‘Art connects people’: Troupe’s debut celebrates harvest with local talent
A sold out playhouse roared with laughter as the inexperienced god of the underworld is pricked by Eros’s arrow in the House of Fates’ debut performance of “Persephone.“
Nevada City’s new multifaceted performance troupe showcased local improv, acting, flowtoy and dance talents in a modern take on an unlikely romance.
Local thespian Jessica Brugnon and co-writer Michaela Costello’s interpretation of the pair’s awkward courtship — eventually consensual — modernized the ancient Greeks’ fall season origin story for increased accessibility and laughs.
“When you read Greek Theater, it’s hard to understand,” actress and choreographer Judy Merrick said. “Poetry and rhythm are prominent in that kind of performance and you have to break it down, but the quickest way to tell people (old stories) is through comedy, as it triggers a positive emotion in the audience.”
Brugnon said formal training in acting and screen writing came from a conservatory in Reims, France and then a theater school called La Comedie.
“It’s delicate matter to try to (rewrite) those myths today and be appropriate: Do we perceive the abduction as physical and moral? It’s tricky,” Brugnon said. “That’s what I’m dealing with writing the next one — Dionysus.”
Brugnon moved to the region to be close to friends with similar spiritual values and practices. Celebrating the Equinox together was special, Brugnon explained, adding that the performance was an exhibition of Nevada County residents’ many talents.
“It’s incredible,” Brugnon said. “I’ve received so much, this is my gift back.”
In Brugnon and Costello’s version, the titular character is still tricked into eating food from the underworld, but willingly falls in love with Hell’s more-goofy-than-intimidating steward. Between scene changes, local musicians Saqi and Diamonde sang songs off of their project new album “Journey to the Underworld.”
Brugnon moved to California from France a few years ago, and relocated from San Francisco to Nevada County in June. Brugnon, who also played Persephone, contacted the pair after they announced their album-release earlier this summer, using the same image she employed as her “working picture” to guide her playwriting.
“They definitely elevated the meaning and depth of the play to a whole different level,” Brugnon said, adding that the Nevada Theatre show was the House of Fate’s first paid performance but their third portrayal of “Persephone.“
The play’s producers describe their second performance on Oct. 17 as a “goth take” on the myth, a foray into “silent theater” that focused on the album through dance in Pioneer Park.
“It was choreographed, it had a story to it — placements and blocking — but we weren’t talking,” Brugnon said, adding that the visuals and costume were highlighted for Saqui and Diamonde’s album debut.
It was the success of the original show, performed in Brugnon’s backyard, that inspired her co-creators to expand their audience.
“I wanted to do a performance in my garden,” Brugnon said, “mainly just to laugh and be joyful and around each other. The more I thought about the idea the more it affirmed that I had to write something so that it would be clear for everyone else.”
The play’s first performance was devised to highlight local talents for friends and family in Brugnon’s backyard.
“Around this time of year, Greeks worshiped the goddess of harvest, Demeter,” Brugnon said, adding that Gaia and Athena attended the primordial performance in her backyard.
“Everyone came dressed as their favorite Greek gods and goddesses and fed on pomegranates,” Merrick said of the Fall Equinox performance on Sept. 21. Merrick said she was grateful to be in a project written by women, adding that the ritual practiced and spirit felt on stage could be compared to what the religious may feel in a church.
“It’s like giving birth every night,” Merrick said of live performance.
Reyes Ciprian — an actress from Barcelona, Spain now working in Nevada City — said the troupe’s third performance was the first she has seen since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would describe it as more of a show than a traditional theater performance,” Ciprian said.
Ciprian said she appreciated that the show celebrated Nevada County residents’ broad set of talents, as opposed to solely skills in traditional theater.
Merrick said she was grateful for the opportunity to use her artistic gifts to pay homage to the community and connect others with appropriate roles for Wednesday’s performance. Next time, Merrick looks forward forward to hosting open auditions for the House of Fates.
“Art changes people, art heals people, art connects people,” Merrick said. “It was very much missed in COVID, whether people realized it or not, it’s something that cannot be taken away.”
Merrick said to perform an origin-story myth was an homage to Nevada County’s cultural and agricultural history.
“Here we are in 2021, doing myths that are over 5,000 years old, gathering together as an offering,” Judy said. “We’re learning to educate ourselves in the process of understanding our characters — we’re going to school.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com
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Hundreds took the Nevada County Fairgrounds main halls Friday during the opening day of the Country Christmas Faire. The faire goes on until 4 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Food and beverages are also available.