Last weekend, the Muhlenberg Theatre Department opened the spring semester with a staged reading of a new, unreleased play entitled: “(&Medea).” The play is a retelling of the classic Greek mythological tale of Jason and Medea, but with a particular focus on Medea, as the name suggests.
This production was directed by Visiting Assistant Professor Jamie McKittrick ‘03 and written by Jess Shoemaker. Shoemaker was intensely involved in the rehearsal process, rewriting and reworking the script according to the discoveries made and impulses found by the student actors in the room.
“I know the playwright, Jess Shoemaker. We’ve been figuring out something to work on together for a while now and she sent me this play, ‘(&Medea),’ to read as a project for new work development. I fell in love with the text and the story Jess was trying to uncover, and I immediately thought the material would be incredibly effective and affecting through the voices of undergrads,” explained McKittrick on the topic of how this unique opportunity came to Muhlenberg. “Many folks in college are in the throes of so many firsts that this play addresses–first loves, first romances, first losses of friendship, first breakups–I figured the material might mean something to the students… Also, the process of new play development is an important aspect of our field for the students to engage with. Pedagogically, I want the students to be able to come out of this process confident in how to work in the process of new play development.”
“I fell in love with the text and the story Jess was trying to uncover, and I immediately thought the material would be incredibly effective and affecting through the voices of undergrads.”–Jamie McKittrick
A staged reading requires a lot more creative minimalism in staging choices than a fully realized production. One of the most impactful choices made was the use of the chorus. Without a set, they created the entire atmosphere, making sound effects and music with their voices, the music stands the text sat on, and bowls of water and sponges. Their performance was essential in revealing the emotions Medea (and others) felt through this retelling.
“I loved having a playwright in the room. For pretty much every day of rehearsal, she was there and she was very receptive and just very caring about our impulses and what we wanted as actors. I thought that was very generous and I’ve just never worked with a playwright in the room before, so I thought that was a really wonderful experience,” said Ava Pirie ‘23, a member of the chorus.
The show’s company were not the only ones involved in the development. After each performance, McKittrick and Shoemaker hosted a talkback in which they asked the audience questions about their reaction to the show. The responses given will be considered as “(&Medea)” moves towards official publication.
“I really enjoyed how well-thought-out and how modern, in a way, it was, and how it was attuned to the audience’s reactions, and they kind of played off of that as well. It was a really interesting production and they did an amazing job. I’m so lucky that I got to watch and witness it,” remarked Ava Duskic ‘23.
“It was so cool to see the Greek epic being given new meaning through the talented cast and powerful script. The talkback afterward was also super engaging as it allowed audiences the opportunity to connect with the playwright and director and dive a little deeper into the specific choices that were made,” reflected Mattea Pappa ‘26.
“We’ve been sitting with the story and kind of hearing it out for a couple of weeks now, and we were just so ready to share it with everyone. And I think, at least from my little chorus spot, that I was able to see just how impactful it was for a lot of people, and I’m excited that everyone gets to see it!” said Sydney Holliday ‘23 after a successful opening night.
“This process was super fast but necessary to the development of the show. I learned so much from Jamie and Jess. This production truly shows what it’s like to be left behind and I hope it resonated with the audience,” remarked Robin Title ‘25.
“(&Medea)” had an expedited rehearsal process, as its performance dates were quite early in the semester. Most of the rehearsals took place during the intensive week over winter break, but this brought some of the most special moments the cast and creative team had.
“One moment that I found incredibly heartening was when we were in the Empie [Theatre] during our intensive week. We had been singing together and the chorus had really started to figure out how to integrate the two songs we were working with into the soundscape work we had been developing. We had to break for lunch, but no one really seemed to want to stop singing so I told them that they were released for lunch but that they could keep singing on their way out of the theatre. They did and it was gorgeous and playful and full of joy. I could hear their collective singing fade away out of the theatre and then out of the [Center for the Arts],” reflected McKittrick.
“This production truly shows what it’s like to be left behind and I hope it resonated with the audience.”–Robin Title ’25
“(&Medea)” was a very successful and unique opportunity for Muhlenberg theatre, met with approval and love from its audiences.
Shira Holtz ‘24 who played Heller, Medea’s sister and a new character addition to the play, stated “I absolutely loved getting to work on ‘(&Medea)’. Getting to work on a new piece with the playwright in the room was such a special and unique experience, particularly as a student. A major part of our process was figuring out the chorus which we all got to take part in, even if we weren’t cast as members of the chorus. And for Heller specifically, we focused on zeroing in on this ‘love triangle’ between Medea, Heller and Jason. Medea and Heller’s sisterly love seems stronger than anything else in the world… until Jason shows up. Getting to work with Jess and Jamie and Desiree [Oliver ‘25] (who played Medea) to strengthen the sisterly bond in the script was so wonderful. In doing a staged reading, we really got to focus on text and sound which allowed us to really get to the heart of the story.”
Olive added, “My experience during ‘(&Medea)’ was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in a production. Jamie taught me so many new approaches to acting and getting in and out of character. I also learned what it really meant to be present on stage. On top of that the literal playwright was in the room with us which was so cool. Everyone involved was spectacular and I am so honored that I got to work with all of them. If I could do it all again I absolutely would! I can honestly say this experience changed the way I think about theatre and helped me understand what type of theatre I want to be a part of in the future.”