Welcome Aboard the Mighty Argo!

by Haley Flanders and Katie Jarvis, dramaturgs

17425994_1908813916072481_2458922591880696249_n“Sing in us, Muse, the story of Jason and his   Argonauts, how he was sent away on the first voyage of the world to bring back the Golden Fleece.” (Act 1, Scene 1)

Hello! Welcome to the 4th wall dramaturgy page dedicated to the spring 2017 mainstage BYU play, Argonautika by Mary Zimmerman.

This production is set to perform June 2 through June 17, 2017 in the Pardoe Theatre in the Harris Fine Arts Center (HFAC) on campus.

We are thrilled to be giving you a backstage pass into the creation of this epic play, which will feature Greek warriors, gods and goddesses, monsters, clashing rocks, dragons, giants, golden fleeces, missing shoes, and much more!

In preparation for seeing this show, we have provided a synopsis for you below. This 2-hour play has many different scenes, along with 16 actors often portraying multiple characters. Throughout the next few months, this blog will assist you with the plot, character relationships, and scene breakdowns. It will also provide more information on Greek mythology, the playwright, and our production. There will be:

  • director and actor interviews
  • rehearsal photos
  • map of the Argonaut voyage
  • games and fun facts
  • information about the interactive lobby display
  • a list of books you can check out to learn more about Greek mythology
  • constellation and zodiac significance to the characters
  • highlights of the technical elements such as set, costumes, and props
  • videos about Zimmerman and perhaps even our cast!

So what IS Argonautika, anyway? Ivan_Vavpotič_-_Prihod_Argonavtov

It is a famous Greek myth. Myths are fictional stories that date back thousands of years. They have been passed down through oral tradition and textual translation. The myth of Jason and the Argonauts first appeared in an epic poem called “Argonautica”, written by Apollonius of Rhodes during the third century B.C. Mary Zimmerman’s play is one of numerous interpretations of the tale.

Plot Synopsis of the Play Continue reading

A City Set on a Hill

by Amanda Alley, dramaturg

Pilgrims whiteSalem was a town founded on Puritan beliefs. In fact, the settlement was designed to set an example of righteousness for the rest of humanity. Their goal was to separate themselves from the world and create a unified society centered on the principles of their faith. This Puritan community in the New World would be governed by Puritan doctrines, and all would abide in peace. Even the name of the town reflected that ideal: Salem was derived from the Hebrew word Shalom, which means “peace.” The settlement would be an example of righteous living that would shine forth to the rest of the world.

Of course, we know this wasn’t the case, but their religious statutes gave them hope for such a place. A few of their commonly held beliefs were: Continue reading

An American Premiere

By Shelley Graham, dramaturg

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There were have been several wonderful coincidences and years of hard work that made the American Premiere of Chariots of Fire a possibility at BYU. You may be familiar with the 1981 film that was the surprise Oscar winner for Best Picture. In fact most people, whether they have seen the film or not, can hum the famous opening theme by Vangelis Papathanassiou. Here is one artist’s take on the popularity of that opening number:

Mr Bean and the Chariots of Fire Theme
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Social Class in the 1920s

By Shelley Graham, Dramaturg

socialclashChariots of Fire takes place in Britain from roughly 1920 to 1924, a time period in which established social mores were changing rapidly. Throughout the play we see the various social classes represented. As Britain emerged from the ravages of World War I (or The Great War, as it was termed then,) there was a major rift in those social classes. Throughout the twenties, the working class would see poverty growing at an alarming rate, while the middle and upper classes fought for cultural prominence.

Early in the play we see wealthy young men arriving for their first day of school at Cambridge University. They are confronted almost immediately with men of the working class. This was the population who was most adversely affected by the war, having largely served in the infantry. Many of the working class who were fortunate enough to make it back home had serious scars and injuries resulting from their service.

