There's this app out there called "Timehop" that searches through your past posts and photos on all the assorted social media outlets and compiles a daily list of things that happened "1 year ago," "2 years ago," etc. Apparently, around one year ago, I decided to write a play for Columbus School for Girls. That play, Persephone UNCUT, opens tonight.
The myth of Hades and Persephone has been in my brain since Mrs. Porter's class in 7th grade. Mrs. Porter was the Elvis-lovin', no-nonsense English teacher at Queen of Heaven. She once taped a picture of The King in swim trunks onto one of the girl's desk because the girl doubted his sexiness. Mrs. Porter had drawn a word balloon that said, "Hi, Kelly, I'm just a hunk-a, hunk-a burnin' love." I'm not sure why that image is so clear in my mind... Anyway... Mrs. Porter taught a section about Greek myths. We were assigned to write a play version of one of the myths, and I leapt at the chance to adapt Hades and Persephone. I used my Ghostbusters Ghost Popper as the bow and arrow of Cupid. When I got hit by the arrow (because of course I played Hades), I stuck on some springy cartoon hearts onto my glasses to show that I had fallen in love. There were also plenty of fart jokes because seventh grade. I got an A.
Fast forward to high school. I was in junior English class, my musical theatre self was coming into his own, and I said to someone, "I want to write a rock opera." One of my classmates said, "What about Hades and Persephone?" Yes, I thought, I will write a rock opera about Hades and Persephone. I wrote some very bad high school lyrics and busted out some badass A-minor chords to kickstart my rock opera. Besides a few other tries to write songs for the musical in college, this idea didn't pan out.
Fast forward to grad school. We were working with playwright, Melanie Marnich, talking about adaptations. She had written Tallgrass Gothic, an adaptation of The Changeling. I decided to work on, yup, Hades and Persephone. Maybe it didn't have to be a musical. Maybe it could be kind of cartoony... I wrote an opening monologue with Hades and his assistant Sisyphus because why not? Hades kept on calling him "Syphilis" because that's comedy. That idea never took flight beyond that monologue, a scene with Persephone and her mother, and a scene with Hades and Zeus discussing love and the benefits of courting women in the form of an animal. Not good.
The idea of Hades and Persephone wouldn't leave me alone, but I could never find the way that I wanted to tell it. It didn't feel right at all. It wasn't until I was approached by Liz Bishara, the drama teacher at Columbus School for Girls, that I decided to revisit the idea once again. She had asked me if I had any plays appropriate for middle school girls. I said, "No." I later asked Liz what she'd want in a play for the school, and she said, "Roles for 15 women." Hades and Persephone once again jumped into my brain... Could it work? 15 women? I made lists and lists of different characters, but one character was in the way... Hades.
Could I write a version of the Hades and Persephone story without Hades? If Hades isn't part of the story directly, then what's the story about? If it's not about a guy who's never felt love suddenly feeling love for the first time, then what is it about? And I realized the one thing that I had kept on forgetting with every incarnation and every iteration of the story I'd attempted to write: Persephone. In all my previous stories, Persephone was not a character with a journey of her own; she was simply there for Hades to have someone to fall in love with. She could've been anyone. So, forgetting about Hades, I looked at Persephone, examined her and realized that it was her story that I wanted to tell.
In Persephone UNCUT Hades is never seen onstage. He's felt as a presence, but he's never seen. Since that first play I wrote in seventh grade, Hades had been the center of the story, so it was important for me, for the story that I now wanted to tell about the transformation of Persephone that he not be there. I'm so grateful to have had this chance to actually tell this story in a fun way that, in some ways, has the same kind of humor that would make my seventh grade self laugh, yet is more interesting and complex than any of my other attempts to tell the story. I can't wait for the first audience to meet this version of Persephone. She's pretty awesome.
I'll leave you with some drawings I've done over the years of the characters from Hades and Persephone. What stories have haunted you, my fellow theatre-makers? What characters won't leave you alone?
Keep writing and, as always, be excellent to each other.