Director modernizes classic story

‘Achilles in Sparta’ expressed through body movement, puppetry techniques

By Reggie Santini, Advocate Staff

A modern day play adaptation of the Greek myth of Achilles is due to open at the Knox Center in October.

The play, “Achilles in Sparta,” will be drama department Chairperson Carlos Chavarria’s first directorial role since arriving at Contra Costa College in 2014.

The drama department will be performing Sharr White’s version of “Achilles in Sparta” but will feature Chavarria’s own editorial touch.

“Achilles in Sparta” will have six different showings throughout the month of October.

The first performance will be on Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Knox Center.

There will be other performances on Oct. 7-8 and 13-15.

Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for senior citizens and CCC students with an ID.

“Even though it is a classical story, it is a very modern tale,” Chavarria said.

The story is about Helen of Troy, the national figurehead of beauty and hope, being abducted from Sparta.

In response, Sparta’s people ready themselves for war.

Stage Manager Ashleigh Worley said, “Carlos is definitely putting his own spin on it. It is an abstract piece and I cannot give too much away.”

The production will feature contemporary issues, modern themes and mix them into the traditional story of Helen of Troy.

“You are watching the Spartans going to war in the past, but the story is set in recent times,” Chavarria said.

“Achilles in Sparta” will deal with modern issues such as the war on terror, how people feel when they are going to war and when they are there, Chavarria said.

“It has a modern twist to it. It attempts to modernize the story into terms that today’s people can relate to it,” Worley said.

Some of the modern elements used by Chavarria in the play are modern electronics and the use of everyday language.

Auditions were held during the middle of August for the play.

The ensemble cast of “Achilles in Sparta” consists of 10 actors portraying various roles.

One of the biggest difficulties of this production is how it is heavily based on movement, Worley said.

The production has a lot of body movement, puppetry and devising techniques for its actors to memorize.

The cast demonstrated confidence during its practices despite the challenges the performance presents.

“There are certain sequences of steps we have to do that are difficult, but we know how to think on our feet,” liberal arts major Irena Miles said.

Some of the difficulties comes from people missing rehearsals, she said.

Because an actor is missing, the other cast members are unable to react to their body movement and energy.

Miles said, “If someone is not there we have to pretend they are and that throws everything off.”

“With movements you have to be here to rehearse. It is not like lines where you can go home and sit down to memorize them,” Middle College High School student Jelaine Maestas said.

Liberal arts major Nichole Aiwaz said, “I have been involved with theater since I was 6 years old. Lately I have not had much time to be in a play so this semester, even though it is a tough performance, I want to do it.”

Miles said, “As you do it more and more it just gets into your brain and all of a sudden it is not so bad.”