Helen and Chorus

Helen (played by graduate student Julia Irons) sings the opening "Parados" with members of the Chorus, all played by UVM students.

Among other honors, retiring professors with a long record of service and distinction are often awarded a collection of essays written by former students. Z. Philip Ambrose, professor emeritus in UVM’s Classics Department, received a livelier gift in the form of a newly crafted production of Euripides’ “Helen.”

Besides acknowledging Ambrose’s career at UVM—he began teaching in the department in 1962, served as the Classics Department Chair for two long stretches, and won the George V. Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching—the production brought together a rare combination of student, faculty and community collaboration.

Current Department Chair John Franklin provided the impetus for the project, pulling together grants from the College of Arts and Sciences, the UVM Humanities Center, the Vermont Humanities Council, and the Vermont Arts Council to present four performances of Helen March 22-25, 2018 at the Black Box Theater in Burlington.

“We thought there would be public interest in staging ancient Greek drama in Burlington, and we think Helen is a good test of that,” explained Franklin. “In its own day it was considered somewhat avant garde, a quasi-comedic whitewash of Helen of Troy who, instead of abandoning Menelaos to run off with Paris and cause the Trojan War (that’s the traditional version), remains virtuous and is sent by the gods for safe-keeping in Egypt.”

The Greeks end up fighting a meaningless war over a phantom double, and this leads to a comedy of errors when Menelaos stumbles on the real Helen during his stormy homeward journey.

“The play shows that not all tragedy is ‘doom and gloom’ –it can also be fun and thought-provoking,” Franklin said.

This production featured a new translation written by UVM classics faculty members and some of Ambrose’s former students—two of whom are now teaching in the department (Professor Mark Usher and Associate Professor Angeline Chiu). Classics students were the primary performers and crew members—some enrolled in Chiu’s Ancient Drama class which was offered to support the production. The director also has UVM roots: Aaron Robinson graduated with a theatre degree in 2007.

"It’s a mix of student and community actors, and they are meshing together into a great cohesive cast," Robinson said. "I’m excited to get the whole script on its feet and really start exploring the characters with them."

The musical score also presented a distinctly UVM twist. A conservatory-trained musician, Franklin has long experimented with what he calls “new ancient” music and has created a score he will perform with two local virtuosos, Jamie Levis and Jeff Davis. The music features a replica of an ancient lyre by local guitar-maker Creston Lea, a framedram and Egyptian ney (flute), and Turkish saz.

“Experimental music-archeology on this scale is unprecedented, and we hope it will lead to a number of future opportunities, both in and beyond Vermont,” Franklin said.

His group has received invitations to lecture and perform at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, the University of Washington and the University of Perugia in Italy.

By Kevin Coburn

Production Credits

Directed by Aaron Robinson

Music by John C. Franklin and Z. Philip Ambrose

Musical Direction by John C. Franklin

Scenic Design by Glynnis Fawkes

Lighting Design by Aaron Robinson

Costume Design by Glynnis Fawkes and Rachel G. Cosgrove

Choreography by Alexis Kamitses

Produced by John C. Franklin

Production Stage Managed by Peyton Ashley and Allison Jodion

Cast of Characters

Helen - Julia Irons

Teukros - Lucas G. Griggs

Chorus Leader - Katherine Livingston

Chorus of Captive Greek Women - Celine Fraser, Francie Merrill, Holly Micklas, Alice Ochterski, Tessie Sakai, and Evie Wight

Menelaos - Nick Wilson

Doorkeeper - Margaret Hamilton

Servant of Menelaos - Aaron Robinson

Theonoe - Samantha Lavertue

Palace Servants - Lani Corey and Kit Loomis

Theoklymenos - Robert Ostler

Egyptian Messenger - Tenny Gregorian

Castor - Lucas G. Griggs

Pollux - Aaron Robinson

Greco-Egyptian Band

Lyre - John C. Franklin

Baglama Saz and Nay Flute - Jeff Davis

Frame Drum and Riqq - Jamie Lewis


Associate Producers - Angeline Chiu and Samantha Lavertue

Rehearsal Video Production - Zane Yu

Set Construction - Jacques Bailly

Painting - Glynnis Fawkes

Light Board Operator - Eric Zegar

Electrics Crew - Faith Pease, William Wuttke, Nick Wilson, and Aaron Robinson

Costume Construction Supervisor - Rachel G. Cosgrove

Costume Production Assistants - Zoe Anszperger, Eileen Parks, and Claire Wilcox

Mask Scanning and Production - Jennifer Karson, Matheus Jorge, Damien Socia

Mask Painting - Holly Micklas

Hair and Make-Up Design - Katherine Livingston

Hair and Make-Up Crew - Helen Palmiero

House Manager - Angeline Chiu

Marketing Coordinator - Samantha Lavertue

Camera Operators - Peter White, Zach White, Ariadne Argyros, and Mari Tomanelli