Actors Ariel Glidden

Actors Ariel Glidden

Ancient poetry all the rage

Theatre group tackles modern adaptation of Ovid epic

A mythological hexametre poem from the time of Christ might not sound like first choice material for modern “yolo”ing teenagers, but a group of theatre students might just surprise you.

The 15- to 18-year-olds take advanced theatre classes at Kate Rubin’s Theatre and Drama Studio and perform one major show at a professional venue per year. This year they are taking the stage at Intrepid Theatre, 2-1609 Blanshard St., starting May 8.

“They’re a group of very committed, focused and experienced theatre students,” Rubin said.

Metamorphoses is Roman poet Ovid’s epic masterwork, first published sometime around 8 AD. Through more than 250 myths, the work covers the history of humanity from the creation of the world to the times of the Roman Empire.

Fast forward 2,000-odd years and American playwright Mary Zimmerman adapts the poem for contemporary theatre, modernizing the language and paring it down to a few select myths. The play ran on Broadway in 2002 and won several Tony Awards that year.

Rubin hadn’t even considered the play for her class, but a couple of the students had seen it years before and asked for it as their major project.

“They saw it when they were 10 years old and they loved it,” Rubin said. “There’s a lot of humour in it and the text is not dense, it’s modern so it’s easy to understand. It’s poetic but really accessible.”

Actors Sara Merner, 16, and Shayna Linds, 18, were the two students to suggest the play. Merner read it last summer, while Linds saw it performed about five years ago. Each thought it a perfect project for the troupe, both for its content and for the challenge.

“It just stuck with me completely,” Linds said. “It’s got some gorgeous writing. … There’s 10 of us playing over 60 characters, so we all have to get out of our comfort zones at times.”

“There’s a lot of teenage emotions that people can relate to within the play,” Merner said. “A lot of the Greek myths, they’re very old, but they’re adapted so that they can be more modern and people can relate to them now.”

Doing a show at a playhouse is a worthwhile experience for the students, said Rubin, as they learn firsthand how to stage a play with proper lighting, sets and acoustics.

An added challenge to this production is a water feature that takes centre stage. A 16-inch high pool plays more than a small role in the retelling.

“A lot of the action takes place in the water,” Rubin said. “That’s going to be quite a cool and interesting moment to see how that goes.”

One of the myths surrounds King Midas, who wishes all he touches turns to gold. The wish is granted and it goes swimmingly until the King’s young child jumps into his arms.

Rubin has adapted the myth to a modern setting and to feature a queen rather than a king because, as she explained, she usually has far more girls than boys in her theatre classes.

“They’re not just moral tales, there’s some that are more metaphoric,” Rubin said. “Sometimes they’re just more allegories or they’re myths that just tell a story. You put your own interpretation to them.”

Phoenix Theatre put on a production of the play about six years ago in Victoria, to general acclaim. This is the first time the material will have been tackled by young actors here though. Rubin said they’re ready.

“We make an assumption about teenagers sometimes about what they can handle. But I think it’s all about how it’s done and how they connect to it.

“They’re high-functioning, committed, totally into it kind of teens. Lots of energy and really keen.”

Metamorphoses runs from May 8 to 11 at 8 p.m., with 12:30 p.m. matinees on Thursday, May 9 and Friday, May 10 and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, May 12. Tickets are $12 for adults, $9 for students and seniors, and are available at the door. May 8 is a preview night, with tickets $9 for adults and $6 for students and seniors.

Advance ticket sales are available by phone at 250-370-9800 or email at kellgreenandgold@gmail.com.