The Birds is a satirical take on the lives and habits of the Athenians of Ancient Greece, but their foils are simply the foils of all humanity. The play lovingly pokes fun at Utopian idealism, and its themes and touching representation of the human condition have kept it relevant. With this project, I wanted to explore some of the trends our contemporary culture is experiencing, namely the widespread interest in returning to smaller communities that have closer ties to local businesses and farming, but take that to the extreme so that the journey that Pisthetairos and Eulpides are on actually brings them to the complete fringes of society and geography. I combined this idea with the renewed interest I see growing in the larger consumer culture’s ideal of the American South, which is currently being promoted by reality TV shows ranging from Paula Deen to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I took this idea-- that something our society has long held in disdain could become the venue for a new lifestyle--and applied it to The Birds. These idealistic, if gross, representations of the South have become a draw to ordinary people.
To begin my process, I thought of a time in America when people really were traveling in search of a new means of existence, and also when real isolation was possible. The manner in which the two main characters, Pisthetairos and Euelpides, speak had a cadence of the South and the vocabulary of a lower class. I thought that another decade of economic extremes, The Great Depression, could give us the motivation for these two middle-aged men to seek a new beginning from the dregs of the society they were born into. What better place to start than the swamps of the Louisiana bayou? I have been greatly intrigued by the television glorification/derision of the deep American South and some of its odder residents. Reality shows like Honey Boo-Boo, Duck Dynasty, Swamp People, and others have pushed the lifestyle of these poverty stricken-- and often obese-- southerners into the spotlight as something to be mocked by the cable watchers of America; yet these people are making money hand over fist as result. So perhaps the ‘birds’ are just a group of oddly shaped outcasts, living quietly amongst themselves in an untouched paradise outside the strictures of society, with the escaped convict Hoopoe as their leader.
I took the idea of each bird as a gesture to the kind of personality that character might have, and re-molded it to fit the kind of wonderfully strange people that exist out in the sticks. The Osprey is a cocky showoff with an Elvis-like pompadour and a carefully disheveled jumpsuit. The Nightingale is Hoopoe’s very pregnant wife. Pigeon is the slightly simple cousin with more hair on his body than his chest. Pisthetairos and Euelpides have traveled a long way, lost in the swamp, and their disheveled appearance actually gains them authority when they stumble across the Hoopoe and his people. They are visited by many members of society, not least of which is Iris, a true God with real wings who comes warning of Zeus’ ire at their attempts at insubordination. She wears the glorious outfit of a Mardi Gras Queen, and of all the characters is the only one with real feathers. As much as the two men wish to join the Birds, creating ‘wings’ out of branches and stolen laundry; eventually, they cannot help but impose the habits of the world they came from on this new group and soon are dealing with all the same struggles of the world they were trying to leave behind.