BYU’s ‘Argonautika’ displays a creative, collaborative effort

Ari Davis
Jason, played by Dylan Wright, carries a disguised Hera, played by Hannah Staley, across a river at the beginning of “Argonautika.” (Ari Davis)

BYU’s Department of Theatre and Media Arts’ spring production of “Argonautika” uses creativity to share stories of Greek mythology to family audiences.

“Argonautika” is a collaborative effort featuring students from both BYU and UVU. The show opens Friday, June 2 and will run through June 17.

“Argonautika” follows the journey of Jason and his crew, the Argonauts, as he travels to retrieve the Golden Fleece with the help of heroes, gods and goddesses.  “Argonautika” is written by Tony Award-winning director and playwright Mary Zimmerman, who adapted the story from “The Voyage of Jason and the Argonauts.”

Director Janine Sobeck Knighton has wanted to direct the production ever since first seeing it in 2008. Sobeck Knighton said she and the cast have used the creative storytelling of the play to reach a family audience.

“It is not written as a family show, it’s written as a very creative show,” Sobeck Knighton said.

The program includes an interactive study guide for families to brush up on Greek mythology and help them interact with the play. The foyers of the theater also display mythological artifacts and books and include crafts for families to make.

“Argonautika” is filled with colorful and creative elements to help tell the story. There are sound effects that help with the setting, including sounds of water played softly as patrons enter the theater. There is also an original music score that adds to the play like a film score for a movie.

The performance includes puppeteering to help create the large monsters Jason and the Argonauts face along their journey. Occasional modern-day references keep the audience inside the loop and laughing at the comical situations.

Ari Davis
Hercules, played by Tommy Kindall, introduces himself during the roll call scene in “Argonautika.” (Ari Davis)

The cast’s creativity comes through the 16 actors who play more than 50 characters throughout the production. Sobeck Knighton said student creativity was a large part of the rehearsal process and allowed students to take ownership of the way the story is told.

“I try to create a rehearsal room where anyone’s idea can be thrown into the table and we’ll try it,” Sobeck Knighton said.

Dylan Wright, who plays Jason, said the rehearsal process was different than anything he’s done before. He said he enjoys the collaborative effort and praised Sobeck Knighton for making the cast members feel their ideas were welcome.

“It’s been cool to see how every cast member has a different idea in their head and we can all put it together to make something,” Wright said.

Sobeck Knighton originally pitched the idea two years ago while working at BYU but has since become an assistant professor at UVU. Since she was already contracted to direct the show, she asked if she could make the production available for UVU students as well.

Ari Davis
Athena, played by Kiersten Zundel, helps narrate the story of Jason and the Argonauts in the play “Argonautika.” (Ari Davis)

Kiersten Zundel, who plays Athena, is one of four UVU students in “Argonatuika”. She initially thought working on the play would be tough and some BYU students would be critical, but she said everyone was welcoming.

“Everyone was really kind when I came in and they were ready to work with me and I was ready to work with them,” Zundel said. “It was really nice to come here and have that.”

Sobeck Knighton hopes “Argonautika” will create questions for the audience – questions about fate versus agency and questions about the hero’s journey. She also hopes families and students who attend will discuss what they’ve seen and research more.

“I think theater is all about sparking conversation,” Sobeck Knighton said.

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