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Behind the Scenes of Argonautika

By Layla K.

If you weren’t a part of the fall play Argonautika, you know someone who was. It included a cast of twenty-five people and thirty-one tech and backstage crew working tirelessly behind the scenes. The amount of effort and passion each individual who worked on Argonautika put in during these last three months is astonishing. Last semester, when I heard that the play was about Greek mythology, and the story of Jason and the Argonauts, I had no idea what to expect. After last spring’s modern interpretation of Pirates of Penzance, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Argonauts went onstage with cell phones. My friend Scarlett and I decided in freshman year that no matter what, we would do the theater production every year. Whether or not I knew what the play was about, I would audition. Our director Molly decided to stay mostly committed to the ancient setting, with a few exceptions such as the character Eros listening to Taylor Swift. However, what was very interesting about the script of Argonautika was how it depicted modern social concepts such as the patriarchy. My character in the show, Andromeda, was tied up by her father to be killed by a sea monster. During rehearsals, I remember Molly telling me how some of my lines were motivated by frustration with the patriarchy and the men in the story who ordered for women to be tied up and eaten alive. Another important theme was toxic masculinity, especially among the Argonauts like Hercules, who is so eager to assert his dominance and superiority over the others. It was almost the opposite to Pirates of Penzance. Instead of an old script with modern sets and costumes, Argonautika featured present-day social dynamics in the script with an ancient setting.

Auditions for the theater productions are very nerve wracking because you are always caught off guard. You can prepare and prepare, but in the audition room you might be asked to perform everything all over again but with a twist, like crawling on the ground or pretending you are cleaning up. I was confused at the group audition when we had to do the shaboo-ya chant and embarrass ourselves, stumbling through a rap that we had only a few minutes to prepare. Right from day one, we were pressed for time. The play runs about two hours and fifteen minutes but requires innumerable hours of work. This made the week preceding the play, called tech week, by far the most stressful part of the process. Tech week is when months of rehearsal, set building, costume design, lights, and choreography accumulate. Every time, I get sick. So this year, I went in prepared with tea bags, honey, and melatonin for the nighttime. Nevertheless, I still had a hacking cough. This was especially stressful because this year, along with the pressure of having a longer production, we had a group song to perform as well. The Women of Lemnos song was challenging because of how complicated it was and how little time we had to rehearse it. Initially, there were thirteen singers divided into two groups, the women and the men, whom we nicknamed the “man boat.” We had four-part harmonies and choreography. Our director Molly envisioned that the women would have different babushka headscarves and turn into young women in love with their men, who then kill them after they hear a rumor that they cheated. However, since everyone had many places to be at once, it was difficult for everyone in the song to be available to rehearse at the same time. Everyone was confused, to the point that Scarlett and Rafael filmed a seven-minute long video tutorial for people who weren’t able to practice. We had to change and re-assign parts over and over again, and I was not even sure if the song would come together by the time of the first performance. My most proud moment from the process was after the first performance of the Women of Lemnos song, and nothing went wrong.

Logistically, Argonautika was incredibly complex. The focus of the set was a large, heavy, wooden rake that was lowered and raised in front of the audience as part of the show. This required  There were over thirty characters in the play, each of them requiring unique costumes and props. Understandably, all of these get mixed up in the darkness backstage. During the Thursday night preview, before the scene of the very tall Amycus the Boxer, played by Noah, the important pants that covered up his stilts went missing. Backstage, in the loudest whisper, Noah declared, 

“Do not ever f****ing touch my f***ing pants!” 

Turns out, the pants were thrown under the stage by Joseph and Zia, or Aeson and Alcimede, because they were in need of a prop to use as their baby. Oops. 

Another memorable moment from this process, like every year, is the special drama routines and rituals. Before each performance, we prepared with different special vocal exercises: “Unique New York, New York’s unique, you know you need unique New York.” The most fun aspect of College Prep theater is definitely the community. Since the casts spend so much time together in tech week and rehearsals, everyone is very close and there are many traditions and inside jokes.

Argonautika was fun, and everything is looking good for the next production:, A Chorus Line. Hopefully, the spring musical will out-shine the rest!

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