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The middle classes fared a bit better, having had more opportunities for self sufficiency both before and after the war. Though many of them lost inheritances and had to start over, they had a culture of industry that helped them start over again. The Liddell family is represented in this class. Continue reading

The Two Histories of The Crucible (Part Two)

by Kristin Perkins, assistant dramaturg

SAL_CRUsmIn the last blog post I wrote, I talked a little bit about the Salem Witch trials as the primary history that The Crucible draws from. There is a second history that demands to be accounted for in a study of The Crucible: the story of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Red Scare, and Arthur Miller’s involvement.

For the sake of total accuracy, this is technically the second Red Scare which happened after World War II and coincided with the height of HUAC activity. The HUAC was a congressional committee tasked with rooting out dangerous communist or “fellow travelers,” the term for being sympathetic to communist ideals. This committee targeted many theatre and film artists; partly because of fear that radical leftists were taking over the entertainment industry, and partly in service of publicizing HUAC by accusing people in the public eye.

Throughout the 40s and 50s, Miller saw many people he knew subpoenaed by HUAC. The consequences for being accused of communist ties could be severe. While the HUAC was not an official court, being condemned by this congressional committee could result in being blacklisted from Hollywood and, in some circumstances, even jailed for “contempt of congress.” Being blacklisted meant suddenly losing your livelihood for writers, directors, and actors working in Hollywood, all for something that is constitutionally protected: one’s political beliefs.

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Support for the Hollywood artists blacklisted by HUAC

Miller was opposed to HUAC from the very beginning and viewed HUAC as foundationally unconstitutional; a view that was initial popular when HUAC first began its communist hunt but which quickly grew unpopular as political figures like Senator Joseph McCarthy promoted fear of communist infiltration. What ultimately strengthened Miller’s resolve to write The Crucible as a condemnation of the hearings was the HUAC testimony of Elia Kazan. Kazan was a famous director and had been good friends with Miller ever since they first collaborated on the original stage production of Death of a Salesman. Miller thought that Kazan was on the same page in opposing HUAC but when Kazan went in front of the committee he named names in order to clear his own. Unlike Miller, Kazan actually had been a member of the Communist party briefly in the 30s, and he felt like naming other communists was the only way that he could continue his successful career in Hollywood. In fact, Kazan was probably right about this but it aggravated Miller who found Kazan’s behavior indefensible. Continue reading

Fanning the Flame

by Amanda Alley, dramaturg

The Crucible revolves around an infamous historical event. But how did it all begin?

The Puritans settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to create a unified community. However, in the years leading up to the witch trials, all was not well in Salem. There were several social, political, and religious tensions that grew to provide kindling to the fire that became the Salem Witch Hunt.

In 1684, the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter was revoked after colonists broke several of its statutes, specifically those dealing with the separation of church and state. This meant that the colonists were no longer free to govern themselves, and a royally appointed government was established. The colonists, angry over the change, overthrew this government in 1689. Unfortunately, this left them with a dysfunctional court system.

Socially, the town was split into two sectors: those who supported Reverend Samuel Parris, and those who thought he should be replaced. Those who disagreed with Parris and his followers were typically the more affluent farmers who lived to the west. Later, we would see a similar correlation in the witch trials. The farmers in the west were often accused, while the Parris supporters to the east frequently made the accusations.

In addition to village rivalries, relations with the Indians increased the strain on Salem’s inhabitants. The threat the Indians posed was real and spiritual. Thomas and Ann Putnam’s servant Mercy Lewis was orphaned when Indians attacked the town of Falmouth in Maine, and the people of Salem remembered such events vividly. Indians were also viewed as devil worshippers, which threatened the safety of villagers’ souls as well as their bodies.

All of these tensions fed the spark that would ignite the Salem Witch Trials.

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Birth of the Actor Athlete

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By Amelia Johnson, Assistant Dramaturg

What did it take to be a cast member of this show? Time, hard work, and a lot of sweat. But, that is to be expected when your show is about Olympic runners. When you have a passion for something, you strive to be as good as you can at it. When your passion is acting, sometimes you learn new skills in order to play a part. Our actors embraced this and became actor athletes.

