by Lorie Lewis Ham
This Thursday, April 27, a new show opens at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia. Their Performing Arts department will be presenting a play called ARGONAUTIKA: The Voyage of Jason and the Argonauts. This one will be unique as it will be co-directed with some of the students at COS, together with Chris Mangels who is a Professor of Theatre and Cinema Arts as well as the Resident Scenic Designer, Fight Choreographer, and one of the two Resident Directors. We took a moment to chat with Chris and some of the students involved.
KRL: Why did you pick this particular show?
Chris: I have always been a fan of Greek mythology, and the Jason and the Argonauts story is such a seminal tale of heroism, gods, and monsters. Also, I love playwright Mary Zimmerman’s cheeky sensibility for mixing modern sensibilities with classical stories. I directed another show of hers, Metamorphoses, in 2014, and found that she and I very much speak the same artistic language. She has a very ‘Chicago Theatre’ aesthetic – where you just sort of just make it happen, with whatever creative resources you can draw on. The most formative part of my early professional life in theatre was in Chicago, so I find myself returning often to this kind of approach, where you remind the audience that fearless live performers and bold imagination are all we need to tell stories.
Chris: COS Performing Arts’ Experimental Theatre Ensemble (or ETE, for short) is an ensemble-based production company committed to the celebration of live theatre. Each and every member of the ETE is INTEGRAL to the development of the production. Beginning with nothing more than a script, artistic passion, and a commitment to one another, the ETE spent a 4-week Workshop period developing their production concept – experimenting with acting styles, establishing a physical vocabulary for the show, and envisioning the visual and aural world of the play. As the creative process continued, the 23 members of the ETE divided into Design Cohorts, focusing on individual projects to prepare for the start of the Rehearsal period, when all of the elements began to come together. By the time we reach opening night, each and every member of the ETE has become an equal stakeholder in the production; devising, directing, designing, and bringing the show to life as a one-of-a-kind performance for our community. While I serve as the ‘on the ground’ director during the rehearsal process, I work to honor their decisions and challenge them to reach further as complete theatre artists.
KRL: You mentioned there are students directing this show with you, who are they and how does that work?
KRL: Have any of the students directed before?
Chris: The cast features COS Theatre alumni and current students, so the experience range is very broad, but yes, we have several students who have directed before, most notably Haley Wallace, who directed last season’s Witch, and Tamla Quipse, who co-directed The Squirrels with me in November AND just won the national SDC (Stage Directors and Choreographers) Fellowship at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Washington DC. Even those participants who have not had an opportunity to direct a complete production are absolutely excelling on this production and I look forward to many of them exploring this avenue in their future endeavors.
Chris: Mary Zimmerman transforms Greek mythology the story of Jason and the Argonauts into a mesmerizing piece of theater. Encountering an array of daunting challenges in their “first voyage of the world,” Jason and his crew illustrate the essence of all such journeys to follow—their un¬predictability, their inspiring and overwhelming breadth of emotion, and their lessons in the inevitability of failure and loss. The story is filled with bursts of humor and fantastical creatures but it is the characters that reveal the most remarkable complexity. Jason is consumed by his quest – whatever the cost, Hercules’s brute strength is no match for the great weight of love and loss, and even Medea is profoundly sympathetic even as the seeds are sown for the monstrous life ahead of her.
KRL: Can you tell us a little more about the show?
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Chris: The last time the ETE produced a show, it was 2016’s Animal Farm, one of my favorite productions ever. While this process has been absolutely daunting, I am so honored by the number of students who auditioned and then committed themselves mind, body, and soul to creating something so much bigger than any single one of us. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to work with these students on this project.
From the student directors:
Students: For many of us, yes! There is a huge range of experience levels in this company, but everyone is equally committed to the vision we have developed.
KRL: Is this your first time directing?
KRL: What have you liked the best about helping direct and design this show?
Students: Having the opportunity to truly share our thoughts, explore our concepts, and bring it all to life as a collaborator has been great. It’s nice to feel like our opinions not only matter but also help guide the process.
KRL: What has been the hardest?
Students: Learning to work with others who have completely different processes is difficult but it also challenges each of us to up our ‘collaboration game.’
KRL: Has it been hard to direct and be in the show?
Students: Unquestionably. Chris represents all of us as the outside eye, but it can be hard to be ‘in the moment’ as actors when we are also thinking about what the entire stage is doing. Finding that balance is the trick!
KRL: What are the dates and times?
Chris: Evening performances are April 27, 28, 29, May 4, 5, 6 at 7:00 pm, and our matinee performance is May 6 at 1:00 pm.
Chris: The show will be performed in an intimate 96-seat space, with the audience sitting on risers ON the COS stage, evenly divided on either side of the performing area. This is sometimes called Traverse, Alley, or Tennis Court Staging, and I think it’s a thrilling way for the audience to experience the production.
KRL: Cost of the tickets and where to purchase them?
Chris: Tickets are $14 for the general public, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students. On Thursday, May 4, we will also have a special student discount night where students of all ages can get tickets for only $5 and then stay for a talkback with the cast and crew following the performance. Tickets can be purchased online at cos.ticketleap.com/argonautika and at the Box Office starting 45 minutes prior to each performance. That said, there are only 96 seats for each showing, so I STRONGLY recommend purchasing tickets in advance.
Check out more local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section. And don’t miss out on Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast where we feature mystery stories read by local actors!