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Designed, directed, written and adapted by Ms. Skipitares, THE TRAVELING PLAYERS is a circus-like play-within-a-play featuring four female activists in 13-foot tall puppet form (based on four real-life female activists) - 2 from Zimbabwe, 1 from Kenya and 1 from Afghanistan - who, while enacting excerpts from Euripides' TROJAN WOMEN, each share a part of their own, often dangerous lives. Each performance will feature original music composed and performed by internationally acclaimed composer Sxip Shirey.
THE TRAVELING PLAYERS - a member of www.NYpuppets.org - is the kick-off production for "La MaMa Puppet Series 3" - an annual event celebrating the diverse forms of puppet theatre throughout the world. "La MaMa Puppet Series 3" will continue with Aphids Puppet Theatre of Australia's A QUARRELING PAIR from October 29 through November 8, and Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre's version of Shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT from November 12 to November 29.
The cast of THE TRAVELING PLAYERS is as follows: Carolyn Goelzer (winner of the 2006 Outstanding Actress New York Innovative Theatre Award for IPHIGENIA); La Vonda Elam; Sheila Dabney (Obie Award-winner & 2-time NYITA nominee); and Nicky Paraiso (winner of the 2006 Outstanding Featured Actor NYITA for IPHIGENIA). Lighting design is by Jesse Belsky.
Sxip Shirey has played the exploding circus organ for the pyro-technic clowns of the Daredevil Opera Company at the Sydney Opera House and the Kennedy Center, industrial flutes for acrobats on mechanical jumping boots at The New Victory Theater in New York, tamponophone with The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus at Bonaroo, hillbilly music for gypsies in Transylvania and gypsy music for hillbillies in West Virginia with The Luminescent Orchestrii. Shirey has performed at Boston's First Night, support act for Dresden Dolls US tour; at The Round House in London, England; at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater, The Knitting Factory and CBGB's in New York; at TED in Monterey, California; at the Big Ears Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival; and at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in Australia. He is currently working on music for a short film directed by Neil Gaiman entitled SANDMAN, AMERICAN GODS. Shirey worked with Chorographer Heidi Lasky and disabled dancers on "GIMP "which had a Boston Premier at The Institute of Contemporary Art; composed for the feature film "Hotel Gramercy Park" by director Douglas Keeve (Unzipped); collaborated with composer Rachelle Garniez to create and perform the work "Shadowland" for MOMA's Surrealistic Tribute to Salvador Dali; composed and musical directed for "Marsupial Girl" at The Minneapolis Children's Theater by playwright Lisa D'Amour; and composed for 5 George Meilies silent films including "A Trip to the Moon" for The Museum of The Moving Image in Queens with presentation by International Book Award writer Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabaret).
Theodora Skipitares has been creating large-scale theatre works with puppets for more than 25 years, making her La MaMa debut with UNDERGROUND in 1992. Ms. Skipitares recently presented TRILOGY about which The New York Times wrote: "With abundant ingenuity, Theodora Skipitares makes the Trojan War, a central saga of Greek tragedy, a puppet spectacular." Other credits include THE AGE OF INVENTION, DEFENDERS OF THE CODE, UNDER THE KNIFE and A HARLOT'S PROGRESS. Her works have been produced throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia. She has received numerous grants and awards, including Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships, six NEA grants, and a UNIMA Citation for Excellence in Puppetry. In 2005, Ms. Skipitares' adaptation of Euripides' IPHIGENIA won two New York Innovative Theatre Awards. In 2000, she received the American Theatre Wing Design Award for A HARLOT'S PROGRESS and in 2004, she won the Helen Merrill Distinguished Playwriting Award. In 2000, Ms. Skipitares was a Fulbright Fellow in India where she created two original works.
by Richard Hinojosa
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There is an incredible amount on strength buried deep within all of us. Many times this strength is not discovered until we are pushed into extreme adversity. In Euripides's classic play Trojan Women, the great women of Troy are forced to watch their city burn and their husbands and children slaughtered and finally they are taken to be concubines to their Greek conquerors. It is their strength amid such adversity that director/adapter Theodora Skipitares uses to parallel the strength of modern women against similar hardships and she does so with loads of style and poignancy.
Skipitares's adaptation works well for many reasons. First of all, the parallels she draws between the plight of the Trojan women and that of the contemporary women really puts their suffering into perspective. It can be difficult to identify with these ancient women but this comparison helps establish new connections to them and their struggles—struggles, such as being forced into a life as a sex slave, that are still with us to this very day. Another reason Skipitares's comparison works well is the inspiration it nurtures. The women of Troy could do very little to fight against their oppressors but the modern women Skipitares uses here can and do fight against their oppressors.
