FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THEATRE OF YUGEN
Written by Ellen McLaughlin
Directed by Shannon R. Davis
March 29 to April 27, 2019
Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 8pm, Sundays at 1:30pm
Saturday, April 20 & 27 also at 1:30pm
A modern adaptation of Euripides’ classic
tragic-comedy about Helen of Troy.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Ellen McLaughlin’s Helen, a modern adaptation of Euripides’ classic, explores beauty, gender, archetypes, societal expectations, and war. The gods have imprisoned the notorious Helen of Troy in an Egyptian hotel room. For 17 years, she awaits her rescue.
Theatre of Yugen’s Helen is foremost a story by, about, and for women. It makes space for a group of people from traditionally marginalized groups, in the creation of a narrative with a woman/POC/queer-led team: director, assistant director, production assistant, stage manager, and designers. Director Shannon R. Davis explains, “We’ve intentionally hired an all woman/queer/POC artistic team to create a new vision of an age-old story. For centuries, Helen has had her story told by men, mostly straight white men. McLaughlin wrote an unbelievably witty script, giving authorship back to the women historically scorned. We’ve gone a step further by making the full team ‘non-traditional’ and have taken our dynamic and diverse lived-experiences into account in conceiving the design and feeling of the show. We’re taking an ancient story about women and the duplicitous roles society expects us to play (especially as they pertain to the male gaze), beauty and it’s idolization, and shoving it back in the face of the oppressors… With artful beauty and grace… of course. We want to help empower women to take agency and authorship of their own stories.”
The design and direction teams all identify as women or non-binary, while the cast and crew comprise heavily of indigenous and Native artists. Given the three Native-identifying actors and Native director, this production will weave elements of Native culture into characters and scenarios in the traditionally Greek play. One particular change of interest is Io. In Greek mythology, Io is a young shepherdess that is about to be ravaged by Zeus. Hera catches Zeus about to defile Io, so rather than have Io murdered by Hera, Zeus turns Io into a cow. She is sent to wander the earth, plagued by gadflies that Hera has cursed her with. In Native Lakota Sioux tradition, there is a figure called the white buffalo woman, a messenger, or prophet that transforms into a white buffalo. If a man looks at her with lust, she will turn him to dust. If he reveres and honors her, she shares ancient knowledge, such as how to survive famine, and how to pray and be one with the earth.
In this production, Io is a messenger, a visitor, a refugee, who teaches Helen about herself through stories, Io’s and Helen’s. Mixing these two cross-cultural legends/icons presents an opportunity to tell a Native story through a more familiar lens. As does Menelaus. The actor portraying Menelaus, Steven Flores (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) is Comanche and Mestizo. With the director, he is creating an anachronistic soldier from the Indian American wars, Vietnam War, and the 2 World Wars. As Menelaus is a representation or archetype of soldiers from all wars, he will upend the peaceful Native stereotype, humanizing the archetype further by showing that Natives, too, participated in violence and wars.
Theatre of Yugen’s Artistic Director Nick Ishimaru shares why the company chose Helen for its 40th season on ‘Memory:’ “After conducting an extensive review of its history, accomplishments and future relevance, with the approval of the Board of Directors and the senior staff, Theatre of Yugen will relaunch in 2019. While continuing its unmatched contribution to sustaining and innovating Japanese theatre in the US, the relaunched company will expand its mission to advance multisensory experiences through the design and performance of classic works alongside emergent voices, working interculturally by placing disparate communities into collaboration. To that end, the performances of Helen will formally announce and showcase the expanded performative aspiration of the company, which, in this case, will center LGBTQ+, POCs, and women.”
About Theatre of Yugen
Rooted in the Japanese aesthetic “yugen” (derived from characters “yu,” meaning “deep, quiet, or other-worldly,” and “gen,” meaning “subtle, profound, or obscured”), Theatre of Yugen was founded in 1978 by Yuriko Doi as a site for experimentation with the Japanese theatrical traditions of noh and kyogen, as well as a training center to teach these ancient forms to future generations. By presenting and collaborating extensively with artists across artistic genres, Yugen continues the evolution of live performance and artistic hybridity that stimulates intercultural understanding through traditional Japanese theatre. Its training and apprenticeship program, as well as school residencies, ensure the legacy and continued interest in this theatrical discipline. As the only theatre on the west coast exclusively committed to noh and kyogen (one of only three in the nation), Yugen remains a beacon for both traditional and experimental Japanese theatre in this country. For more than 20 years the company has managed NOHspace, an intimate 65-seat venue in the historic Project Artaud in the heart of the Mission District in San Francisco.
