunciate your diction. When the lights come up, you need to be onstage. Don’t miss your cue. Never forget – the most important part of acting is reacting.
A number of stage directions and phrases are repeated over and over that remain in an actor’s head. In the performance of Antigone, a play written by Sophocles, actors may regard “reacting” as the most important instruction, especially the actors that play the role of the chorus. In Antigone, the major plot events are portrayed through the words and reactions of other people and are not displayed before the audience; because of the technical aspects of a production, the reactions are important and keep the play moving and provide a crucial relationship between the audience and the chorus.
The many technical aspects of a production such as sets, props, and money and how these are achieved contribute to the blocking decisions of Antigone. The play was first performed in Athens, Greece and, “their productions were funded by direct taxes upon the wealthiest citizens” (Santirocco, 389). The outcome and production was heavily dependent on the amount of money collected through taxes, and it is possible that there was only so much money to collect sets, props, and other necessary items. To portray some of the major plot events in Antigone, multiple different sets would be essential. Many major plot events occur in settings too complicated to portray, including the burial of Polyneices. When the sentry exclaims that he “caught ‘er [Antigone] at it – actually at the burying,” it is a clear and simple method to divulge that information compared to recreating the burial of Polyneices (356). The decision of Sophocles to portray the important plot events through the words of other people may be a result of the suspense that he wanted to create or the lack of time and materials to change scenes. Pauses to change sets are sometimes frowned upon because of the time it requires, and it is also believed that “an interval almost certainly destroys the accumulated tension” (409). The feeling of Antigone would be destroyed if there was a pause to change the set, and the connection to the characters and plot events would weaken due to the break. The technical aspects behind the curtains that the audience may not have thought about were still largely influential when piecing together the role of the chorus and the reasons behind the portrayal of plot events.
The reactions of other characters and people on the stage are vital and influence why the major plot events in Antigone are portrayed through the words of others. In the play, the chorus provides many reactions that give more feeling to the play. After the death of Haemon, there is “a pause, while the strains of the chorus die away” (380). The strain of the chorus adds onto the inner struggles of the lead characters and makes the plot event appear even more tragic and horrible. As a whole, the chorus never leaves the stage and is constantly reacting – adding strain, joy, and input into every plot event. The reactions of the characters onstage cause reactions in the audience as the play progresses because “it is the moment-to-moment give and take that happens onstage between actors that make the stories being told believable” (Miller). Reactions make the play seem probable and can make it relatable or relevant in the audience’s lives, which sparks more emotional attachment. A common mistake is when actors “rely on the literal meaning of the dialogue rather than on its use in the context of a situation. As a result, they fail to find the story arc the playwright has provided” (Miller). It is apparent that the playwright expects the people on the stage to bring their talents onto the stage and react, adding onto the overall story arc of the play. With Antigone, Sophocles certainly hoped for the chorus to react consistently to compensate for the lack of plot events. The consistent reactions are what shape the play, mold it, and prove that plot events do not have to be acted out all the time.
The chorus’ relatable relationship with the audience is a large reason that the major plot events happen offstage. Chants of the chorus in Antigone may at times appear irrelevant, but for the most part, their dialogue is vital to the play. Before the action and plot, “the chorus of citizens, in an intuitive foreshadowing of both Creon’s and Antigone’s fate, contrast the prowess and glory of humankind with the tragedy of their downfall when they overstep the mark” (Santirocco, 354).
The chorus is made up of everyday citizens, just like the people of Athens, and they make the story plot believable and relatable. During the play, the roles that the common people take on may be more unimportant than the royals, but in actuality, they possess a lot of power to determine the overall outcome of the production. It is determined that the chorus is meant to “underline, to develop, and if possible increase, the suspense built up by the dialogue” (409). The sole purpose of the chorus is to make the dialogue seem more important or give the dialogue more meaning. In a play, the dialogue is just words, but when the chorus is present and underlines, develops, and increases the suspense, the dialogue is given so much more feeling. Along with the chorus’ fundamental purpose in progressing the plot, they are also vital because of their relationship with the audience. When Antigone was first performed, the audiences consisted of “honest-to-goodness people coming in from the country – many of them farmers and perhaps even slaves” (408). The audience can connect and relate with the chorus because they are both alike and similar. The people get more out of the play when the characters are people they can relate to, such as the chorus, and this gain of entertainment could be a possibility as to why the plot events are spoken. Hence, the chorus has an impact on both the outcome of the play and the audience because of the relationships it has and the people it can possibly symbolize.
Without talented acting and raw reactions from the members of the chorus, the play would be boring and not hold as much meaning to the audience. Due to the lesser amount of appealing sets and scene changes because of the technical aspects of the production, the chorus is required to step up and react to the dialogue and lead roles of Antigone. Reactions are an extra embellishment that can truly change what the audience sees and feels. In the end, Antigone puts a great amount of stress on the importance of reacting to the dialogue and plot events, the related relationship between the chorus and the audience, the technical aspects of the production such as sets, and portraying the plot events through the reactions of others. After all, the most important part of acting is reacting.
Samantha Sarafin is a IV Form boarding student from Lancaster, MA. She loves her family, theatre, crew, and making other people smile.
Miller, Bruce. “Listening and Reacting.” Educational Theatre Association:
Shaping Lives through Theatre Education. Educational Theatre Association,
- Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <http://www.schooltheatre.org/Publications/
Santirocco, Matthew S. Appendix: Production and Acting. USA: Matthew S. Santirocco, 2010.