ATHENA, by playwright Gracie Gardner, finally arrives at Norristown’s Theatre Horizon after being originally planned for the 2019-20 season. From May 19 to June 5th, you can catch this coming-of-age comedy about two teenagers who are competing in the National Fencing Championships. Below, longtime Theatre Horizon director Kathryn MacMillan talks about the production and what the audience can learn about themselves and our society through this play. Tickets to the show are available here.
Q: In your own words- tell us a bit about Athena and how this play fits into Theatre Horizon’s mission.
A: Athena is about high school champion fencers and it explores the limits of teamwork in a culture that worships individual achievement- whether that’s fencing or our society at large. The play also reveals the ways in which we are conditioned to pursue our lives as a zero-sum game, measuring our improvements in comparison to others. But at its core, Athena employs fencing as a profound metaphor for growing up, especially growing up in a woman’s body: it’s brave, vulnerable, exhausting, very very funny, sometimes messy, and it requires some strategy, even brutality, in order to stay safe. How painful and wonderful.
Q: How did you become involved in this production of Athena?
A: I have a longstanding relationship with Theatre Horizon. I directed the company’s very first production back in 2005, and I’ve directed seven plays, over the years, for Theatre Horizon. I have a love of stories that center women, and comedy; I think that’s originally why they approached me with Athena. The production was originally scheduled for Spring 2020. The world has changed so much since then; I’m excited that Nell (Horizon’s Artistic Director) and the company still see the relevance, and the greatness, of this play.
Q: What message do you hope audiences take away from this show?
A: That fencing is a brave sport- so is acting! And so is growing up, especially in a woman’s body. I hope that audiences see truth in the experiences of these two young women, and see themselves within the story. It’s ultimately a universal story.
Q: How does it feel to wrap up the first season back after Covid postponements and finally see Athena come to life on stage?
A: It’s so moving and gratifying. I think the play is better for the time that my actors Campbell [O’Hare], Kira [Player], and I have had to let it simmer in the back of our minds.
Q: So do you think you could win a fencing match now?
A: That would be highly dependent on who I was fencing! I’ll say this- when I was a teenager, I could clean up at Nerf fencing with the boys I babysat. I showed them NO MERCY.