On The Dubious And Exciting Origins Of The Bacchanals’ Name

Over the years, people have asked about the significance of The Bacchanals’ name. What made us adopt such a name? Why not something easier to spell or pronounce?

In the ’90s, theatre companies were all about the one-word, hard-hitter name: Trouble, Jealous, Pandemonium, Factory. There were also the oblique ones like Under Lili’s Balcony, Mr Licky, and for So You’re A Man (mentioned in my last post!), our co-op/bank account name was El Macho Bone Machine (we liked The Pixies).

I wanted a name that would be funny, be non-theatre-specific, be as much like a band or a gang as a theatre company (James, when we were on the road, endured much angry gritting of teeth from me when he’d call a venue to say “Hi, it’s James here from The Bacchanals Theatre Company” and I’d growl, “We’re just The Bacchanals! No ‘Theatre Company’!!” His point was it was such a bizarre name that people weren’t sure what we were unless he specified; my point was that was the point).

Most importantly, I wanted the name to have a The in it, to give its members a firm sense of identity, in the way that many great ’60s bands (and beyond) did. One could be a Beatle, a Rolling Stone, a Door, an Animal, a Kink, a Byrd, a Pixie, a Sex Pistol and, of course, a Mountain Goat; whereas you couldn’t be a Jane’s Addiction, a Sparklehorse, an Abba, a Jefferson Airplane, a Fleetwood Mac etc. I always pitied those actors who’d have to say, “Hi, I’m xxxx and I’m a member of Trouble” or “I’m a member of El Macho Bone Machine” – I liked the strength and directness of being able to say, “Hi, I’m David and I’m a Bacchanal!”  And I suppose in a slightly wanky manner (can I say wanky on the Internet?), given that the idea of acting to the ancient Greeks was not so much that you played the role of a god but that the god inhabited you and you became the god for the purposes of performance, it was an important distinction to me that we were The Bacchanals, not members of The Bacchanals. Does that make sense?

I’d like to pretend it was a long and arduous search for the perfect name, but I think I actually chose it in about 5 minutes, having to put something quickly on the Fringe registration form. I grabbed A Midsummer Night’s Dream off the shelf to remind myself of all the various entertainments competing to perform at Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding day and, seeing ‘The Riot of the Tipsy Bacchanals, Tearing The Thracian Singer In Their Rage’, said “What about The Bacchanals???”

Next time: Fiona’s Secret Boyfriend – The Evidence.