Actors and directors at the University of Maine are embracing change as they rehearse for Metamorphoses, a play that explores transformations.
Many of their adjustments are because the play takes place in an 18-inch-deep, 30-foot-wide-by-14-foot-long pool filled with 8,500 gallons of water. UMaine Associate Professor of Theatre Marcia Joy Douglas directs the production, in which 150 audience members will be seated on stage adjacent to the actors.
“It’s such a unique theater experience,” says Douglas. “I love the magic that takes place in a theater. The lights, the sounds, the costumes — all of it, in particular with this show. I can guarantee people have never seen anything like it.”
Playwright Mary Zimmerman earned a Tony Award for best direction in her Broadway hit Metamorphoses, which she based on David R. Slavitt’s translation of Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid wrote the poem of 15 books and more than 250 myths, circa A.D. 8, the same year that Augustus exiled him. It explores transformations undergone from the beginning of time until Julius Caesar was deified.
During rehearsals, Douglas says she kept inventing ways to best use the water — which represents cleansing, dying, change and emotion. “It’s a character in the play,” she says.
Each central character — whether it’s King Midas or Myrrha — imparts a lesson. “Myths teach us about what it is to be human,” she says.
Douglas chose Metamorphoses after asking UMaine Assistant Professor and set designer Daniel Bilodeau for titles of plays he would like to design. “I like to get input,” she says. “I’ve never had a designer take me up on it before. I asked Dan about five times, ‘Are you sure we can do the pool?’”
Technical Director Joe Donovan constructed the pool, which is almost completely drained after each night’s rehearsal. Each afternoon it’s refilled with hot water and a chlorine tablet is added. Bilodeau said structural engineers rated the stage floor, which is directly above the costume shop, to ensure it could safely sustain the weight of the filled pool.
The water was a big draw for Nellie Kelly, a junior theatre and history major from Boothbay, Maine, who plays Myrrha. “I’ve done a lot of shows but the idea of working in a pool was an awesome opportunity,” says Kelly. “When we added costumes it became more challenging. The fabric gets heavy and your movement slows but that adds interest.”
Approximately 50 students are taking part in the School of Performing Arts’ production, in which 13 actors don 85 costumes designed by Jonna Klaiber. “It’s challenging with the costumes getting wet every night,” Klaiber says good-naturedly. “I painted some of the costumes in an artistic way and that got washed out.”
There will be seven performances — at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 17 and 24. Content is mature. Tickets are $10, free with a student MaineCard. Tickets may be purchased at umaine.edu/spa or at the door one hour before the show. To request a disability accommodation, call 207.581.1781.