Written by Jeff Ho
Directed by Stephen Colella & Karen Gilodo
This guide was written by Amanda Lin.
As you scroll through the guide, you will find our usual sections: curriculum connections, discussion questions, units of study and more. If you wish to create your own lesson plan from the study guide copy, we have created a lesson plan template for your use. We hope you will find this guide to be a useful resource. Should you have any questions or feedback or have inquiries about the use of this guide (which is copyright protected), please feel free to contact Marjie Chud, Acting Associate Artistic Director, Education at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The story of Antigone originates back to Greek mythology, and tells of a young woman who takes action against what she deems as unfair in the government and in her family. Resonating deeply with this season’s theme, which speaks to the ability of young people to make change, Toronto-based playwright Jeff Ho has brought the story to the present day in Antigone: 方. Inspired by the student protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 and the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution of 2014, this new play explores themes of decision making, choosing loyalties and bringing about change.
Throughout history, there have been examples of young people rising up against unfair treatment, but now, their actions have become integral to issues of social change. News and stories about the changing world have never been more accessible to young people than they are currently, especially with the rise of social media. In this study guide, students will explore how actions can create change in the world around them and the complicated nature of decision-making. In the pre-show unit, students will learn about power and authoritarian regimes through a combination of movement exercises and independent research. The post-show unit will focus on decision-making and compliance, as well as the use of movement in storytelling.
Drawing influence from the Umbrella Revolution and Tiananmen Square, this retelling of the Greek classic depicts scenes of protest, counter-insurgency and the effects of oppressive regimes. It contains staged combat, which in a theatrical way depicts conflict that leads to loss of life.
Antigone in Today’s World:
Foreword by Nadia Umadat
Jeff Ho’s updated version of the classic Antigone is a timely reflection on the tumultuous world around us. The playwright features elements from two well-known events in Asia; which highlight issues of state propaganda, abuse of civil liberties and political dissidence. While these uprisings occurred historically in Hong Kong and China respectively, similar protests and movements are taking place daily in various incarnations. We can even look as close as our neighbour to the south to demonstrate some of these contemporary linkages. Racism, incarceration of children, Islamophobia and police brutality by an unpredictable and ill-informed regime have caused considerable wide spread reactions from the greater population.
What is vital to recognize is that the events described in Antigone: 方 are universal in nature. Every day, individuals fight against systemic repression. They challenge the norms of their governments and dangerous ideology to seek and protect their rights and those of the marginalized. Activists use civil disobedience as a means to secure freedoms of many shades; economic, sexual orientation, race, language/culture, religion and political affiliations are a few of the more prevalent issues we have seen recently in the media. In protesting oppression, peaceful methods, armed force and everything else in between have been employed to access meaningful equality.
Similar to the main characters in Antigone: 方, students and young adults are major players in global movements. This could be for any number of reasons. They may have witnessed the long suffering of their loved ones or communities, denied the most basic of freedoms. They may be spurred on by the exciting and powerful ideas they encounter during their formal education. Maybe it is the energy and strength of their youth that requires an outlet that would benefit the greater good. Whatever the motivating factors, it is often young folks involved in dramatic upheavals and calls for action. It’s important to note that oftentimes the outcomes of their actions, however commendable, have far-reaching consequences. This is difficult, especially for adolescents to come to terms with. In retaliation, protesters face harassment, targeted violence and even, sadly, death.
For Canadians, this may seem like a foreign concept. How is it possible in 2019 that people are still denied basic human rights? We have been fortunate to have developed strong policies such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and have had responsible governments that have upheld its tenets. We have been progressive and committed to upholding our shining international reputation as a world leader in tolerance. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many Indigenous nations whose agreements with the Canadian government have not been honoured. And for the thousands of individuals who seek refuge here every year because they demanded their right to be full and free citizens, fair and equal treatment even under Canada’s laws can be elusive.
Child and Youth Counsellor
Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture
- Classical Studies – Classical Civilizations
- Social Science/History (Government, citizen engagement in politics, citizen influence, government conflict, law, responsible citizenship)
- Language (Oral communication/discourse, perspective, creating connections with text, audio-visual aids)
- Arts (Dance and movement as a language, drama elements to communicate meaning, character)
- Speaking Truth to Power
- Morality vs the Law
- Choosing Loyalties
- Stakes of Decision-Making
- Bringing About Change
This play touches on the following three of the Seven Ancestral Teachings*:
*For more information on Indigenous learning at YPT, please visit youngpeoplestheatre.org/indegenizeus.
