The Greek Mythology Olympiaganza

Pit & Balcony Theatre Presents the Entire History of Greek Mythology in a Madcap Extravaganza of History, Slapstick, and a Lens into Contemporary Culture

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 927   By: Robert E Martin

17th March, 2022     0

With Pit & Balcony Theatre’s upcoming regional premier of playwright Don Zolidis’ explication of the entire foundational history of Greek mythology showcased in The Greek Mythology Olympiaganza, audiences are treated to a classical education, rendered within a contemporary context, and presented in an unconventional manner utilizing interactive participation, cross-dressing, elements of slapstick, and general theatrical insanity.

Scheduled for a series of performances running March 25-27 & April 1-3rd, the stage is transformed into a classroom where two battling narrators attempt to both educate and entertain by offering their interpretations of such famous myths as Pandora’s Box, Jason & the Argonauts, and Hercules, with this entire melee culminating  in a bizarre, musical dance-influenced version of The Iliad, complete with a full-scale battle of little green army men guaranteed to provide a wild and fun-filled ride for audiences of all ages.

Most intriguing, however, is that considering how ancient Greek theatre evolved out of a culture back in 700 B.C that transformed the city-state of Athens into a significant cultural, political, and religious epicenter during this period - it truly does mark the fundamental beginning of Modern Western theatre today, which in large measure borrows technical terminology, classification into genres, and many of its themes, stock characters, and plot elements from the theatre of Ancient Greece.

It was during this ancient period that theatre was institutionalized as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honored the god Dionysus. Tragedy (late 500 BC), comedy (490 BC) and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there.  Subsequently, Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies from where Western Theatre evolved.

According to Director Spencer Beyerlein, the two narrators along with seven other cast members render these various mythologies such as the Trojan War from a script broken down into 12 chapters that allow enormous space for improvisation and flexibility.  “What I found interesting about this script is that it  gives the Director an option to take chapters out from the script,” he reflects. “Ten would make a full length play, but I didn’t want to do that for the sake of continuity and most importantly, because it goes through the history of Greek mythology from the very beginning, audiences wouldn’t get the full effect of the show by eliminating chapters.”

“One of the reasons I was drawn to this production is that the script didn’t take itself as seriously as the subject matter it covers,” continues Beyerlein. “A lot of the things that the audience sees happening onstage are choices of the actors, such as their interpretations of the characters. You may hear a lot of accents that initially don’t make sense, but as a Director I wanted the actors to focus upon character associations, so if one of the actors is portraying a regal character they might be doing it with the accent of an upper class British aristocrat.   Similarly, Prometheus is described as a small Titan, so the actor may choose to speak in a voice that transforms that character into a Nerd.  I find this latitude of choice inspirational.”

When asked about the most challenging component posed by this production to Beyerlein as a Director, he references the diversity of characters involved. “With this show specifically everybody plays multiple sets of characters,” he explains.  “We have nine cast members playing roughly eighty characters, so that’s one of the challenges. I spent a lot of time in pre-directing figuring which characters could be doubled with other characters and what actor would be a good fit for each particular role.”

“If you don’t count the two narrators that means we have seven actors portraying eleven roles which is a bit of a challenge for the actors and each of them has done an amazing job working through that challenge.”

With a cast that consists of Kennedy Danner and Elijah Feinaur as the Narrators and Justin Russell, Annie Gower, Delanae Melton, Hannah Hartwell, Riley Salvner, Savannah Senyk, and Madi Brooks in the ensemble, Beyerlein says that he had a good turnout for auditions and they went really well.  “We gave the actors some warm reads and then threw out some cold reads to see what kind of choices each actor would make in the moment and we found what we were looking for in terms of a cast that has the ability to think on their feet and make good choices.” 

“Zeus is one of the most well-known gods and is featured in five of the myths; and Hercules has his own story but is also a main character in the next story, so if you follow through the complexities of these characters that are the driving forces of Greek mythology, the need for a strong and versatile ensemble is obvious.”

When Beyerlein looks at this production not only in terms of how to stage and present the narrative, but to attract and engage the audience, what does he feel people who attend will come away from this production?

“In a nutshell it is very educational slapstick,” he responds. “For example, one scene references how the birth of children comes from cutting off a hydra’s head, or finding a dragon’s tooth in the ground, so at the end the narrator might say, ‘Always listen to your folks kids or you might get eaten by a monster!”

“Despite lots of powerful moments, nothing is taken too seriously,” he continues. “One of the over-arching themes is how women were treated and presented in mythology, so one of our narrator’s is a feminist and mentions that fact. Indeed, there’s lot of topical issues that are referenced in a light-hearted way.”

“Another direction I went with to show the timelessness of these stories is by relating these characters into today’s world,” states Beyerlein.  “One of the exercises we did with the actors was have a dramatist write a description of each character and their role in each of the myths; and then we had the actors pick somebody from pop culture they see as this character - they could be cartoon characters, actors, musicians, live-action characters from different TV shows - but I wanted it representative of someone occupying space in contemporary culture today.”

“I felt this was a way to allow the actors to have fun while also showing the timeliness of these characters,” he continues. “These myths may have taken place way back when, but these characters that  existed back then were made immortal through the expanse and strength of the mythology they created.”

“The script isn’t childish by any means, but it doesn’t take itself seriously, either,” concludes Beyerlein. “It is very fast paced and one of the things I like about it is that it never appeared on Broadway. A lot of playwrights write because they want to tell a story and they don’t write it to fit the Broadway formula, so people don’t come into the play with expectations and get to experience the show when they see it. It’s always nice as a director not to have to worry about your production being compared to another well-known production that the audience may have seen on Broadway or in a movie.”

“People should come and see this show if they have an open mind and like to have fun and aren’t afraid to laugh. There might be jokes that some people think are funny and others won’t find funny; and some you may find funny but are afraid to laugh at, but to me that’s the point!”

Pit & Balcony’s production of The Greek Mythology Olympiaganza will run from March 25 -27 and April 1-3. Showtime is 7:30 PM Fridays & Saturdays with 3:00 PM Sunday matinees. Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased by phoning 989.754.6587 or by visiting PitandBalconyTheatre.com

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