Metamorphoses a Transformative Experience


Watershed production includes daring set and inspired cast

By Laura Meader
Photography by Kendyl Sullivan '11

Students perform Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses in Strider Theater.
Ripples brush the water as a laundress dabbles her foot in a tranquil pool. Humming softly, she and her companions set about their task: narrating the opening scene of Metamorphoses in Strider Theater.

A pool? In Strider Theater?

Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, which ran for two sold-out weekends in November, showcased nine stories based on Greek and Roman mythology. This ambitious production, including a cast of 23 students and two emeriti faculty members—Dick Sewell and Abbott Meader—included a 12- by 28-foot pool meant to “reflect and complement” the characters’ transformations.

Professor Lynne Conner, who directed the play, staged Metamorphoses to link theater and dance in one production. Conner’s troupe created a remarkable sensory experience with a corps de ballet, original music by Peter de Klerk, video projection, and song.

“There is talent here at Colby,” Conner said, noting that only five cast members were theater-and-dance majors. “I was aware of the inexperience for only a week and then it wasn’t a factor.” Conner’s coaching coupled with choreography by visiting artist Daphne McCoy allowed the company to jell on stage.

“Lynne made it easy for us,” said Ahmed Asi ’13J, who played Ceyx and Hades. Asi, a government major with no prior theater experience, was allowed to explore his characters but incorporated Conner’s suggestions into his roles. “She guided me, but she didn’t tell me what to do.”

“This ensemble was a very supportive group all around,” said Adjunct Associate Professor Jim Thurston, “so it just made it a joy to work on every aspect of the project.”

Thurston designed the 2,500-gallon pool, six inches deep in the front and almost four feet in the upstage “well,” through which some characters entered or exited the stage. The well was reinforced to help hold the 20,000 pounds of water.

Myrrha wakes from her fitful sleep ready to confront her inner demons. Photo by Jeff Earickson.
Whether the actors were ankle deep, kneeling, or fully submerged, the water had powerful effects: the gentle splash of Psyche’s footfall as she tiptoed around sleeping Eros; waves crashing across the stage as Poseidon and his henchmen swamped Ceyx’s vessel and drowned him; a drenched Myrrha, emerging from restless sleep as the water washed down her body. 

“We worked pretty intently on this project for about a year,” Thurston said. After constructing scale models, the crew built a test pool last summer to see how best to contain the water and build a functional edging. Construction of the final pool began in the shop in September. Sections were moved on stage in October and the liner, a rubber roofing membrane, was installed. It took four hours to fill the pool with a garden hose run from the shop in late October. A few more days were needed to heat it to 85 degrees.  

Thurston emphasized the collaboration required. Colby engineers, technicians, plumbers, electricians, and others came together behind the scenes. Costume designer Christine Nilles, in addition to her design work, ensured that the “mountain of towels” used each night were in place. “What it underscores, in the end result,” Thurston said, “is a fantastic definition of what a community is.”

Psyche watches as Eros sleeps.
Metamorphoses was well received across campus. “Honestly it was one of the best-done plays I’ve seen,” said Katie Littleton ’10, who has attended numerous productions at Colby. Christie Brown ’10 called the play “modern and very sophisticated.” Recognition also came from off campus when cast members Alexandra Desaulniers ’11 and Michael Trottier ’12 were selected to participate in the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in January.

However, watching the student actors and managers grow was most rewarding for Conner. “It’s really about the way in which, over time, they take on confidence as collaborators,” she said, “working to solve the puzzle that a production of this magnitude represents.”

Abby Crocker ’13, who played Myrrha in an incest scene with her father, Cinyras, said the scene was daunting and even disturbing but ultimately rewarding. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” Crocker said. “But I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”

“Talk about metamorphoses,” Conner concluded. “These students have been transformed by the experience.”

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  • On December 2, 2009, John Ervin wrote:
    For the record, the pool took only four hours to fill, but required 12 hours to drain when we went to take it apart.
  • On February 20, 2011, Maddison wrote:
    The pool you constructed looks fantastic. My Theatre Studies class is currently doing this same play, but unfortunately we are unable to have a pool on stage the way that you did. I'm sure your production would have been fantastic just by looking at your set.