February 22, 2022

Euripides’ “Medea” a Student-Led Creative Collaboration!

Written by Erika Gray

The 1950s, the nostalgic post-war era of Elvis and Eisenhower, is the intriguing setting for Lewis & Clark College’s Spring 2022 Main Stage retelling of Euripides’s Greek tragedy, Medea. This student-designed show, while adhering to Euripides’ ancient text, offers the audience an artful and iconic mid-20th century lens with which to experience the Greek classic.

A creative team led by four Lewis & Clark seniors has tackled this thought-provoking theatrical juxtaposition with enthusiasm and the experience they have acquired over their years of study and seasons of work on other theatrical productions. For set designer Karen Wingard, technical director Abby Jacquin, costume designer Amber Adamski, and props designer Ryann St. Julien, Medea marks both the fulfillment of their formal studies at Lewis & Clark and a great leap forward in their creative accomplishments. 

Set Designer, Wingard, wants the playgoer’s experience to begin the moment
they enter the theatre. In Wingard’s set design for Medea, the audience is encouraged to feel they are walking into Medea and Jason’s home – an American dream home, replete with the archetypal 1950’s clutter and kitsch – and taking a seat in their living room. In this intimate and immersive setting, they will be the uncomfortable guests, “watching the most awkward domestic dispute in two thousand years” says Wingard.

Medea Props Designer Ryann St. Julien and Set Designer Karen Wingard. Medea Props Designer Ryann St. Julien and Set Designer Karen Wingard.Wingard’s theatre experience at Lewis & Clark began four years ago when she worked on the stage crew for The Seagull, another student-designed show. She realized then that having the opportunity to one day design a main stage production herself would be a goal and she began studying design in earnest. Medea is her first produced set design. She feels particularly fortunate that her work at Lewis & Clark culminates in the production of this ancient classic, set in a sort of “1950’s hellscape.” “Here’s this perfect 50’s housewife, looking at how the pressures of this system destroy her and destroy her family. Medea is a great story to do that with.”

Technical Director, Jacquin, who been doing technical theatre work and lighting design since freshman year, appreciates the teamwork of a student-designed show. “This show is especially interesting for me because of all the student collaboration that is involved — getting to work with several other student designers and learning to do this collaborative process together” she says.  Jacquin must keep a constant eye on the big picture while simultaneously zeroing in on a multitude of small details. “I have been taking Karen’s scenic designs and breaking those into pieces that I can give to carpenters.  It’s been a lot of sitting alone making small drawings, and a lot of figuring out with Matthew Robins (Lewis & Clark Theatre Department Technical Director) how to make what Karen wants, and then doing it!”

This modernized version of Medea has been a rich source of creative inspiration for all involved, according to the production’s Costume Designer Adamski. “The fact that it’s this Greek play about vengeance and kind of protofeminist, being set in the 1950s, there’s just so much there, there’s so many ways you can go with that” she says. Her love of historical fashion is satisfied by the 1950’s adaptation. She appreciated “learning about the era. I was aware of it before, but I loved deep diving into the research of how these trends came about and all the different variations in cut, pattern, and shape. What’s been really rewarding has been watching the actors transform in their fittings and I’ll see them get excited about it.”

Amber Adamski - costume design for Fall 2021 production of Passion Play. Amber Adamski - costume design for Fall 2021 production of Passion Play.Adamski’s first production at Lewis & Clark was Sweeny Todd, where she was wardrobe supervisor. “At that point I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do theatre,” she says, “but it was such an amazing experience to be a part of that I just kind of fell in love with it and started asking, ‘how do I get into this?’”. Work on Cabaret, The Secretaries, and Passion Play followed.  This designer, who loves to sew, routinely calls on her interest in clothing as a powerful source of self-expression to guide her in the creation of costumes that communicate a character’s story through the way they dress. In this production she has given particular attention to the title character, Medea. To emphasize Medea as an outsider, Adamski has collaborated with Wingard to use color and form in both costumes and set design to help define the character. And, in Adamski’s collaboration with the actors, she adds, “I really want to make sure that everybody feels good in their costume – fabulous!”

Prop Designer, St. Julien, applies that same attention to detail and creative collaboration in the creation of Medea’s “home”, finding a balance, he says, in “that 1950’s ideal world and, because it is a Greek tragedy, incorporating elements to tie it back to the original.” St. Julien’s long-time appreciation for Euripides’ ancient drama meant he was especially pleased when it was selected as the Spring 2022 production and has enjoyed the challenge of the adaptation.

St. Julien has worked on numerous campus productions over the years and has always maintained an interest in props. Regardless of the play, the challenge remains the same – finding just the right thing, at the right price, or creating it somehow. “It’s so much harder than you think it is going to be” says St. Julien, who has visited a great many Portland area vintage and antique stores recently in search of Medea’s ancient and 1950’s requirements. 

Medea opens next month. Making theatre during a pandemic is a challenge, and one these senior designers have been forced to deal with repeatedly during their years at Lewis & Clark. Their combined experience and their reliance on communication and collaboration not only make the production possible, but a creative and compelling work to share with the community. Says Jacquin, looking ahead, “We’re picking up and getting into the rhythm and I feel excited about where we’re headed”.

Lewis & Clark Theatre Department presents Medea by Euripides, on the main stage at Fir Acres Theatre – March 11, 12 & 13 and 15, 16, & 17.  Tickets now on-sale