The women Skipitares chooses are all courageous leaders in their communities. Jenni Williams and Tabitha Khumalo fight the oppression of Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe. Rebecca Lolosoli is a leader in Kenya who founded a village of all women who have been rejected by their husbands and families after they were raped. Finally, Shamsia Husseini is teenage girl in Afghanistan who had acid thrown in her face by members of the Taliban because she was going to school. These women are giants in their communities and Skipitares makes them into giant puppets about 20 feet tall.
As Skipitares tells the story of the Trojan women each new character enters from within one of the these giant puppets. First is Hecuba, the fallen queen of Troy. She is a life-size puppet attached to the puppeteer's body. Most of the puppets, other than the giant ones, are made in this style. Their heads are attached to the puppeteer's head with two strings and the arms are operated with rods. Puppet designer Jane Catherine Shaw captures exquisite looks of concern and strength in the faces of her puppets. Cecilia Schiller also contributes to the puppets designs. Their designs look and operate perfectly for this piece.
Another element that fits in perfectly is the live music composed and performed by Sxip Shirey. Shirey is an amazing NYC composer and his work here really draws attention to the mood and action on the stage. He uses many different instruments—some traditional, some toy—to create a dissonant soundscape. He uses a toy piano and other toy instruments that clang and plunk along with a guitar that has paperclips on the strings creating a strange reverb. He also relies heavily on a blow-organ and a droning shruti box. Shirey's performance is incredible.
There are several very powerful performances given by the ensemble of puppeteers as well. Sheila Dabney does some fantastic work delivering four short monologues in which each contemporary woman tells her own story. Lovonda Elam plays Cassandra with the perfect amount of morbid delight after hearing what her fate will be. Finally, Carolyn Goelzer excels in the role of Hecuba. The bulk of the emotion and courage lies on her shoulders and she carries it well.
The Women of Troy is a unique experience. In combines its elements very well and creates an atmosphere of inspiration that I don't believe I've ever seen before in an adaptation of Trojan Women. The courage and leadership of the women highlighted in the production should be seen by as many people as possible in the hopes that these ancient traditions of oppression will come to an end once and for all.
Pain, Old and New, With Glints of Hope
by Ken Jaworowsky, New York Times
Even in the saddest moments of “The Traveling Players Present the Women of Troy” a tiny glimmer of hope endures. While there are many compelling aspects of the show — Theodora Skipitares’s marvelous puppets, Sxip Shirey’s ominous original music, a talented cast — that glimmer is the most affecting reason to seek out this dark gem.
In the play, four real-life women, represented onstage by 13-foot-tall puppets, relate stories of violent oppression and their resistance to brutality. Actors with puppets strapped to them intermittently emerge from inside those larger ones to perform scenes from Euripides’ “Women of Troy.” The contemporary tales come to parallel the characters’ woes: where Euripides’ women are being forced into slavery, their present-day counterparts, one each from Kenya and Afghanistan and two from Zimbabwe, are struggling against equally cruel circumstances involving rape, interrogation and imprisonment.
If such a setup sounds pretentious in concept, it’s not in performance. The puppets (credited to Ms. Skipitares, Cecilia Schiller and Jane Catherine Shaw) and music serve to enhance emotions rather than overshadow them, and the comparisons arise unforced; both the modern and ancient stories are clear and captivating, even when unnerving. The 60-minute show falters only in its guise of being presented under the auspices of a circus act. The conceit ends up as a distraction, an unnecessary, weak glue used to join its two powerful parts. (Ms. Skipitares also wrote and directed the play.)
As Hecuba, Carolyn Goelzer provides a deep, agonizing portrait of a mother who has seen her family ruined and her city destroyed. Sheila Dabney, who supplies the voices of three of the contemporary women, is remarkably compelling, sharing heartbreaking stories without self-pity from victims who are often defeated but never destroyed.
It might be an overstatement to call “The Traveling Players,” the first show in Puppet Series 3 at La MaMa, an inspirational play. The battles its women fight are ugly and unfair, and victories are few. Still there is nobility in their perseverance, a belief that defiance is in itself a small triumph and that mere survival is a kind of blessing. “Death is nothingness,” Hecuba declares amid all her sorrows. “Life means hope.”