Despite sporting the most recognizable hairdo in all of literature, general knowledge about the mythological figure Medusa tends to boil down to three perfunctory traits: “She’s the monster with snakes for hair. She gets her head cut off. If you look at her, you turn to stone. That’s about it,” says Denise Yvette Serna, director and lead deviser of the upcoming Pop Magic performance piece named after the storied, steely-eyed Gorgon.
“As we’ve explored through our rehearsals and continued our research,” says Serna, “we found it to be much more complex.” Across five venues throughout the city, Pop Magic Productions—in partnership with Global Hive Laboratories and En Las Tablas Performing Arts—will stage an experimental multidisciplinary retelling of the classic myth with a new translation by dramaturg and scholar Emma Pauly, to be informed by contemporary cultural conversations and personal experiences of the show’s ensemble.
Building off developments and lessons facilitated by weeklong workshops at Global Hive Laboratories-partnered companies in London, Paris, and Piacenza, Pop Magic’s Chicago production will draw parallels between Medusa being punished and “monsterized” by Athena for the “crime” of being raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple and the victim-blaming in rape culure that the MeToo movement has called out. “This idea of a victim of assault being punished for what has happened to them—that was really potent for us,” says Serna.
And by choosing an ancient myth with a rich and sometimes inconsistent dramaturgical history, Pop Magic hopes to enable casts in each host city to lend their own linguistic and cultural interpretations.
For coproducer and En Las Tablas executive director Maritza Nazario, the opportunity to host and support a fellow arts organization with a shared emphasis on grassroots experimentation and accessibility was a no-brainer. “[These] two blocks between Pulaski and Keeler—we’re being really daring, I guess.” The 13-year-old Hermosa-based nonprofit community arts organization offers programs for all ages, though as Nazario notes, most of its engagement is with children; the creatives behind Medusa, on the other hand, hope to connect with adults and draw attention to services offered at En Las Tablas.
“We have our bodies, and we have our mouths, and we are colorful,” says Nazario, “and we take advantage of that and try to make a lot of noise so people know that we are here. And when the opportunity comes to have people here to use the space, people that believe in the same things that we believe, that have a mission very similar to ours, we’ll open our doors immediately.”
For Serna, Medusa also represents an opportunity to proactively incorporate aspects of accessibility that can often go overlooked in more institutionalized arts organizations. “We’ve observed that access services for people who are disabled, and other access things such as free and discounted tickets, child care, things like that . . . they’re all too not considered when a show is being created. They’re something that’s tacked on afterwards as sort of the one special day or two special days that they happen. We’re interested in creating devised theater that has that in every performance.” v