Classic myths often find their way onto the contemporary stage. Two Chicago companies are in the midst of examining the story of Medusa through new work. Otherworld Theatre closes a double-header of Bella Poynton’s Medusa Undone and Elizabeth Ann Michaela Keel’s Corona this weekend. Meanwhile, Global Hive Laboratories and Pop Magic Productions start the Chicago leg of an international devising project based on Medusa. Tiffany Keane Schaefer (Artistic Director, Otherworld Theatre) and Denise Yvette Serna (Global Hive Laboratories/Pop Magic Productions) both shared their thoughts on why Medusa captured their attention and what the myth still holds for audiences today.
BTD: What drew each of you to this source material?
Serna: I have always been interested in working with international practitioners. Taking on that challenge, I knew we would need source material that could serve as a touchstone for theatre makers from around the world. Ancient material has cultural contexts, translations, and interpretations that felt like interesting common ground to start on. Specifically, the story of Medusa is one of a woman being punished for being the victim of sexual violence, which feels particularly relevant today.
Schaefer: For us, it was about discovering such a unique script. We worked very closely with the playwright to find an exciting place to play between this classic story and Otherworld’s commitment to fantasy and science fiction. We were eager to have a conversation about victim blaming and patriarchal power structures within the mythology. There’s a line in the play, “how can I punish the gods for something that I can’t even speak?” that sticks with me every time I hear it.
BTD: How would you describe the tone of your piece?
Serna: Magical. They’ll be live music and soundscape, as well as multi sensory experiences. We’re also building a multidisciplinary ensemble, including clowns, cirque performers, and live painters. Very important to us is the fact that this piece is multilingual. The material of this piece will come directly from the people in it, using whatever means and language they need.
Schaefer: Foreboding and intimate. Our production centers on the relationship between Poseidon and Medusa. We stay close to the narrative of the myth, but focus on the friendship, manipulation, and abuse that are all intertwined. The tone moves from familiar and lighthearted to something much more sinister, a shift that feels all too familiar to some women.
BTD: Why do you think this story can hold such variety of interpretations?
Serna: There are so many themes in the story of Medusa that are part of larger, very important conversations happening right now. I want to explore a woman in a position in authority and the power dynamics inherent in our myths. What does it mean to change into something you weren’t before, into something you didn’t necessarily want to be, but have to live with?
Schaefer: Transformation is at the heart of this story. Medusa Undone asks how experience transforms us, literally. How does society make women into monsters? Science fiction and fantasy work really well as metaphors for the female experience. The tropes of the genres become means for real political commentary on the current state of affairs. I love how this story can still speak so directly to us, right now.
The Greeks by Bella Poynton Elizabeth Ann Michaela Keel, directed by Tiffany Keane Schaefer. Otherworld Theatre, 3914 N Clark Street, (773) 857-2116, otherworldtheatre.org, pay-what-you-can. Through May 18th.
Medusa, devised by Global Hive Laboratories, produced by Pop Magic Productions. Led by Denise Yvette Serna. Auditioning on May 18th & 25th with performances set for August 16th-25th. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.