Through the pre-show and post-show activities and questions, students will:
- communicate in a clear, coherent manner, using a structure and style appropriate to the purpose, the subject matter, and the intended audience
- identify a variety of non-verbal cues, including facial expression, gestures, and eye contact, and use them in oral communications, appropriately and with sensitivity towards cultural differences, to help convey their meaning
- establish an identifiable voice in their writing, modifying language and tone to suit the form, audience, and purpose for writing
- gather information to support ideas for writing, using a variety of strategies and a wide range of print and electronic sources
- analyze and interpret research information
- extend understanding of both simple and complex texts by making connections between the ideas in them and personal knowledge, experience, and insights; other texts; and the world around them
Through the pre-show and post-show activities and questions, students will:
- describe some ways in which their knowledge of the classical world relates to and/or enhances their understanding of other cultures, fields of study, and personal experiences
- describe the context and meaning of some ancient Greek and Roman myths in classical times
- explain how various themes from classical mythology and literature relate to and/or enhance their understanding of contemporary socio-political issues
Social Science and History
Through the pre-show and post-show activities and questions, students will:
- explore topics related to equity, diversity, and/or social justice, and formulate questions to guide their research
- demonstrate an understanding of the dynamics of power relations in various social contexts
- demonstrate an understanding of various social and cultural influences on relationships
- describe some of the ways in which power dynamics can influence behaviour in human interactions
- compare the roles of children in the family and society in various cultures and historical periods
- analyze, in historical and contemporary contexts, the dynamics of power relations and privilege as well as various factors that contribute to power or marginalization
- evaluate the contributions of individuals and groups and/or movements identified with specific aspects of the struggle for equity and social justice
Through the pre-show and post-show activities and questions, students will:
- apply the creative process to process drama and the development of drama works, using the elements and conventions of drama to communicate feelings, ideas, and multiple perspectives
- apply the critical analysis process to communicate feelings, ideas, and understandings in response to a variety of drama works and experiences
- use role play to explore, develop, and represent themes, ideas, characters, feelings, and beliefs in producing drama works
- develop interpretations of issues from contemporary or historical source
- use role play and characterization to explore personal and social issues
- explain how dramatic exploration helps develop awareness of different roles and identities people have in society
- identify and describe the forms, elements, conventions, and techniques used in a variety of drama styles, and explain how they help achieve specific purposes and effects
- develop interpretations of contemporary and historical sources from diverse cultures to use as the basis for drama
- use role play to explore the possibilities of different scenarios, situations, and characters
- demonstrate an understanding of how different acting and staging techniques reflect and support different purposes in drama
About Playwright Jeff Ho
Jeff Ho is a Toronto-based theatre artist, originally from Hong Kong. Favourite acting credits include: Ophelia in Prince Hamlet (Why Not Theatre); trace (Factory Theatre/b current); Hana’s Suitcase (Tour: Toronto/Montreal/Seattle/YPT); Unknown Soldier (lemontree/Architect Theatre); Murderers Confess at Christmastime (OutsideTheMarch); Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet (Repercussion Theatre); The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu); Orphan Black (BBC America). Jeff has just completed touring as Ophelia in Prince Hamlet, directed by Ravi Jain, across the country, with stops at the Banff Centre (Banff, Alberta), Canadian Stage (Toronto), The PuSh Festival (Vancouver) and the National Arts Centre (Ottawa).
As a playwright, Jeff is delighted to debut his modern adaptation of Antigone:方, for YPT. Other works include: the critically-acclaimed Iphigenia and the Furies (on Taurian Land), produced by Saga Collectif (5N’s/Now Magazine); Rot, an adaptation of Genet’s The Maids, with Vancouver Asian Theatre Company and Playwrights Theatre Centre (Vancouver); Cockroach, with Repercussion Theatre and Playwrights Workshop Montreal. His debut play, trace, will be published by Playwrights Canada Press for their Fall 19/20 catalogue. He has held residencies with the Stratford Festival, Nightswimming, Cahoots, The Banff Playwrights Lab and Factory Theatre.
