Directors Note with Joel Grothe

The Lamar University Department of Theatre & Dance presents Bakkhai. By awakening savage frenzy Joel Grothein the women of Thebes, Dionysus - the god of wine, ecstasy and fertility - lays bare the duality of our natures: that each of us, no matter how civilized, has a wild beast within. Originally written by Euripides, we were curious about director Joel Grothe’s adaptation and approach to what is considered a highly collaborative process.  

Joel, what can a person expect from your adaptation of Bakkhai?

This is an update on Bakkhai, which is one of the most controversial of the Greek tragedies that survived. It's also the one where the words don't serve the spirit of the story as much as music and movement can. So we have taken the dialogue out of the Choral odes and set choreography to a wide range of different music which is combined throughout these to attempt to capture the spirit of the odes. 

How has your previous experience with Greek tragedies influenced your process and vision?

Greek tragedy seems to work best in an environmental setting. When I was at UVA I did a version of the Iphigenia story that was set across the campus and the audience had to walk from location to location. When I ran the Canopy Theatre Company in Toronto, Graham Cozzubbo did a production of Electra where we installed scaffolding and a huge billboard at Philosopher's stage outdoors in a public park. In all cases, having an innovative designer is a huge part of this, and that is no exception here with the work of (Visiting Professor) Liz Freese.

Having directed productions for over 10 years at Lamar University, how has this process differed from those of the past beyond the work itself?

I have the best collaborators I've ever had in my time at Lamar. They bring professional production experience and creative ideas. Our students have gotten stronger over the years; it takes a special group of performers to be willing to take on a challenge like this head on. 

Speaking of collaboration, how did this affect your approach and the finished product?

You have to make room for everyone's ideas. A good director wants an actor to come up with something better than they could on their own. As a director you approach this with ideas that can change; for the most part you are just trying to coordinate everything and make it the best you can.

What is it that keeps you coming back for more?

To a fault, I want to challenge myself.  I haven't figured out acting, I haven't figured out directing, and I certainly haven't figured out audiences. And all these things are constantly changing. If it's not challenging and if you're not learning something it's probably not worth doing.

Joel, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. The last word is yours. Is there anything additional you would like to say to interested parties, the cast and crew, the Lamar community, etc?

I would say this is an unusual production. There isn't another theatre in the region that is doing work like this. I encourage the audience to take the work on its own terms. 

If you would like to hear more about the process and meet a few of the collaborators, Bakkhai opens Thursday, February 13 at 7:30 pm with a Talk Back immediately following. Additional performances are held February 14 and 15 at 7:30 pm and February 16 at 2 pm. All performances are held in the Lamar University Studio Theatre. Ticketing information and pre-purchasing can be done at

Photo by Lynn Lane.