University of Northern Colorado’s School of Theatre Arts and Dance opened their 2019-2020 season with Eurydice, an adapted play by Sarah Ruhl that tells the tragic story of young Eurydice and her journey to the underworld.
Based on Greek mythology, the tale originally follows Orpheus and his search for his recently departed wife Eurydice when she becomes trapped in the Underworld. This particular adaptation written by Ruhl shifts the focus more on Eurydice’s relationship with her father, also in the Underworld. UNC students execute this beautiful piece of theatre extremely well; depicting through poetic language and movement the harshness and difficulty in saying goodbye to someone we love.
With an elaborate and eerie set design by Mia Irwin, a senior design and technology major, the audience is immediately transported to an unearthly world of cold stone, a rain filled elevator and haunting melodies that echo ominously around the room.
Orpheus and Eurydice, respectively played by junior acting major Danny Bennett and senior acting major Shelby Daeffler, exude an undeniable chemistry onstage that tugs at the heartstrings and has audiences rooting for their happy ending.
“Orpheus is such a sad character so there was a bit of a challenge getting all of that into my bones as a comedy-guy, but it was fun to work with the movement elements to find the root of that sadness and the moments of joy behind that,” Bennett said in an email about finding the depths within his character.
The use of movement is an intricate part of this production and all of the actors in Eurydice focused intently on the concept of “moving as one.” All students in the School of Theatre Arts and Dance must take Movement as a course. Dr. Andrea Moon not only directed Eurydice, but also teaches Movement to UNC students.
“When I imagine bringing a play to life I imagine movement in three dimensions, physical images,” Dr. Moon said in an email about implementing movement into Eurydice. “One of the things I teach is the way that our bodies are always communicating truth so the definition of ‘good’ acting is when the emotional narrative we’re telling and the truth being communicated by our bodies come into coordination.”
Daeffler agreed about the importance of movement.
“The movement element has created opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise in our storytelling, like movement as metaphor, passage of time, identity, and even emotions that words alone couldn’t encompass.” says Daeffler.
Bennet said working with movement from an actor’s perspective requires full body control.
“It’s so interesting to see how adjusting the form of movement or breaking it just slightly can completely change what you’re saying,” Bennet said. “There’s a lot of full body control and breath involved. It’s not dance, but it’s much more than just speaking too.”
Many UNC theatre students have the opportunity to be a dramaturg on a mainstage production. Sophomore musical theatre major Christopher Hudson was given that task for Eurydice.
“My role is essentially to know everything about the play,” Hudson said. “I also have to have a deep understanding of the playwright’s intent, which means I research any historical, cultural, or literal context related to the play. This is all done before the actual rehearsal process so that I can summarize my research into a packet for the actors in order to help them with their preparation.”
With Eurydice being an adaptation of the Greek myth, the focus of the story was shifted from Orpheus and Eurydice’s love, to instead, Eurydice’s relationship with her father. The heart wrenching dynamic of a daughter’s rekindled relationship with her father and her father understanding how his daughter ultimately should be with the man she loves was palpable in the theatre.
“It’s rare to find a play that delves into a healthy and loving father-daughter relationship,” Dr. Moon said about the intricacies of this adaption. “I think we have a complicated and sometimes unhealthy relationship to death and loss in this society. Acknowledging the finite nature of our days on this earth can lead us to more deeply appreciate the time we have here and each other.”
So why should students come see Eurydice?
“Every actor on stage is doing such impressive work. Doc Moon’s vision melted together with the designers’ creativity and genius work make such a gorgeous production where you can watch it 20 times and discover new things every time!” says Bennett.
Hudson agreed wholeheartedly with Bennett.
“Sarah Ruhl created a heightened reality that just takes your breath away,” Hudson said. “She retells a classic myth through the agency of a woman and not a man – the world needs this show.”
Daeffler said the performance included several emotions tied together.
“There is a marriage between technology, acting, design, and script that is quite literally all-encompassing. It is shocking, lovely, heartbreaking, and hopeful in unexpected ways, with a healthy dose of humor too!” says Daeffler.
Vince Dang, a sophomore musical theatre major was an audience member during the production.
“All the characters, no matter how abstract and outlandish they seemed, made the connection between Eurydice and Orpheus feel very grounded and real,” Dang said.
Another audience member, Vinny Wilson, a UNC Alumnus and musical theatre major, said “Being able to watch the magic that was Eurydice was absolutely breathtaking. I was in awe from start to finish, leaving with poetic words and brilliant imagery in my head!”
Without giving away any secrets, Eurydice opens the 2019-2020 season with incredible energy, vulnerability, and physicality. Students in the School of Theatre Arts and Dance put in countless hours of work into mainstage productions; from designers, actors, costumers and directors. This production is no exception and no doubt warms the hearts of audience members, as well as makes us stop and think about what it means to love, in any capacity.
Eurydice performed in the Norton Theatre from Sept. 26 through Oct. 6.