In a tautly paced production that illuminates the common ground between an ancient myth and the contemporary world, the Prep Drama Guild will present "Iphigenia 2.0" by Charles Mee during the upcoming statewide Drama Festival, which begins with a preliminary round of performances at St. John's on Saturday, March 3.
As the title suggests, "Iphigenia 2.0" is a reinvention of Euripedes' Greek drama, "Iphigenia in Aulis." It tells the story of Agamemnon, whose soldiers challenge him to make a sacrifice equal to their own before they will follow him into battle. In a decision that disrupts cherished ideals about leadership, family, gender, and loyalty, Agamemnon resolves that he must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, or lose the respect of his troops. The play raises uncomfortable questions, but Alicia Greenwood, theater arts director at St. John's, believes there are valuable lessons to be learned.
"The idea of looking at Greek tragedies through a contemporary lens is fascinating," says Ms. Greenwood. "Things that seem far removed from us are suddenly not so distant anymore. The language in this piece spoke to me. It’s simple, but so beautiful and honest."
Mee, who also teaches theater at Columbia University, is known for a distinctive style that uses "found text” to reconstruct familiar stories into contemporary plays that focus on the timelessness of the human condition. In 2014, St. John's won the Drama Festival with its production of Mee’s "bobrauschenbergamerica."
Students began to work on the production weeks ago with a deep dive into research on every part of the story. They read ancient myths, explored Greek marriage traditions, studied different styles of military leadership, learned about post-traumatic stress disorder, and looked at ethical decision making vs. diplomacy. Insights gleaned from all of the reading and research will help shape and inform the final production.
"It’s not just doing about a play. The research process helps everyone understand context and scope—the whole world of the play," says Ms. Greenwood. "It makes for a far better production."
Everything comes together during February vacation week, when the cast and crew meet every day, according to Cole Steeves '20, who plays Achilles. "Every time we run a scene, we are making different choices and thinking more deeply about the relationships between the characters. It’s exciting to see what other people come up with. The ideas that end up sticking in the final production happen this week."
Alex Kosciuszek ’18, who plays Agamemnon, hopes audiences will see the connection between the ancient myth and today’s world. "So much of what takes place in this play relates to what is going on in the world today—forces constantly in conflict with one another and the way leaders can bring about the downfall of individuals or institutions."
On many levels, "Ipehgenia 2.0" is a show about women and the choices they make, according to Cait Gagnon, a senior at Danvers High School who plays Iphegenia. "This show full of strong women. It may seem like Iphegenia is being told what to do, but in the end, she makes her own decision."
The strength shown by all of the characters appeals to Athena Nickole, a senior at Bishop Fenwick High School who plays Clytemnestra. "The characters are all nuanced and dynamic. As as actress, it’s rewarding to play that kind of a role. The fact that the central female character chooses her own fate is empowering for audiences to watch."
A Setting for the Action
For Enzo Arcari ’18 and the set design crew, this play presents an interesting challenge because its ancient roots are paired with a modern sensibility. Before they ever picked up a hammer or paintbrush, Enzo and Cam Keezer ’18 used Pinterest boards to brainstorm with Ms. Greenwood and the cast about an aesthetic and design concepts for the show. Once they agreed on the direction, the crew began to design and build each of the elements that are used in the set.
"This show was difficult at first. We found a middle ground by creating a more neutral set that suggests age and the passage time, but also incorporates modern elements. I’m especially happy with the way the stone walls came out. They give the stage a sense of depth," says Enzo. "The moments just before and after the show are most satisfying for me. You feel like you and the actors are all part of the same thing. We always feel that way, but it’s most visible then."
The Massachusetts High School Festival is the premier annual event for the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild. It includes 112 one-act plays produced by member high schools. The competition is organized on three levels – preliminary, semi-final and state. Student excellence in acting and technical design is recognized at each level, including the selection of an All-Star Company at the finals.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The preliminary round of the High School Drama Festival will take place on Saturday, March 3, when St. John’s hosts seven other high schools. Festival rules limit each school’s production to 40 minutes, making for an exciting theatrical experience. St. John's is scheduled to perform at 2 pm sharp. Seating is very limited. Please arrive early, as no latecomers will be admitted. Admission is $10 at the door.
Saturday Show Schedule
9 am—"Helga the Reluctant" Beverly High School
10 am—"Perfect Score" Northeast Metro Tech
11:15 am—"Faustus" Arlington Catholic
12:15 pm—"Another American: Asking and Telling" Manchester-Essex High School
2 pm—"Iphigenia 2.0" St. John's Prep
3 pm—"Punk Rock" Shrewsbury High School
4:30 pm—"The Great Nursing Home Escape" Tewksbury High School
5:30 pm—"The Tailor" Salem High School
"Iphegenia 2.0" CAST
Old Man: Nick Pocharski
Agamemnon: Alexander Kosciuszek
Soldier: Sebastian Roizner
Soldier: Benjamin Smith
Soldier: Devyn Berry
Soldier: Ryan Jackson
Soldier: Cameron LaPierre
Soldier: Max Olson
Iphigenia: Cait Gagnon
Clytemnestra: Athena Nickole
Wedding Party: Andrew McClelland
Wedding Party: Danny Bisson
Wedding Party: Marena Anderson
Wedding Party: Matthew Green
Menelaus: David Ducharme
Achilles: Cole Steeves
Artistic Director: Ms. Alicia Greenwood
Technical Director: Ms. India Lee
Stage Manager: Lars Purcell
Assistant Stage Manager: Michael Clifford
Assistant to the Director: Brigid Waldron
Festival Coordinator: Corey Brown
Lighting Design: Lars Purcell, Jack Clasby, Jack Charron
Lighting Technicians: Tyler Connolly, Luke Hollenbeck
Sound Design: Colin Linehan, David Gilblair, Paul Wehle, Spencer Lawson
Costume Design and Construction: Casey Beriau, David Estabrooks, T.J. Grant, Erik Martin
Properties: Gabriel Gonzalez, John Sheridan
Scenic Design: Enzo Arcari, Esteban Galindo-Carvajal, Cam Keezer
Set Construction/Scenic Painting: Enzo Arcari, Blake Buonopane, Joe Carter, Connor Duggan, Diego Farrell, Ethan Finnegan, Justin Grannis, Cam Keezer, John Sheridan, Matthew Pasersky