Though a handful of big productions grace the Claire Trevor School of the Arts theaters each quarter, drama students make sure every stage is bustling with activity. At any given weekend of the academic year, there’s either a main stage show or a student-run workshop. While the main stages are advertised in local publications, featured on the UC Irvine website and entered into campus events calendars, the workshops are generally little known outside of the Arts campus itself.
All year long on the removed island of UCI campus that is the School of the Arts, drama students pick plays, write proposals, assemble creative teams from friends and faculty recommendations, hold auditions, rehearse and present fully realized shows.
Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice,” running this weekend (November 19th and 20th), has been in the works since April. Fourth-year drama major with directing honors Jaymie Bellous received funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) to bring his vision of Ruhl’s retelling of the Orpheus myth to life. Though UROP generally inspires images of research papers and poster presentations, there’s a magical place in which research results in a weekend run of a play.
About a year ago, Bellous first came across “Eurydice” while perusing the Santa Monica Public Library. Initially, it was the cover that drew him in — an ancient Greek name over modern people submerged in a pool as their clothes floated serenely. It was the Orpheus myth (now his favorite) that made him read it, though, and he quickly fell in love with the play.
“I had originally wanted to devise a play as we went, but I was advised that it’d be easier to get funding with a play in mind,” said Bellous. “It was all by chance, but I chose this play because I couldn’t get it out of my head.”
The play, as mentioned, revisits the myth of Orpheus’ descent into the underworld to save his deceased wife Eurydice. Instead of telling the story though the ancient Greek composer, Ruhl tells the story through the eyes of Eurydice. After being lured away by the lord of the underworld on her wedding day by the promise of a letter from her dead father, Eurydice falls to her death. Once in the underworld, Eurydice is greeted by the Stones (who serve as a Greek chorus) who tell her that no emotions or remembrance is allowed there. She meets her late father without recognizing him until he coaxes the memory out of her.
When Orpheus comes to retrieve her, the lord lets her go with him under the condition that Orpheus doesn’t look back at her until they’re both safely out. In the myth, Orpheus can’t help but turn to make sure she’s there, but Ruhl’s Eurydice calls out to him to make him turn, choosing to stay with her father. In the end, all the characters choose to dip into the waters of forgetfulness to accept the peace of death without the memories that keep them anchored to their previous lives.
Ruhl wrote the play some years after her own father’s death and is an introspective piece — if you could have the chance to reconnect with a lost loved one, would you, and at what cost? Bellous was attracted to this sentiment, as well as the transformative journeys the characters take.
“It’s a story that gets told over and over again and the myth itself has always touched me. I really connect to stories about fate tearing people apart from each other,” said Bellous.
Getting “Eurydice” from the page to the stage was not as easy as simply picking a play and writing a UROP proposal. After receiving funding, Bellous set out to build a creative team. His first step was to appoint his good friend Effie Gonis as the production’s dramaturge, a position in a theater company that is dedicated to researching the play while drawing connections to the art of theater, themes and the production’s intentions. He’s also been friends with his lighting director Jennifer Hill and sound designer Elliot Davoren throughout college. Set designer Arnel Sancianco and costume designer Whitney Johnson came to him through faculty recommendations.
With his infrastructure in place, Bellous held auditions at the beginning of fall quarter. To cast the Stones, Bellous organized callbacks that emphasized their ability to improvise and build characters. Once everyone was on board, Bellous’s company had five weeks of rehearsal, an almost unheard of lengthy amount of time in theater world.
“This play is the longest timeline I’ve ever had,” Bellous said. (“Eurydice” is his third time directing.) “It’s given me a long time to dream, so it’s really exciting to see it coming together. Tech week is busy, but for me it’s like Hannukah — every day there’s a new present.”
To see Bellous and his cast and crew’s hard work come to fruition, do a quick search for the “Eurydice” event on Facebook to find out how to see the show. All Drama 198 workshop projects have free admission and offer an excellent chance to broaden your theatrical experience.
“Eurydice” runs Saturday November 19th through November 20th, with two shows on Saturday (at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and at 2 p.m. on Sunday in The Little Theatre (located in Humanities Hall).