We are hours away from opening night. My heart is full and proud. And for the first time in my directing career, I don’t have to run lights or sound for a show I have produced. I get to sit in the audience. This is HUGE. In the last few moments before we open, I want to take a moment to breathe it all in and remember just how much talent and creativity came together to make this incredible piece of theatre we have to share with the audience tonight.
The play would not be structured, researched, lit, or supported in the incredible way it is, if not for Laura Nessler and Kim Morris, script advisors extraordinaires; Sarah Sapperstein and her dramaturgy superpowers; Mike Smith and his ninja light skills; Lexi Saunders and her exquisite attention to detail as an Assistant Director; and the incredible support of our production manager, Erik Tylkowski and all the other lovely humans I have yet to meet at the Chicago Fringe Festival.
I don’t want to give away any of the secrets, magic, or voodoo that went into making this production, but I’d like to offer you a quick peek at my perspective of the show. The who and the what that made and continues to make this show magical each time I watch it.
In the beautiful handmade dresses Penelope and the maids wear I am reminded of Carla Hamilton’s text to me the night she finished dying them. No message, just a row of hanging haunted dresses. In the masks, I remember Sarah Coleman’s email with the early stages of the ‘Suitors’ masks and how captivating they were even in clay version. When I hear ‘Dreamboats,’ composed by Josh Dumas, I think about how we both HAAAAAATED the song on paper and how hearing it in the girls’ mouths gave us an opportunity to make a big choice in the script.
In all three of our “showstopper” numbers I can see Sheena counting out the steps of the dance and changing the lyrics of the songs to match the description of the moves she was teaching. “Oh Wily Odysseus, SLOSH YOUR BOWL, with a boat full of loot and hands, hands, hands!” When I see the Oracle make its way across the stage, I am reminded Genevieve is the one of the strongest and most body smart people I know. Anytime Eurycleia or Odysseus bumble or strut, respectively, across the stage I am reminded of the look of relief on Jackie’s face when we decided she did not have to magic herself between being two people onstage at once!
When Danielle dons her Telemachus mask each and every night, I think of the movement portion of her audition when I thought to myself, before she had even spoken, I think I found my Telemachus. Similarly, when Lisa slowly crosses the stage as the Naiad Mother, I think back to the ballet portion of the audition when a beam of bright light suddenly shined down from the heavens on Lisa’s graceful and elegant dancing and I knew I had a Naiad Mother, too.
When Tamara dances, haunts, or joins a shape onstage, I think back to the time she mentioned how even while she was in Miami with the House Theatre of Chicago touring an incredible show, she was still wowed by my Pinterest board for this project and I thought, oh yes! Tamara should definitely be in this play! Every time Avery is anywhere near me, my heart leaps with joy that she stepped up to enthusiastically join our process when one of our original twelve maids had to leave the show. I am thrilled every day to have her.
Every actress is an incredible singer in our cast, but Carolyn’s flirty winks during the song ‘If I Were a Princess’ takes me back to the music rehearsals Josh lead at the end of July when I sat and listened to the incredibly powerful instrument of Carolyn’s voice not only leading, but patiently and kindly helping other singers find the notes. The soulful, howling note Lynnette hits in the middle of Dreamboats makes me think back to our first time working together at the end of May when I thought to myself, I know Lynnette has a darling toddler daughter she could be spending her time with, but maybe she would say yes to carving out some time to spend with us in this production. And she said yes.
As soon as Meredith or Nelia step onstage and bring with them the fiery anger of the maids or the sass of the tambourine, I think back on the nights of rehearsals when they would eagerly step up with questions and ideas that were challenging, but incredibly necessary in shaping the show.
When Katya or Jabu enter the stage, I think about how much they have grown as artists since I started directing at Shimer College last year. Every time Katya dances and straight up seduces any single THING in her sight and every time Jabu puts on that Suitor mask, I think-I always knew they were talented, but how I could I not know they were THIS talented?
One of my favorite moments in the play is in the wedding scene, after Penelope has been dressed in all her jewels. As she rises in the center gold-clad and queenly, I think back to over a year ago when I invited Mary Jo Bolduc to have a drink with me at Fountainhead. I wanted to talk to her about a Margaret Atwood novel that I had been in love with for many years that was based on the story of The Odyssey, but told from the point of view of Penelope, the dutiful wife of wily Odysseus, and her twelve maids, who were put to death upon Odysseus' return home. And I thought maybe…she would like to play…Penelope?
We are so ready for you, dear audience. Please enjoy the show. And to all my ‘Penelopiad’ loves, slosh the hell out of your bowls and some fun!
-Erica Barnes, Director of ‘The Penelopiad’