Fresh learning experience with a gothic twist

Even though English is the second most commonly spoken language in the world, Greeks rarely get an opportunity to improve their language skills in an enjoyable manner. Well, now there is a way: a modern gothic farce called «Dance After Dark» by Gavin Thomas at the Elyze Theater in downtown Athens. This production is brought to us by the Athens English Theater Experiment, a privately funded non-profit organization which was founded in the fall of 2007, to explore theatrical performance as an aid to learning English for students, particularly in vocabulary-building and listening comprehension skills. In «Dance After Dark» we follow a pair of soon-to-be-married lovers, a very old vampire, a mad bug-eating cousin, his nurse, an eccentric biologist and a young woman. The plot lines of their stories cross and intertwine to create a farcical comedy. There is dancing, dueling, hypnotism, flying animals, more dancing, all to the accompaniment of original music being played live on stage. All the music and sound effects are performed either by composer/performer Niki Louladaki or by the actors, on stage, to «make for a more spirited performance,» as director Thomas Sears told Kathi-merini English Edition. Writer Thomas has used many characters and story elements made famous by Bram Stoker’s «Dracula,» as well as incorporating material adapted from various works, letters and fragments of John Polidori, Mary Shelley, Theophile Gautier and Lord Byron. The use of the gothic theme was deliberate, as it is flexible and is something that younger people respond well to. The collaboration of the Athens English Theater Experiment with Gavin Thomas certainly added to the charm and originality of the play because the use of the English language here was carefully simplified (though by no means simplistic) allowing anyone with even a smattering of English to understand and enjoy it. It was originally created to appeal to high school students over the age of 12, though it has been very well received by adult audiences as well. Director Sears, a former teacher of English here in Greece, was originally attracted to this project because it was education-oriented, but also simply because of his love for the theater. Needless to say, casting was something of a challenge as Sears was in search of actors with perfect English. «A heavy accent would have been distracting,» says the director. The process, he adds, took nearly two months, but the majority of his cast have studied acting either in the UK or the United States, and the result is a flawless production. The play runs every Saturday and Sunday evening, but special stagings can be organized for school groups within the week. «There has been a tremendous response from schools,» says Sears – evidence that this experiment is working. What’s more, they have introduced a 15-minute Q&A session after the performances – all in English, of course. Elyze Theater, 12 Nymphai-ou St, Athens, tel 210.777.-1766. The play is on every Saturday and Sunday at 9 p.m. until the end of February. Admission is 18 euros; 12 euros for students.