Drama production centers women through mythology

“Huntress,” an original senior project in the Drama Department performed last week, used a mythological context to present more nuanced and inclusive roles for women in theater. / Courtesy of Martin Nikolov

This past week, the Experimental Theatre of Vassar College put on “Huntress,” a senior project in drama. This original play was written by seniors Ariel Atlas, Jenna Doherty and Elizabeth Snyderman.

Speaking to the creative process Snyderman recalled, “We started writing it about a year ago, and we were making script changes the Tuesday night before the show went up. We started with a lot of research into Greek and Roman mythology, and then we started developing characters and plotlines, and from there we started fitting things together and reworking it.”

Fellow senior project member Karli Bentley ’17 agreed that this creative process was unlike any she’d been a part of.

As she recalled, “There were script changes still happening the day of our dress rehearsal, so as actors we really had to be flexible and ready to roll with the punches. While this was definitely one of the most challenging rehearsal processes I’ve ever experienced, it also gave me the opportunity to have quite a bit of input when it came to developing my character.

This was Snyderman’s very first time playing a singular role in a show where she wasn’t also the director. Speaking to her specific character, she said, “Atalanta was often a difficult character to get a handle on because she’s very complex. She’s incredibly fierce and confident, but she’s also very silly and soft and vulnerable.”

Bentley has been around the theatrical block during her time here at Vassar, but “Huntress” was a new frontier.

As she said, “What’s been great about doing theatre at Vassar is that I’ve been able to perform in so many different kinds of shows. I’ve done classics like Shakespeare and Chekhov, contemporary plays, a devised piece with Idlewild and now with ‘Huntress’ I’ve had the chance to originate a role in a brand new play. To have had that experience, even given how unorthodox the process has been, has been a huge help to me as an actor as I prepare to leave Vassar and go into the professional world.”

Isabelle Bertram ’18, another actress in the production, recollected, “My process I think was very different than other members of the cast because I was playing the only male characters in the show.

“It was definitely a challenge for me to play two different characters of different ages and romantic interests. My two characters were Hippomenes, in love with Atalanta and Cephalus married to Procris. And ironically enough it’s difficult to portray a character that doesn’t have much of a voice,” she continued.

“Obviously this was intentional to flip the tables a little bit and portray the MALE character as hopelessly in love and unable to really live without a female presence in his life, a bit of a commentary on how women are usually portrayed in art. But my reaction and ability to speak was reliant on my scene partner, this makes memorizing lines pretty simple, and it doesn’t allow for much character growth as the character arc relies totally on my female counterpart. So it was definitely a different process it forced me to make some choices and cling to them,” she concluded.

This highly creative piece was both impressive and important to everybody involved. Snyderman asserted, “Any piece of theater about women is an important piece of theater in my book. Women are so complex and interesting and contradictory, and yet there is a real dearth of work about us. This is also the only play I know of that deals with asexuality, and I think it’s great for asexuals to be able to see themselves represented onstage.”

Bertram agreed: “While it affirms a lot of opinions and views that are held on this campus, this piece was significant in that it made visible a community of people that are normally just lumped into the LGBT mix. I’m talking about asexuality. While this wasn’t intended to be the focus of the show (I believe) it was a detail that other people can connect to or with. I think this piece is a play about women for EVERYONE to see. In theatre there aren’t a lot of plays that highlight positive attributes of women and female friendships and relationships between friends.”

Bertram appreciated that this show portrayed women in a much more complete way, as theater often only grants one-dimensional characterizations to women characters.

As Bertram continued, “[T]his was a show that allowed for the growth and development of female characters throughout the piece, and this is very empowering as woman to see onstage, but this multidimensionality of women should be common knowledge to everyone in our society. So by putting it on stage at Vassar it’s bringing awareness to the fact that you don’t see this sort of thing very often in the professional world, and hopefully encourage other similar works or at least an exploration and expansion of more such works!”

One of the high-risk, high-reward aspects of theatre is being more or less stuck with the same group of people for long hours–often in high-stress situations. This kind of connection can make or break a play, and the chemistry within this cast was apparent.

Due to her specific role, Bertram spent less time at rehearsals, and even, she noted, “Everyone in the cast was a pleasure to be around, very supportive of each other, and fun/funny! All in all it was a great experience, we had a dramatic script change on Tuesday night that caused us to have to re-memorize lines and scenes on Wednesday, the day before the show was to open. But everyone worked really hard and had a great attitude, and that’s really all that matters to make this a wonderful experience.”

Bentley assured that she was in great company in this production. As she affirmed, “I’m honestly just so blown away by every single person in this cast and crew. I really can’t say enough about my fellow actors. This project has been an incredibly challenging one and they all brought their A games regardless. As a senior project member, to see people so willing to give their all to help us make this thing actually happen was incredible.”

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