Click through for this week's edition of Jonny Jimison's Rabbit Trails. Click here to check out more of Jonny Jimison’s work at his website. Read More
Editor’s note: Blackbird Theater’s musical theater epic, Myth, premieres next Friday night. Anastina McKelvey is working behind the scenes on the production and we asked her to give us a peek behind the curtain. Tickets to the show are available in the Rabbit Room store at discounted prices just for our readers. We hope to see some of you there.
Tonight is the first full-cast, full-score rehearsal for Myth, Blackbird Theater’s latest musical. Leaning against the far wall of the mirrored classroom, I silently observe thirty backs seated in thirty mismatched folding chairs. When the music director snaps his fingers to establish a beat, the cast follows. Open scorebooks fill every lap, pens dash off notes as quickly as possible, and a few errant feet help their bodies keep time to the music. As the voice of the twenty-person chorus converges for the first time, the room itself seems to swell and tense, but maybe it’s only me. None of the actors seem to notice. Their individual voices weave seamlessly in and out of the song with such a haunting sense of belonging that I forego my search for soloists in favor of letting the whole sound lace around me.
Wes Driver and Greg Greene, founders of Blackbird Theater, have been writing Myth for years. The story’s inspiration came in 1990 shortly after Greene studied the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid. He recalls the “profound gap between the personalities deified by the ancient Greeks and the modern, western conception of capital-g God. The Olympians held unrivaled power . . . but there is little that we would describe as ‘godly’ about these gods. They are often the worst characters, morally, in the myths.”
From such musing over the humanness of the ancient gods and the ensuing fragmented relations between heaven and earth, came the idea of a girl whose life is unjustly shattered by Zeus. Myth tells the story of Acacia, Princess of Athens, who in her struggle to understand loyalty and justice, unwittingly undermines Mount Olympus and the Greek pantheon.
Though the idea behind Myth began over twenty years ago, the story is only now coming to fruition. Driver and Greene have spent years with the characters and events, shaping the narrative and preparing it for stage. The existence of Blackbird Theater itself is a direct result of Myth; as they could find no theater company willing to assume the financial risk of producing an untested production of this scale, the two friends decided to establish their own non-profit theater company—but Myth was wildly ambitious, something they would have to build up to. After several acclaimed seasons staging productions like G. K. Chesterton’s Magic, George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, John Logan’s Red, and their original plays Twilight of the Gods and Roger’s Version, Driver and Greene are at last prepared to premiere the story that started it all.
What Greene first envisioned twenty-five years ago has metamorphosed into a ninety-four person project, with a full crew attending to every aspect of lighting, props, construction, wigs, and make up. The score is a delightful mix of Greek chorus and modern musical. The sets are eloquent in their familiar otherworldliness. The costumes land somewhere between unsettling and beautiful.
As opening night approaches (next Friday), Blackbird considers what they want the audience to discover in the narrative: “We hope our audience will be transported [and] will connect with the characters. We hope—and this is wild-eyed dreaming here—that a guest might peer toward his own Mount Olympus and see what unworthy thing he has enshrined there.”
Not only have Driver and Greene accomplished a number of Herculean tasks to bring this new musical into existence, but they have done so with excellence, passion, and humor. Their dedication to their craft is evident in every aspect of the show.
As the cast sings its way through the story, I begin to pick out which actors play which characters—Acacia, Aphrodite, Zeus, Prince Kallisto. Hades is seated directly in front of me, with a voice to put thunder to shame. At his feet lays a terrier with morose eyebrows. There’s an obvious chemistry, an energy that’s building, as the actors begin to play off one another’s characters for the first time.
And I’m here, leaned against the far wall, trying to remain unseen as I watch the transformation happen, feeling a little, perhaps, like a mortal in the halls of Olympus.