Student composers shine in “Argonautika”

by Colleen Bell | Arts & Cultural Editor

Whitworth Theatre’s production of “Argonautika,” written by Mary Zimmerman, premiered last Friday, April 13. The play is based on the classical Greek story of “Jason and the Argonauts,” in which Greek prince Jason and a crew of heroes set out on a voyage across the treacherous Mediterranean Sea to recover the priceless Golden Fleece from a foreign king, aided by goddesses Athena and Hera.

The production is directed by Naphtali Leyland Fields, visiting assistant professor of theater. The cast is composed of 14 students from a variety of majors and years.

Sophomore Madison Oliver, a communication and visual design in computing major, played Pollux, one of twin sons of Zeus who accompanied Jason on his voyage.

“The play is full of great comedic moments, but also hits some very serious topics of what it means to be a hero, tragedy and the role of fate and free choice in life right on the head,” Oliver said. “I was immediately excited to be in the show as soon as I read the script.”

The musical score for the production was composed by sophomores Brian Wittenberg and Cary Jeffery, who are both music majors in the composition track. 

“The playwright of ‘Argonautika,’ Mary Zimmerman, actually encouraged directors to have their own musical score created for the show, so I think it’s great that we are following her advice,” Oliver said.  “I also think it’s amazing that we were able to involve Whitworth composers on campus and have an avenue for them to gain experience and have their work presented with a live show.”

Jeffery and Wittenberg, along with their composition seminar class, were offered the opportunity to compose for the show last fall, and the final composers were chosen by Fields through an audition process.

“It was a little weird [to be chosen] because I had conducted that audition a little bit late after the deadline, but I was super excited to be on board anyway,” Jeffery said.

As music composition majors, this was an opportunity for Jeffery and Wittenberg to gain experience in their desired career path.

“I was extremely excited because this is sort of the realm of what I want to do, composing for games or movies, and so this is a first step into that kind of thing,” Wittenberg said.

Jeffery and Wittenberg worked with Fields starting late fall semester, beginning with a list of “examples of certain emotive and style qualities” which Fields wanted the score to have, they said.

“[Fields] gave us just a list of all the tracks that she wanted,” Wittenberg said. “She had a length of time that she wanted and kind of a feel that she was going for and so we would just kind of write for that, show her the next week, and tweak that based on what she wanted.”

Jeffery and Wittenberg composed a variety of pieces for the show, including themes for each of the main characters.

“There were more [tracks] that ended up in the play than were originally [suggested],” Wittenberg said.

“Pretty early on [we decided] we wanted character themes, which we didn’t get to repeat too much but it gave us a good feel and a good way to control the direction of how the story was going and what the characters were about,” Jeffery said.

Overall, Jeffery and Wittenberg are pleased with the final product, they said.

“I really do like how it turned out,” Wittenberg said, “I wish that there was maybe a little bit more music just to flesh out some of the scenes a bit more or that we had more time to flesh out some of our musical ideas, because fitting a whole musical idea in 20 seconds is pretty hard.”

The remaining performances of “Argonautika” are Friday, April 20 and Saturday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. in Cowles Auditorium. General admission is $15, or free for Whitworth students with valid student ID.

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