Told for thousands of years, ancient mythology seems intransigent. How can one alter something so long standingly accepted? Enter Carolynne “Caro '' Wilcox and Hannah Votel: two playwrights who’ve built their careers on challenging rigid narratives. Together, they’ve combined forces to write and direct The Boxes We’re Kept In, which retells--and completely subverts--three Greek myths that each follow a woman who appears to succumb to a unique form of temptation.
There’s Persephone, who eats a pomegranate that traps her in the Underworld despite the fact that she was warned against it. Psyche, who was instructed by the god of love, her husband, to never look upon his face (spoiler: she did anyway). And finally, Pandora, who is said to have been the first woman on Earth. Gifted a box that she could never open, Pandora gives in to her curiosity, only to realize that she’s released every plague on humanity that one could imagine.
“The common thread in these three pieces is these women aren’t necessarily told what would happen if they did the thing. They just expect you to make the right choice,” said Wilcox.
Describing how these mythical women are typically vilified or infantilized for their choices, Votel said, “People have these preconceived notions of these characters.” Their goal with the play is to challenge such notions. Rather than painting a picture in black and white, Wilcox and Votel chose to represent them as complex, relatable characters who possess flaws, strengths, and desires.
Plays in this style aren’t new to Wilcox. Greek theater captivated her early in her life, which led to her decision to do something from Ancient Greece for her graduate school performance thesis. But there was one pitfall: “The thing that’s really annoying,” said Wilcox, ”is that so many of the Greek female characters are so passive and unresponsive. They’re often not the protagonists in their own stories.”
Wilcox knew that instead of following a preexisting Greek story, she had to write one of her own. The result was Loom, which casts the three Fates of Greek myth as its protagonists. Loom explores the agency of these female figures, a theme which is also prevalent in The Boxes We’re Kept In. “With a snap of the fingers,” said Wilcox, “a woman can be deemed as somebody who made a terrible choice that destroyed the entire world and all of its creations because she dared to open a box. Or she dared to follow an intriguing man down into the underworld. Or she dared to have the desire to look upon her husband’s face. These are all very simple choices that anybody could have made. And I think that these stories and these characters would be looked at in a very different light if they were men.”
In addition to subverting mythos of the female archetype, The Boxes We’re Kept In also challenges the notion of what theater can look like. The play is fully relayed in audio format. A singular actor plays a variety of roles through the usage of voice modulation technology. “Theater doesn’t have to look like a proscenium stage where the audience sits in the back and claps their hands and then leaves,” said Votel, who has been acting since the fourth grade. Their desire to overcome “this Eurocentric and able-bodied norm that we have right now” stems from their personal experiences as someone who is physically disabled. “Theater still exists--it’s valid and valued--even when it’s not big and everyone is doing high kicks and twirling around…Just because we don’t usually see [voice modulation], it’s not necessarily lesser than. Part of the goal is to put out a piece of theater that’s unlike something that some people have seen.”
Wilcox and Votel’s commitment to breaking the molds of myth and theater shines in this fresh new piece. The plights of Persephone, Psyche, and Pandora, while immortalized, have never before been told in this way. By pushing the boundaries of storytelling, the two playwrights demonstrate that imagination will allow them to dismantle established narratives and reshape them into meaningful, resonating tales.
The Boxes We’re Kept In is presented as part of the Strawberry Jam Director's Festival running June 8th-July 8th, 2023. With new titles every weekend, SJAM is dedicated to providing local directors with the opportunity to grow their craft through practice. Check out the full SJAM 2023 Line Up Here