Jeff has been twice nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Performance, has been awarded a Harold Award, as well as the SummerWorks Emerging Artist Award. Jeff is a graduate of the National Theatre School.
Interview with Jeff
Q: The story of Antigone is thousands of years old. Why is it important to tell this story in 2019?
The Greek Classics, and any myth (across cultures) from ancient times, still hold resonance today because every retelling sheds new light on something we may have missed. Memory and history are all tied up in the past, and as we move forward as a society, as a community, we must never forget what came before us. History is prone to repeating itself, as we see with certain governments, or hate groups that have crept back up into the limelight this past year… certain politics, certain ways of exclusionary thinking can also be traced to our past. In order to walk into the future towards an ideal peace and civility, we must ask ourselves, in the present, all that which has shaped our past. Antigone is merely one of those stories that have risen up again and again through the constant shaping of young people as our future leaders – and as our voices of righteousness and civil disobedience.
Q: How did you go about adapting this story?
I spent a lot of time thinking. Seems so simple, but I spent months walking through the world, absorbing the news, watching what was going on in our world… it was 2016 when I started, and all the reactions towards the unexpected Trump presidency shattered my core. The reactions towards that man, mostly led by students and young people, began to take shape in my head, and as I dug even deeper into myself to question what politics shaped me, as a young Chinese man… I remembered a story my mother told me: of how she went to a protest in 1989, while carrying me in her womb, to denounce the Chinese government’s treatment of their students in Tiananmen Square… so I began writing that piece of history.
The idea of the re-education centre was from research, and figments of rumours that I had heard. Unbeknownst to me, in 2019, the real, horrific stories of the true re-education centres, happening NOW, began to take shape… and so again, this old tale, has so much to tell us about the world as it stands today.
Q: As a young playwright, what kind of impact do you want your plays to have?
I don’t often think of impact in my art. I focus on my job, which is to tell the story. I write it with all the emotions, passions, horrors, joys, laughs and tears that I would as if I were my characters. I focus on the heart of each moment, of each word that’s on the page. I focus on WHY I need to tell this story, but I don’t often think about HOW people will receive it… it would be silly of me to tell an audience what they should think. I tell the tale, you tell me what it’s about, what you heard/saw in it – that way, we can talk.
Q: Why is it important for young people to bring about change?
It isn’t just important that young people bring about change – it is absolutely necessary. Young people are the future inheritors of this world. The things we take for granted now, will surely change in the future. Our climate is warming; our environment will shift drastically these upcoming years. Our adults care, of course they do, but they may not be there to see what they have left behind for us. We are the ones that will inhabit the future, and also become the future ancestors for generations after us. It is a constant cycle of young people becoming old, making space for young folks again… and so, it is necessary to demand the change we need, so that there is a future for us all.
In a country not quite like ours, but not quite so different either, “re-education” awaits anyone who questions the state’s traditional doctrine. After a breach during morning ritual at the re-education centre, Neikes, son of Kreon, and his friend Haemon escape with the intention of protesting the inhumane treatment at the centre. A fight breaks out in the city square between the citizens (led by Neikes) and the military (led by Neikes’ brother Teo). The two brothers kill each other in the ensuing chaos, while Haemon escapes. Kreon arrives home to his daughters Antigone and Ismene and announces the death of his sons, declaring that all who died protesting against the Supreme Leader will not be given a proper burial, including his own son Neikes. Antigone, finding this unfair, goes to the square to retrieve Neikes’ body against Kreon’s orders and Ismene’s pleas. When both Antigone and Kreon refuse to stand down, Antigone is killed by the bulldozers clearing the square. Only once Ismene runs into the square to retrieve Antigone’s body does Kreon call off the bulldozers, saving Ismene.
Authoritarian: Demanding that people obey completely and refusing to allow them freedom to act as they wish.
Compliance: Changes in behaviour in response to a direct order, rule or request.
Protest: The act of objecting or a gesture of disapproval, especially an organized public demonstration of disapproval.
