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Ari Picker and Nathaniel Claridad in "Metamorphoses." Picker is further back on the stage with a guitar, while Claridad is floating on a tube in a pool of water as part of the stage.

From left, Brandon Garegnani and Arielle Yoder in PlayMakers’ production of “Metamorphoses.” (photo by Michal Daniel)
From left, Brandon Garegnani and Arielle Yoder in PlayMakers’ production of “Metamorphoses.” (photo by Michal Daniel)

Last fall PlayMakers Repertory Company transformed the Paul Green Theatre into an aquatic wonderland complete with indoor pool for the mythological storytelling of the Tony Award-winning play “Metamorphoses,” presented in repertory with the Shakespearean epic “The Tempest.”

The production was co-directed by producing artistic director Joseph Haj and Dominique Serrand as part of UNC’s “Water in Our World” academic theme.

Diving into design

Resident designers Jan Chambers and McKay Coble created the look for the oceanic setting. The UNC dramatic art faculty members are no strangers to working with water, having collaborated on “Pericles” for PlayMakers, but this undertaking took things to a new level.

The set

They researched aquatic environments from ancient Rome’s Baths of Caracalla and natural phenomena such as glacial lakes and cavern grottos to contemporary pools out of Architectural Digest. Then they focused on abandoned pools including Hashima, the Japanese island featured in the James Bond thriller Skyfall, and Picine Molitor, a Parisian art nouveau swimming complex associated with Academy Award-winner The Life of Pi.

They devised a three-story, coliseum-like edifice made of translucent plastic showcasing a pool filled with 15 tons of water over an open pit. Coble called this feat “a marriage of engineering and art.”

The water had to be constantly cleaned, heated and recirculated. And with safety first, they included non-slip surfaces and water-proofing, along with support from steel thrusts and platforms with fencing at each level.

They even got input from “Metamorphoses” playwright and director Mary Zimmerman — “make the pool liner black” — as the proven way to get the best reflective surface.

The Ensemble in “Metamorphoses.” Photo by Michal Daniel.
The Ensemble in “Metamorphoses.” Photo by Michal Daniel.

The costumes … just add water

With two casts of characters doing the things one can in a pool — frolic, bathe, dive, drown — the costumes were constantly splashed and immersed. So, a “wet plot” was devised mapping out who wore what at all times to determine which pieces should be doubled, whose hair would be dried, and how many sets of undergarments were required, in addition to how all this would take place during quick changes.

Campus and the media were abuzz, and reviewers, led by The News & Observer, proclaimed the repertory “must-see theater!“ The Chapel Hill News called the plays “audacious stagings” delivering “big creative payoffs.” The Daily Tar Heel gave the production five stars, saying “Joseph Haj’s risky vision to use a pool was well worth the wait … culminating in a thought-provoking and highly entertaining production!”

Onstage at PlayMakers:

April 2-20

Multiple Tony Award-winner “Assassins” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

April 23-27

“Hold These Truths” by Jeanne Sakata

Performances at UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art, Country Club Road, Chapel Hill

For tickets: 919-962-PLAY (7529) or

[ By Connie Mahan ]


Published in the Spring 2014 issue | The Scoop

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