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In addition to learning their lines, blocking, and working to understand their characters, our actor athletes took part in training to get in the physical shape of a runner. They were given training schedules for every day of the week and met together at 6:00 AM  twice a week to exercise together. Continue reading

Colors In Mary Poppins

by Ting Chun Chang, dramaturg

In one of the post-show discussions, there was an audience member who asked us about the color of the costume design. We had a conversation of the concept of the design but none of us knew the exact process of how our costume designer Rory Scanlon developed it. Therefore, I brought the question to Rory and this was his reply.

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In picking colors, I chose the RED for Mary first, giving her the strongest pigment on stage. I wanted Bert and the children to be in the other primary colors, so Bert was BLUE and the children were YELLOW. That left the three secondary colors to fill the full wheel. Because the children are in opposition to their father so much for the show, I put George in Purple and chose ORANGE for Winifred since she is the “in-between” for Mary and the children. PURPLE worked well because throughout history it is the color of wealth because the purple dyes used were some of the most expensive. All these choices of colors left GREEN as the last color, which I left for the Park, since this is where the children, George and Winifred all go to “run away”. You will recall that the Park Keeper was in GREEN, helping represent that color. This gave the full rainbow to the production, perfect for a musical and for our concept that Mary brings color to the world of the play. – Rory Scanlon

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Macbeth’s Lobby Display

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

If you came and saw our production of Macbeth here at BYU last week or the week before, you would have seen this outside in the lobby: IMG_4875

If you looked closely, you would see that the sign reads: “Beware Macbeth’s Story! Do you have something (a fear, worry, etc.) that takes up time in your life? Write it down and throw it into the cauldron to get rid of it. Don’t let it consume your life like some of the characters in the play!”

This was an interesting exercise in which many audience members participated. The things written on the little bits of paper ranged from the silly all the way to the serious and personal. It was wonderful seeing the audience engage with the show and apply the themes and lessons to their own lives. Hopefully it served as a therapeutic exercise of sorts, and some people were able to relieve themselves of the worry they feel. Continue reading

Everything’s Better With Puppets

by Rick Curtiss Dramaturg

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happysadness is better with puppets.

Everything is better with puppets. The nature of this phenomenon might not seem obvious at first. After all, puppets are for kids aren’t they? Haven’t we, as adults, moved past the juvenile and broad nature the world of puppets provides? The answer to both of these questions is a steadfast no.

Adults love puppets.

It might be attributed to nostalgia, butt here is something inherently adult about puppets. This can be seen in the many ways puppets have been marketed for adults. The Muppet Show had kid-friendly content, but the goal was to entertain the whole family, adults included. Others followed this trend with various degrees of family friendly (and not so friendly) content. Madame’s Place, Dinosaurs, Sifl & Olly, Greg the Bunny, Crank Yankers, and several other tv shows included puppets as primary characIMG_0484ters and were targeting beyond the kid market. Puppets for adults hasn’t only happened on television.  The musical Avenue Q purposely spoofed Sesame Street to tell a decidedly adult tale, and Schockheaded Peter used puppets to warp a children’s book into a much more adult affair on stage.

happysadness uses puppets which deal with mature themes. These beautiful creations were made by Nat Reed’s 2016 puppeteering class at BYU. They are beautifully constructed and completely believable. I remember watching The Muppets Take Manhattan as a child and thought that muppets felt like real live connected beings in the world. The actual human performers felt flat and two-dimensional nextIMG_0480 to them. This flatness isn’t the case for happysadnessl; the humans are just as expressive as the puppets, but it highlights how easy it can be to connect with two eyes and felt draped over a hand. Some say that puppet show are a good way to talk about difficult issues–if anything becomes too serious, it can be laughed away as being silly  because of the puppets. This isn’t the case in happysadness. The puppets aren’t placeholders for real things that need to be diffused to become accessible. Instead, the puppets are the reflection of inner experiences– the actual reflection and the best representation. Continue reading