Tiananmen Square Protests: Student-led demonstrations in Beijing in 1989 calling for democracy and freedom of speech. The protests resulted in a large number of civilian deaths after martial law was declared.
Umbrella Revolution: A series of sit-in street protests occurring in Hong Kong in 2014 in response to restrictive proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system.
Martial Law: Temporary rule by military authorities of a designated area in time of emergency when the civil authorities are deemed unable to function; generally involve a suspension of normal civil rights.
Chorus: In drama and music, those who perform vocally in a group as opposed to those who perform singly. In Classical Greek drama, a group of actors who describe and comment upon the main action of a play.
Subjective: Influenced by or based on personal beliefs or feelings, rather than based on facts.
Objective: Based on real facts and not influenced by personal beliefs or feelings.
Physicality: The fact of relating to the body as opposed to the mind; the physical attributes of a person.
Tableaux: Deriving from tableau vivant, or living picture; a depiction of a scene usually presented on stage by silent and motionless participants.
Pre-Show Discussion Questions
- Where do we get knowledge?
- How do we tell the difference between subjective knowledge (things that are felt) and objective knowledge (things that are observed)?
- What is truth?
- What is the process you go through when making a tough decision?
- Should one always comply with authority? Is it ever justified not to comply with authority?
- What are ways that young people can bring about change?
- What are the risks and rewards involved in standing up against injustice?
- What does it mean to adapt a story?
- What are different ways to tell a story?
Pre-show Warm-up: Status and Power
Students will explore how physicality can show different levels of power.
Space to move around.
- Ask students to spread out in the space.
- Instruct students to freeze in a position that shows a lack of power. Try a few different poses with this in mind.
- Now instruct students to pose in a position that shows a lot of power. Ask students to try a few different poses.
- Ask students to walk around the room. Ask them not to interact with anyone else, but to focus on filling up any empty space.
- Next, ask students to walk around the room as someone who has no power, experimenting with different ways to portray this. Repeat as someone who has some power, and someone who has a lot of power.
- Now allow students to choose between these three levels of power (no power, some power, a lot of power) as they walk around. If they make eye contact with another person while walking around, instruct them to greet the other person in a way that matches their current level of power.
- How did your physicality change when you were portraying someone with no power? Did your posture change? Facial expression? Speed of movement? What about when you were portraying someone with a lot of power?
- Were you influenced by others’ level of power when you interacted with them? How?
- What are different factors that can make someone powerful?
Pre-show Activity: Authoritarian Regimes
Students will explore and discuss examples of authoritarian regimes in fiction, the past and the present, with a focus on Canada.
Computer / tablet / phone with internet access.
- Define the word “authoritarian” with your class (see glossary for definition). Brainstorm examples of authoritarian regimes.
- Share information about the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution and the Tiananmen Square protests with students (see Resource List at end of Study Guide).
- Divide the class into groups of 3-5 students. Assign each group to choose one of the examples brought up in Step 1 to research.
- Instruct groups to present their findings to the class in the form of a poem, a series of pictures, a short scene, etc.
- What were some commonalities between each of the examples discussed? Are there any patterns?
- What are some of the ways that citizens have reacted to/protested the authoritarian regime they are/were living under?
- How did the way that each group presented their findings help with understanding the content of their research?
Post-Show Discussion Questions
- How did Antigone’s decision to stand up to her father affect her? How did her decision affect her sister, Ismene? Her father?
- What were Ismene’s reasons to be scared of going against her father’s orders?
- What are the different ways that characters in the play protested against what they felt was unfair? Can you think of real life examples of types of protests?
- This show was staged in the round, which means there were audience members on all four sides of the stage. Why do you think this was? What effect did it have on you, as an audience member?
- What is an example of how the play utilized movement to tell a story?
Post-show Activity: Decision-making
Students will explore the cause and effect of decision-making.
- Space to move around
- Paper and writing utensils
Warning: This activity may get loud.
- Divide students into two teams, with one team on each side of the room.
- Give each team ten seconds to decide between rock, paper and scissors. The entire team must come to one decision.
- Ask the teams to meet in the centre of the room facing each other with a few paces separating the teams.
- On the count of three, both teams should simultaneously reveal what they chose, and see who ”won” the round (rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock). If there is a tie, go back to Step 2 and repeat.
