Growing up, falling in love and discovering your place in the world
The themes in ‘Gallathea’ are as relevant in 2022 as they were in 1592.
It’s the 1960s. There’s a Woodstock-esque music festival being put on to honor the god Neptune (no, it’s not Coachella). If it’s not celebrated, he’ll send a sea monster to destroy the town. But here’s the catch: The purpose of the festival is to celebrate the sacrifice of the town’s most beautiful virgin. Two women—Gallathea and Phillida—are thought to be the most beautiful virgins in the town, so in an attempt to subvert the tradition, their fathers send them into the woods disguised as boys. While in the woods, they meet and fall in love. And the rest is, as they say, history.
The CU Theatre & Dance production of “Gallathea” is based on John Lyly’s 1592 play of the same name. But in an attempt to make it more relatable to modern American audiences, director and PhD student Kaitlin Nabors is taking the story in a bit of a different direction.
“The reason that we picked a show that is this old is that it’s actually still very, very relevant, and it’s a romantic comedy, which was rare even in early-modern England,” Nabors says. “Typically there were either comedies that end in marriage because comedies are supposed to, or the stories are tragedies. To get a really, truly romantic comedy—where the characters really do love each other and grow to love each other through this—is a little bit unique.
“But alongside that element, there are actual gods and goddesses walking through the forest. Diana, Venus, Cupid. So it ends up having a few different subplots about magical interference, characters deciding what they want to do with their lives … It’s a big coming-of-age story about falling in love, growing up, and just discovering your place in the world. It’s a lot of fun.”
We’re all thinking it: How in the world does a 1592 early-modern English virginal sacrifice translate to American audiences in 2022?
Nabors says, “I was thinking, ‘What can I do that would fit or feel right to give context to this kind of festival?’ And then I was thinking about a music festival! We bring in lots of people that aren’t usually in the town; we have reasons to have gods—or people who have godlike status—in the same place as someone who bought a $2 ticket. It’s a way to culturally bring a lot of people together.
Incorporating music into the play is apt, Nabors says, because doing so was an early-modern practice anyway. As an added benefit, it gives CU Theatre & Dance students an opportunity to flex a variety of their artistic skills throughout moments in the show. But the music festival still needed a timeframe to tether the directing choice to the text.
“There is a recurring theme in the show where the older characters have really set mind frames and philosophies. The younger characters find themselves questioning and asking, ‘Do I have to stick with this or can I forge my own path?’ For our audience, the 60s is a really clear delineation of a time period where the counterculture did that, too. It shows even just in the change in styles from the early 60s to the later years. There was almost a 180-degree shift. It was a natural fit to take those themes I saw in the writing and move it towards this mindset.”
It’s because of these themes that “Gallathea”—despite the main plot surrounding a virginal sacrifice to the god Neptune—is as relatable to 2022 as it was in 1592.
“I love doing old and early-modern plays because it’s so powerful to see that ‘This is something I’m going through and also something that somebody went through enough to write about it four- or five-hundred years ago,’” Nabors says. “So it is relevant because of its age.”
The CU Theatre & Dance production of “Gallathea” opens Feb. 16, 2022. Tickets are $18.