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March 12: Carnegie Mellon Drama Professors Update Comedic Anti-War Play "Lysistrata"


Eric Sloss                          

Carnegie Mellon Drama Professors Update
Comedic Anti-War Play "Lysistrata"

PITTSBURGH — Two professors of dramatic literature in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Drama, J.A. Ball and Michael Chemers, have updated and published a modern adaptation of Aristophanes' comedy, "Lysistrata." The first make-love-not-war play ever written, "Lysistrata" is Aristophanes' bawdy comedy about the battle of the sexes set against the tragedy of the Peloponnesian Wars. In Ball and Chemers' version, the play is set in modern times against the war in Iraq.

"This play argues that the most powerful weapon against war may be hope," Chemers said. "The premise is 'What if they stopped a war because nobody came?' Aristophanes uses the sexual foibles of humanity to provide a vision of peace and national reconciliation. At the same time, he's illustrating the utility of collective action and the necessity of standing up against injustice and petty warmongering."

Leading up to the adaptation, Carnegie Mellon in 2003 put on a staged reading of the original play along with thousands of other groups around the world as part of the "Lysistrata Project," a global, theatrical day of protest against war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In October 2005, the School of Drama produced Ball and Chemers' adaptation as part of its season. The performance was directed by Jed Allen Harris, head of the undergraduate directing program at Carnegie Mellon.

After the adaptation's material and jokes had been tested in rehearsal and performance, Ball and Chemers spent almost a year poring over the text, comparing it to previous translations and to the original Greek. "It's astounding, and also tragic, how little the rhetoric of warmongering has changed in the past 2,500 years," Ball said.

Complete with notes by the authors, a preface from School of Drama Head Elizabeth Bradley, production photos and a biting commentary by theatre scholar Brian Johnston, this new take on Aristophanes' masterpiece is now available from Carnegie Mellon University Press. The authors have waived royalty fees for production by theatre companies in high schools, colleges and universities. Visit for more information on obtaining rights.