- The ”losing” team runs back to their side of the room, while the ‘winning’ team tries to tag as many members of the ”losing” team before they reach their side.
- Anyone tagged switches to the other team. Repeat steps 3-7 until everyone is on the same team.
- Did you find it easy or difficult to make a decision in a large group?
- Did you or your team have a certain tactic for making the decision?
- Discuss the major decisions that the characters in Antigone: 方 make.
- Ask each student to choose a character from the play. They will assume the role of that character, and write a letter ‘in role’ to someone of their choosing defending a choice that they make in the story. For example, a student may choose to write a letter from Antigone to Kreon explaining why she decided to retrieve Neikes’s body. Encourage students to try writing from the perspective of a character that they didn’t always agree with.
- If students feel comfortable, have them share their letters with the class.
- Did you discover anything new when assuming the role of your character?
- Do you think the characters understood how high the stakes were when they made their decisions?
- What were the effects of your character’s decision?
Post-show Activity: Compliance
Students will use movement to explore the effects of compliance within a group.
Space to move around.
- Instruct students to walk around the room, focusing on filling up any empty space. Encourage them to add some variation to their movement by adding different gestures as they walk around (for example, they might move their arms, take different sized steps, change their posture, change their speed, etc.).
- Choose one student to be the “leader.” Instruct everyone else to follow the leader around the room, matching their movements exactly. You may wish to change the leader every few minutes.
- Repeat the exercise, this time telling students that they are allowed to choose to break away from the leader and start moving independently. Students who have broken away from the main group may choose to return at any point.
- Was it easier or harder to move around the room when you had to follow someone else’s movements?
- How did you feel when you were leading the group?
- If you chose to break off from the group, what led you to that decision?
- If you chose to follow the leader rather than break off from the group, what led you to that decision?
- Was it easier to comply with what the rest of the group was doing, or to not comply and break away?
Post-show Activity: Using Movement to Tell a Story
Students will use movement to communicate meaning and explore how a story can be told without using words.
Space to move around.
- Instruct students to stand in a circle, facing inward.
- Using the prompt word “yes,” go around the circle, having each student say “yes” in a unique way. After each student says “yes”, have the group attempt to imitate them as closely as possible.
- Discuss how each “yes” tells a different story.
- This step can be repeated with other word prompts if desired (i.e. “no,” “stop,” “please,” etc.).
- Repeat the exercise using a gesture to represent the word “yes” rather than the word itself with each student performing a unique gesture to communicate “yes.”
- Try the activity again, this time using movement to communicate a sentence: “I’m okay, thank you.”
- Break the class into smaller groups.
- Have each group choose a common fairytale.
- Ask each group to find a way to tell the story in under a minute using movement only.
- Have each group present their story to the rest of the class.
- After each presentation, ask the class what fairytale they think was being portrayed. What made them think that?
- Discuss with the students how Antigone: 方 used movement to convey emotion. What were the different emotions that you felt while watching the movement sequences?
- Instruct each group to create a short movement piece that conveys one of their chosen emotions (i.e. happiness, fear, anger, loneliness).
- Have each group present their movement piece to the class.
- After each presentation, ask students what emotion(s) they felt while watching. What made them feel that way?
- What was the hardest part about telling a story without words?
- What was the easiest part?
- Did you discover different techniques to get the story across using movement?
- What are the benefits of using movement to tell a story?
- How can abstract movement make you feel a certain emotion? Did you notice any techniques that the groups used?
- Authoritarian: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/authoritarian
- Compliance: Cialdini, Robert B. Influence: Science and Practice. New York: Harper Collins College Publishers, 1993. Print.
- Protest: www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/protest
- Tiananmen Square: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square
- Umbrella Revolution: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umbrella_Revolution
- Martial law: www.britannica.com/topic/martial-law
- Chorus: www.britannica.com/art/chorus-theatre
- Subjective: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/subjective
- Objective: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/objective
- Physicality: en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/physicality; www.dictionary.com/browse/physicality
- Tableau: www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tableau
Suggested Research Resources for Pre-show Activity: Authoritarian Regimes
Authoritarianism in general:
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower – Netflix documentary (written and directed by Joe Piscatella)