Director, cast and crew discuss the prep work behind their physical ensemble, storytelling and “sharply controlled chaos.”
As the assistant director of the Pomona College production “Metamorphoses,” Anais Gonzalez Nyberg PO ’20 appreciates the challenge of re-telling a mythical story in the 21st century.
“We live in a world where there are many stories that are beautiful and touching but are rooted in very disturbing and distressing places,” she said. “It feels encouraging to tackle that challenge here and now, while we’re in this space together.”
Nyberg works closely with the play’s director, Jessie Mills, an assistant professor of theatre and dance at Pomona. Since her sophomore year, Nyberg has been a part of the play selection committee that carefully picked out “Metamorphoses,” a modern adaption of Ovid’s timeless Greco-Roman myths, for this year’s production.
“Metamorphoses” plunges theatergoers into a complex world where humans, gods and nature intermingle, and where dramatic figures, characters and narrators merge into real-life resemblances.
Coupled with a mixture of pathos, tragedy and humor, the play often deals with sensitive and distressing material. Mills regularly talks with the cast about how they approach the play and how they can honor both the playwright’s story and “the hearts, bodies and minds” of those on stage and in the audience.
“Theatre is a live animal, and so it can be in discovering how to best solve these moments … that the whole team is collaborating and actually really communicating with each other,” she said.
From cultivating their group scenes to building off one another, the cast and crew engage deeply with their work.
“Besides the narrator, there are no parts that are singular in nature; they’re all interwoven between the other scenes and the other actors,” said Jonathan Wilson PO ’19, who plays Midas, Orpheus and Apollo. “It is by far the most ensemble-oriented show I’ve ever done, which is really amazing.”
Describing her style of directing, Mills said: “In graduate school, the ‘tag’ that they gave me, like my elevator pitch, was ‘sharply controlled chaos.’ You’ll see some of that in this play.”
Mills believes her role is to encourage actors to experiment and run with their own ideas.
“My job … is to actively listen and then respond to what’s being said, so many of the choices that you’ll see, I shaped, but they didn’t necessarily generate from me,” she said.
Mills also appreciates the care her cast and crew take with their performance of the play.
“This group of humans is just so good to each other, and just so gracious about how they approach this text,” Mills said. “At the end of the day, this text is about the power of transformation and the power that love has.”
Stage director Marissa Parks SC ’20 is responsible for coordinating between students and department staff, arranging rehearsal schedules and keeping track of props, stage set, sounds, lighting and more.
“Personally, [opening night is] my favorite night of the entire year,” she said. “Because, for me, I’m sitting in the booth and I get to say ‘go!’ on the lights. And just seeing all of the actors’ hard work and all of the designers’ hard work all come together to create this whole moment is just the best feeling.”
Despite busy schedules and a weekly 20-hour commitment, actors constantly show up ready to take on the stage.
“I may be tired from having a long day, but I always get so much energy with me and the people in this space; it’s kind of intoxicating,” said Claire Pukszta SC ’19, who plays Myrrha, among other roles.
Mills said she is proud of the entire cast and the ways they have dived into their characters with emotional depth and clarity.
“It’s a rare space to work with humans who have the bandwidth, openness and curiosity to explore something with such joy and commitment,” she said.
“Metamorphoses” is running through March 9 at Seaver Theatre. Get tickets online here.
Ariel So SC ’20 previously served as TSL’s editor-in-chief.