IAS Fellow at Collingwood College, October-December 2023
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Dr Magdalena Zira is a theatre director, classical reception scholar and playwright, based in Cyprus. She has adapted and directed several contemporary re-workings of canonical texts, including Roman epic, Renaissance texts and Greek drama. Her theatre work with company Fantastico Theatro explores site-specific staging in the urban landscape. She is co-founder of Project Season Women, a feminist theatre collective which gives a platform to the voices of women theatre makers through interdisciplinary collaborations. Her areas of research and interest include classical reception, new writing for theatre, feminist theatre and site-specific performance. In 2019 she was awarded the artist of the year award by the Cyprus Theatre Organization and in 2020 she directed an all-day reading of Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships at the British Museum as a promenade performance. In 2022, the play she co-authored and directed, Women Walk Home, a verbatim docu-drama that sheds new light on historical events in 1980s Cyprus, won the Union of Cypriots award and was selected to participate in the prestigious Athens and Epidaurus festival in the summer of 2023.
In Durham, she will be working on a joint Research and Performance Project about Dido, legendary queen of Carthage, in collaboration with Professor Edith Hall from the Department of Classics & Ancient History. Using evidence from ancient historiographers who preserve indigenous Carthaginian traditions containing an alternative history of Dido, the project engages with Classical Reception in order to expose the long evolution of the abuse of the Carthaginian queen in European colonial and racist thinking. It also engages with themes of urgency today, including (im)migration, the European colonial construction of Africa, and the instrumentalization of gender and sexuality in Orientalizing and imperial propaganda. The project will result in a conference on the reception of women in Virgil’s Aeneid, in collaboration with Professor Hall, and the staged reading of a new play about Dido, which is currently under development by Dr Zira. Dr Zira will further develop and finalize the script inter-reactively in the course of 8-10 workshops with undergraduates in the Department of Classics & Ancient History. The new playscript will emerge in dialogue with the ancient and modern reception of Virgil’s Dido, which, by falsifying her own people’s traditions has (mis)informed European imperialist projects and cultural production. This project also aims to instigate inter-departmental collaborations and we hope that it will be of interest to members of departments including Anthropology, Archaeology, English Studies, History, Modern Languages and Cultures and Music.
This virtually unknown Phoenician story of Dido offers profound opportunities for transformation into exciting theatre art which will turn ethnic, gender and literary stereotypes on their head. A new, made-in-Durham playscript will have the potential to travel in a form that will encourage international collaborations in performance. This Dido is a model of Ancient Near Eastern/North African womanhood worth exploring today, both in rigorous academic terms and through the medium of theatre, as a celebration of the trend in feminist Classics collaboratively to weld original new scholarship to accessible public outreach activity.