Festival presents adaptation of Metamorphoses

by Lucy Randall | 7/6/07 2:34am

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Northern Stage founder and artistic director Brooke Ciardelli talks to Dartmouth students and international actors during a dress rehearsal.
by Kawakahi Amina / The Dartmouth

The show comes to Dartmouth thanks to a collaboration between The Northern Stage, a professional theater company based in White River Junction, Vt., and the British company Developing Actors. The companies selected two professional American actors, two actors from Mexico City and one from Zimbabwe to act in "The O Myths" before holding auditions last Thursday for Dartmouth students who will also star in the production.

With minimal props and costumes and no off-stage or artificial sound effects, the actors will perform Northern Stage Founder and Artistic Director Brooke Ciardelli's adaptation of 10 myths from Ovid's "Metamorphoses" in a show she calls "entirely extraordinary." Ciardelli has worked closely with the international cast, which includes several Dartmouth sophomores.

The project began when Dartmouth English professor Jonathan Crewe, on behalf of the Leslie Center for Humanities, suggested to Ciardelli that she resurrect her script for "The O Myths." The Northern Stage had performed an adaptation of 20 myths in two hours, but Ciardelli refashioned the script for a production a Dartmouth during the Summer term, selecting the 10 myths that would most benefit from the international cast and from an outdoor performance.

As Crewe explained, the limited practice and performance facilities open on campus during the summer "forced it outside" and gave rise to a new incarnation of the myths.

"The thing about Metamorphoses is you can change them," said Crewe.

Since actors traveled long distances to join Dartmouth students in the production, the entire process of casting students and rehearsing the myths was confined to one week of all-day rehearsals.

The Northern Stage has collaborated with Developing Actors in the past, relying on the British company to find actors from around the world. With Developing Actors' help, Ciardelli cast actors from Zimbabwe in her play "I Am My Own Wife" last May, including the actor Blessing, a Zimbabwean who will appear in this weekend's production of "The O Myths." The company's international exchange will continue later this year when Dartmouth students will perform "The O Myths" at a festival in Harure, Zimbabwe.

The process from script to stage has been a metamorphosis in its own right, involving both cast and crew. Whereas Ciardelli's past adaptation, inspired by Ted Hughes' play "Tales from Ovid," included 20 myths that the actors themselves selected as the "most theatrical," the Dartmouth project retained only half that number, favoring those that could best preserve what Ciardelli calls "the international texture of the text." While the Northern Stage would typically focus on its final product, Ciardelli says she intended to make the process itself the focus of this undertaking. Through this editing process, she attempted to demonstrate the cultural interaction that had to happen so quickly in rehearsal as a part of what audiences would experience through the show.

"What's unique about Ovid is that his stories are entirely universal. Every culture has versions or adaptations of the myths," Ciardelli said.

Staging the play on the Green inspired certain transformations of the myths as well.

"When you work outside, your pallet is large, and you have a canvas the size of the Green," Ciardelli said.

Ciardelli hopes her production will fill the space by using the actors' different skills such as clowning and theatrical movement, but she remains mindful of the difficulty the audience may have in seeing and hearing the performers. Due to the ambient noise of passing traffic and pedestrians, Ciardelli recognizes that conditions on the Green are less than ideal for conventional, formal theatre.

"You have less intimacy with the language," said Ciardelli. Yet the limitations the players face have shaped the production in an interesting way.

"Every transformation is externalized," she explains, "so that you can see the transformations are in front of the audience."

Without any of what Ciardelli calls the "tricks of the show," which actors sometimes take for granted, "the actors just jump in and only have each other to hold on to."

As Hillary Beach '09 explains, actors will "spin into" different forms and different characters, with only partial costume changes to suggest the morphs they undergo.

"You feel like you're in a different world, and you wonder what is going on," Beach explained. "It's about being in a different place allowing the audience to get taken away by it."

"The O Myths" will be performed on the Green July 6 at 7:30 p.m.