An ancient tale with a modern message.
The Student Production Association of Lane Community College will debut its new original musical, "The Oresteia Project," on Thursday.
The play, showing through May 7, was written by LCC faculty and students: Dr. Brian Haimbach, head of the Theatre Department; Fine Arts Librarian Jen Ferro; and students Gypsy Prince, Cairo Smith, Morgan Suitor and Ripley Cerna. Cullen Vance composed the music.
"The Oresteia Project" is a Greek tragedy that follows the story of Clytemnestra's rage at her husband, Agamemnon, when he returns from war after having killed their daughter. It follows themes of vengeance, murders and lies.
Haimback said the play is one part rock 'n' roll, one part Broadway musical and one part ancient Greek tragedy.
"The set looks like an ancient Greek theater and a big rock concert had a baby," he said. "Rock 'n' roll is about heightened emotions, excess and going over the top. That's what Greek tragedy does, too."
The original play that the musical is based on, "The Oresteia," is a trilogy that spans 15 years. All Greek tragedies were written in trilogies, and "The Oresteia" is the only one whose three parts have survived to today.
Haimback said he always has wanted to direct "The Oresteia," and the material appeals to him because its subject matter still is relevant 2,500 years after it was written.
He gained inspiration to write the musical after the election of President Trump. He wanted to express his own reactions coming away from the election and also see how young writers related to the story of Oresteia in its wake.
"With the election of Trump, I realized that what I really wanted to investigate was the abuse of power and the cult of personality," he said. "I wanted to see how people in their 20s responded to this play. Like, what do you think about this? In the world that you live in, what resonates for you?"
Haimbach and his team spent about a month between January and February collaborating on the script. Each person chose scenes and ideas from "The Oresteia" that stood out to them, then worked on new conceptions for the musical.
"It's unique because it is so collaborative, a total of six writers worked on it," he said. "It stays in line with the student production mission, but it is brand new."
Some student writers had ideas that Haimbach said he would not have thought of. One had the idea to switch the ending of the play from Clytemnestra restoring justice and order to Greek society to her essentially telling the other characters that it's on them to fix it themselves. To Haimbach, this parallels the fate of American democracy under the Trump administration.
Previous knowledge of Greek theater is not required to enjoy the play, Haimbach said. The setting is contemporary, the costumes and makeup evoke rock-star fashion and the songs span genres of rap, traditional Broadway and some rock 'n' roll.
"It's based on this classic piece of literature, so people teaching ancient Greece and classics can appreciate the story," he said. "And even if you don't know anything about the source material but just like rock 'n' roll music, you still can."
LCC has not put on a fully produced musical in the spacious Ragozzino performance hall in 10 years.
"It's an amazing facility. I think a lot of people are gonna be happy to see it used to its full effect," he said. "It's really important for me to give these students full houses to perform to because they've worked really hard and they deserve it."
Haimbach said it was rewarding to watch the actors progress so much in their acting and singing during the course of rehearsal. Some only really sang in the shower before, he said, and with the help of a vocal coach, they developed strong voices.
The cast recently recorded an album in the LCC recording studio of the original music featured in "The Oresteia Project." It will be sold during the performances.
Listening to them in the studio, Haimbach felt proud.
"All these students thought they were rock stars, they sounded amazing!" he said. "That's when I knew this show was gonna kick butt." PLAY PREVIEW LCC's The Oresteia Project When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and May 4-6, and 2 p.m. Sunday and May 7 Where: Ragozzino Performance Hall, Building 6, Room 212 at Lane Community College, 4000 E. 30th Ave. Tickets: $10, $5 for seniors and free for students (lanecc.edu/tickets)
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