Recent presentations include the West Coast premieres of “Seen/By Everyone” and Noda Hideki’s “The Red Demon” (both directed by Nick Ishimaru) and “The Fermentation Lab Symposium,” which was awarded an NEA Research: Art Works grant to explore the intersections between theatrical and culinary aesthetics.
Chief among its numerous awards and accolades are a Commendation by the Ministry of Japanese Foreign Affairs for “excellence in the pursuit of and promotion of a more improved understanding of Japan, its culture, and its people”; a 2009 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts commission for the theatre work Dogsbody, a retelling of The Illiad; a coveted run at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York of Cordelia, a noh-inspired retelling of King Lear; and a 2011 Creative Work Fund Award and National Endowment for the Arts grant to support the development and performance of the noh-inspired theatre work Emmett Till, a river. Yugen is a member of Theatre Bay Area, Network of Ensemble Theatres, the SF Bay Area Ensemble Consortium, and the Association of Asian Performance.
Adrian Deane (Helen) (she/her/hers) - Bay Area-based actor/producer has performed in theatre, short films and features. Recent credits: feature documentary, Breaking the Cycle, about a family’s journey with multiple generations of Huntington’s Disease; and the West Coast premiere of Seen/By Everyone (Yugen).
Leticia Duarte (Servant) (they/them/theirs) - Oakland based Radical Queer/Actor. Chippewa , Mexican-Mestizo, mixed with European Colonizers, African-American mutt. Duarte has performed in theater, film, television, and industrials. Recent credits include; Season 2, episodes 2,3, & 6 of The North Pole Show, Brooklyn Bridge (Townhall Theatre), King of Cuba (Central Works), and The Normal Heart (Theatre Rhinoceros).
Steven Flores (Menelaus) (he/him/his) San Francisco-based/Bi-Coastal. Descendant of the Comanche/Mexican-Mestizo bloodline, and Native American medicine worker in study, Seketemaqua/Luke in Manahatta at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Other credits: Last of the Caucasians (The Barrow Group Theater Company, NY) Delusion: The Blood Rite (Haunted Play). Public performance art: The “Universe” in The Invisible Realm Art Show. TV/Film: The Monster Project, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Stefani Potter (Athena) (she/her/hers) is San Francisco-based. Credits include: Gertie in Oklahoma, Bianca in Othello (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Liesl in The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins (Sierra Repertory Theatre); Trixie in Rocky Horror Picture Show (Merced Playhouse); Lady Larken in Once Upon a Mattress (Gaslight Conservatory). Training: BFA in Performing Arts, SOU.
Helen Wu (Io) (she/her/hers) - San Francisco-based. A Bay Area native, Helen is Chinese-American and fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Helen has studied acting at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and American Conservatory Theater’s Studio A.C.T. Outside of acting, Helen enjoys being a member of the San Francisco Choral Society. Helen is thrilled to be part of the cast of Helen at Theatre of Yugen.
Shannon R. Davis (Director) is San Francisco-based, a descendant of the Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Saami people. 2018 Phil Killian Directing Fellow at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Credits: Othello (associate director, American Repertory Theatre); Othello, Manahatta (assistant director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Adulting for Beginners (Musical Café/Ashby Stage); Religomania (Exit Theatre/SF Fringe Festival); Monsters & Wild Things (Brava Theater Center). MFA in Directing/Acting (UW-Madison) & trained with Moscow Art Theatre USA- Harvard.
Nick Ishimaru (Artistic Director) is San-Francisco-based. He explores a combination of Western and traditional Asian performance techniques for original creations, along with work in conventional musical theatre and Shakespeare. He has trained in noh and kyōgen and has studied kabuki, jingju (Beijing Opera), and nihon buyo at the University of Hawaii. In October 2016, he opened his debut as Yugen’s Artistic Director, The Red Demon by Noda Hideki.