Since Trent lacks a formal program in theatre or drama, decent playing spaces have been hard to come by. Only one lecture theatre has any kind of stage and equipment, and that seats nearly 400 and is a distant and impersonal space at best. An adaptable performance space seating about 100 is the Nozhem: First Peoples Performance Space of the new Peter Gzowski College, which opened in 2004. The Classics Drama Group chose to perform Hippolytos in 1994 in The Pit, a "sunken common room" in Lady Eaton College , used for meetings, talks, religious services, student gatherings, but never before as a theatre. A diagram of The Pit is presented below:
The central square acting area [ A ] is surrounded on four sides by long couches [ B ], with staggered upper levels on the west [ C ] and the south [ D ], connected to the Pit itself by stairs [ E ]. A concrete fireplace [ F ] in the south-west provided a focal point - e.g. the crag in Prometheus Bound , the hearth in Medea . There were two formal entrances: a dramatically powerful upper door [ G ], and a lower door [ H ], which served also as the entrance for the spectators. The passage through the lower gallery [ D ] provided a third means of entry, from the "backstage" behind the fireplace [K ]. Spectators sat on all four couches [ B ] and on benches and chairs in the east area [ J ]. The result was to direct attention primarily to the sunken floor area [ A ], which became the main playing space.
In some productions an equivalent of the ancient skene -building was needed: the palace in Bacchae , Antigone, or Orestes , the house of Agathon in Thesmo! , the tent in Hecuba , or the temple of Apollo in Ion . A number of solutions were employed. For Bacchae , Ion , and Thesmo! the east area [ J ], usually occupied by benches and chairs for the spectators, became a residential façade, dominated by a single main door. Seating was provided in the upper gallery [ C ], and for Bacchae in the lower gallery [ D ] as well, thereby directing the audience's attention to a pair of playing-areas: the sunken pit [ A ] and the space before the façade. In these productions the east couch [ B ] was not used for seating, but became an altar or a tomb. In Orestes the upper gallery [ A ] became a palace front - very hard, incidentally, for those on the west couch [ B ] to watch - while in Hecuba and Antigone a frontal façade was created before the west couch [ B ] to serve as a tent or palace. This created yet another directed playing-area, with attention focussed on the pit [ A ] and the skene behind it.
In all productions spectators were very close to the action - many students commented on their surprise and (at times) unease at how close they were to the action being performed around them. In Thesmo! the women turned one choral interlude into a circular dance through areas [ A ] and [ J ], conscripting various ladies seated on the couches into their ranks (including the President of the University). For Martin Boyne and the Classics Drama Group the challenge was to use the intimacy of The Pit to convey the "message" of the ancient poets, and ironically the constraints of the small acting-space have done just that.
Props and stage-effects are minimal, quite in keeping with the austerity of the ancient Greek theatre. Frontal facades were functional, decorated as much as was necessary. The tent in Hecuba was just that, a cloth and burlap tent, the palace front in Orestes had windows that allowed the hostage-scene to be displayed to Menelaos, the chorus, and the spectators down below. Comedy (Thesmo!) required the most effects: Agathon with his trumpet to practice his choral lyrics, seats in the Pit [ A ] for the assembly of the women, a pyramid + chaise-longue for the Helen in Egypt parody etc.
In the initial production (Hippolytos) costumes were "traditional", robes that were meant to resemble ancient costume, with the players all wearing half-masks. These masks were uncomfortable to wear, and were discontinued in later productions, but they did succeed greatly in making the tragedy universal, and the effect upon the spectators was considerable. Since then a more modern eclectic sort of costuming has been employed, reflecting no particular time period at all. Antigone employed a repeated leit-motiv of black and white (a theme clearly found in the text of the play) - Antigone wore white, Kreon and the male chorus black suits and dinner-jackets. Memorable appearances were those of Hermes in Prometheus Bound , immaculately dressed as the junior bureaucrat, the wild and colourful barbarian outfit of Medea, and ensemble of the three major players in Orestes.
The Classics Drama Group has taken their plays to other stages. Three productions (Orestes, Antigone, Thesmo!) were part of a dinner theatre at a local restaurant, The Shish-Kabob Hut, whose owner and staff have been strong and constant supporters of the Classics Drama Group. On two occasions one performance was played in a classroom at Trent 's campus at Durham College in Oshawa , in years when a course in Classical Literature was being offered in Oshawa . In March 2003 The Conacher Players were invited by the Classics Departments at Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier universities to perform Suppliants. They have also taken their productions in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006 to the Ignatief Theatre at Trinity College in Toronto and hope to be able to make this an annual tradition for years to come. And as mentioned above, The Performance Space in Gzowski College, which has been open since 2004, has been the "Performance Space" for the Classics Drama Group's productions since 2005. It may not have the intimacy of The Pit, but it is more suitable for the CDG's growing needs.