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Beloit Blocks course applies DIY style to theatrical adaptation

July 8, 2013

When it comes to theatre, role-playing is a given. That’s what acting is: playing a part. For the nine students who took Lisl Walsh’s Beloit Blocks course this summer, however, the roles extended well beyond the stage.

The course, Tragedy Comes Alive, ran from mid-May through early June. Billed as “a new version of theatre camp,” Walsh,  a classics professor, encouraged her students to take ownership of their experience in the class, to the extent that she had them set their own syllabus.

“Day one was haggling over what assignments they were going to do,” she says. Ultimately, the class spent the first week steeped in reading classical tragedy, and the second writing adaptations of ancient tragedies, remaking them as modern sagas.

“They came up with some amazing, impressive, inspiring pieces,” Walsh says.

For example, Greek army commander Agamemnon was recast as an oil company CEO, forced to give up his daughter. Other classic myths were refashioned into settings like a post-Civil-War séance, and another explored mental health in the military using the story of Greek hero Ajax, set in modern-day Iraq and Afghanistan. After writing the adaptations, students—representing a mix of majors from biology to political science and everything in between—set about producing their theatrical works, hashing out everything from casting to marketing and directing.

“I wanted them to get all the tools to organize an event, investigate literature, negotiate,” says Walsh. “It’s definitely a life skill that we need to have.”

The end result? The class collectively chose which pieces to produce, and staged the productions as a capstone to the course.

Though on its face the course looks like an exploration of classics and theatre, there’s an additional layer of instruction. Namely, Walsh says, “a can-do attitude, a DIY orientation to the world.”