2016-2017 Season,  Argonautika

Meet “Argonautika” Playwright, Mary Zimmerman

by  Haley Flanders, dramaturg,

Hello and welcome to week 2 of the Argonautika behind-the-scenes blogs! As you prepare for your voyage to see our play June 2 through June 17 in the Pardoe Theater, we would like to give you more insight into the playwright and original director of Argonautika, the one and only…Mary Zimmerman!
127Mary Zimmerman is a very prestigious and unique playwright in the world of professional and collegiate theatre.

BYU Young Company performed her award-winning play, Metamorphoses as a Theatre For Young Audiences (TYA) production in 2006. They then performed her play, Arabian Nights as the spring show in 2012.

Mary Zimmerman was born on August 23, 1960 in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is the recipient of the 2002 Tony Award for Best Director, a 1998 MacArthur Fellowship. She is a member of the Lookingglass Theatre Company of Chicago, an Artistic Associate of the Goodman Theatre and a Professor of Performance Studies at Northwestern University, from where she received her BA, MA, and PhD. The following are some of her most famous plays that she has devised:

  • The Odyssey

  • Arabian Nights

  • Journey To The West

  • Metamorphoses

  • Trojan Women

  • Disney’s The Jungle Book

  • Treasure Island 

So what makes Zimmerman so iconic and unique? Let’s talk a little about her process, called “devised theatre.” 

Adapter and Director Mary Zimmerman works collaboratively with the company of Candide in rehearsal. Performances begin September 10 at the B.U. Theatre. huntingtontheatre.org. Photo Cred: Liz Lauren.
Adapter and Director Mary Zimmerman works collaboratively with the company of Candide in rehearsal. Performances begin September 10 at the B.U. Theatre. huntingtontheatre.org. Photo Cred: Liz Lauren.

Most playwrights do not direct their own plays. Most directors begin rehearsal with a fully written script and have rehearsal periods for a few months. Many playwrights seek to write original works. Mary Zimmerman, however, is known for her unique style of creating theatre.

  • She writes and directs the original productions of her plays.

  • She starts with no script.

  • She uses popular texts and stories and adapts them into plays during a 4-week rehearsal process.

  • She collaborates with her cast and writes the script bit by bit, basing the dialogue and actions on what the actors create in rehearsal.

Mary Zimmerman’s Argonautika

Zimmerman continues to be drawn to ancient literature and stories based in oral tradition. Argonautika went through this same process when she originally wrote and directed the production in 2006 at the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago.

(For a much more detailed bio, read the end of this blog post.)


Click here to watch the video, “Creating ‘Argonautika'” posted by the Shakespeare Theatre Company in 2008. This shows her talking about her process, and her experience adapting Argonautika specifically.

Click here to watch the video, “Interview with Mary Zimmerman” posted by ATHE (The Association for Theatre in Higher Education) in 2015, when she received the lifetime achievement award in professional theatre. I saw her get this award and give a similar speech! She is remarkable!

In May 2014, the Chicago Tribune published an article about Zimmerman in a series all about remarkable women.  Click here to read the article.

She truly is one of a kind and we are privileged to be producing another one of her amazing plays.


  • Mary Zimmerman is the recipient of a 1998 MacArthur Fellowship, the 2002 Tony Award for Best Director of a Play and numerous Jeff Awards (including Best Production and Best Direction).
  • She is the Manilow Resident Director of Goodman Theatre, a member of Lookingglass Theatre Company and holds an endowed chair as a  professor of performance studies at Northwestern University.
  • Metamorphoses (on Broadway at the Circle and the Square, Second Stage, Loookingglass Theatre of Chicago, Berkeley and Seattle Rep, the Mark Taper Forum, Arena Stage DC and Melbourne Theatre Company, Australia)
  • Treasure Island (Lookingglass and Berkeley Rep),
  • The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci  (Goodman, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Seattle Rep and Second Stage Theatre)
  • Journey to the West (Goodman, the Huntington Theatre Company and Berkeley Rep)
  • The Odyssey ( Lookingglass Theatre, Goodman, McCarter Theatre and Seattle Rep and at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in summer 2017)
  • Mirror of the Invisible World and Silk, (the Goodman)
  • Arabian Nights (Lookingglass Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Kansas City Rep and Arena Theatre, DC)
  • Argonautika (Lookingglass Theatre, Berkeley Rep, the Shakespeare Theatre Company of DC and McCarter Theatre)ct-remarkable-mary-zimmerman-20140518
  • The Secret in the Wings (Lookingglass Theatre, Berkeley Rep, McCarter and Seattle Rep)
  • Candide (the Bernstein musical at Goodman, Shakespeare Theatre Company DC, Huntington)
  • Eleven Rooms of Proust (Lookingglass/About Face/Goodman co-production)
  • The Jungle Book (Goodman and Huntington Theatre)
  • The White Snake (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Berkeley, Goodman, McCarter, San Diego Globe and the Wuzhen Theatre Festival in China.
  • She created a new opera with Philip Glass, Galileo Galilei, (Goodman, The Barbican in London and Brooklyn Academy of Music).   
  • Zimmerman has directed Shakespeare’s Pericles (Goodman and Shakespeare Theatre Company of DC) and Henry VIII and Measure for Measure at New York Theater Festival’s Shakespeare in the Park.
  • She made her Metropolitan Opera directorial debut in 2007 with Lucia di Lammermoor, which she also directed at La Scala in Milan in 2014. Subsequent Met productions include Armida,  La Sonnambula and Rusalka, which debuted in February, 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.