The Helen Project
by Megan Cohen & Amy Clare Tasker
Helen of Troy: admired, hated, pitied, blamed, iconified.
From antiquity to the present day, storytellers have left fragments of Helen in the footnotes of heroes’ legends, epic poems, Hollywood films. The Helen Project aims to pick up these pieces and reconstruct a new image of Helen. Was she a person? Was she a goddess? Was she the creation of ancient poets? Why has she survived in myth through the last 3000 years? Why are we still telling her story?
“You can set me free. You can give me back my story. If you let me tell it to you, a new way, it can be mine, not theirs.”
This is the story of the story of Helen of Troy. It has been told again and again, but not by her. Homer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Goethe: men through the ages have tried to make sense of the power Helen holds over them. The Helen Project tells the story from her point of view, a woman trying to make sense of the destruction she seems to cause. Is it really all her fault? Is her beauty really to blame? What choice does Helen really have?
The Helen Project is written in fragments, a Build-Your-Own-Helen-Of-Troy Play Kit. A new ‘edition’ of the text is constructed for each new production.
The piece has been workshopped in an ‘ensemble edition’ with interwoven monologues, an immersive ‘interactive edition,’ an immersive ‘one-on-one edition’, and a multiHelen ‘solo edition’ with five successive Helens on stage one at a time. It is currently being reshaped into a ‘true solo edition’ for one performer. More information about the different editions can be found in the tabs below. Check out my Helen of Troy blog series for reflections on the process of making this piece.
The character of Helen is as fragmented as the text, with five very different versions of Helen, each telling the story from a unique point of view along the mythic timeline. The fragmentation of the text invites artists to reconstruct the very idea of Helen, putting together a new version of the mythic woman each time we create a new edition of the text. Installation editions of the piece include the audience in this reconstruction, inviting them to build their own Helen of Troy.
a solo performance by Amy Clare Tasker
Friday, 7 April 2017
7.30PM at Theatre Utopia
Matthew’s Yard, Croydon
£6 tickets on sale here
10 minutes of the brand new solo version of The Helen Project will be featured in an evening of new work curated by Orphee Productions. Follow their Facebook event for more details about the works in progress coming to the stage for the first time.
In the solo edition, the mythic icon Helen, “The Face,” is trapped, staring back at an audience in a theatre. She knows what they think of her. She knows what everyone has written about her through the ages. She thinks she remembers a different version of the story. Audio recordings of found text from the western canon clash with live performance of flashbacks from the imagined historical Helens, as the mythic icon breaks out of her prison and reclaims her right to her own story.
Across multiple versions of Helen’s myth, most agree that Helen’s flight–away from her husband Menelaus and their home in Sparta, to the city of Troy with second husband Paris–caused the Trojan War. We know some of what she did, but little of why she did it. In some versions, she loves Paris and elopes with him. In others, he violently abducts her. Few versions mention what she did in Troy for ten years while war raged around her. Even fewer mention what she did afterwards, when she returned to Sparta with Menelaus.
Helen has been constantly reimagined through different representations over three millennia. She is a towering figure in art, literature, and our contemporary collective consciousness. Homer depicts her as a “scheming, cold-blooded bitch;” in Marlowe’s Faust she is arrestingly beautiful but aloof, “the face that launched a thousand ships.” More modern sources attempt to understand Helen’s inner life: in Sarah Teasdale’s 1911 poem Helen of Troy, she is a survivor: “Lo, I shall live to conquer Greece again, to make the people love who hate me now” and Margaret Atwood’s Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing (1995) imagines her as a stripper: “Such hatred leaps in them, my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary hopeless love.” Helen is still evoked in contemporary media coverage of Hollywood beauties: both Rihanna and Halle Berry were recently compared to Helen of Troy when they “caused trouble” between two lovers. Our Helen Project uses found text from this canon, and adds our own attempt to unlock the mystery of the most beautiful woman in the world.
DIVAfest 2013 (EXIT Theatre, San Francisco)
In this edition, five actors live in Helen’s skin, their script-in-hand performances the result of three weeks of developmental rehearsal. Lily Yang is Packing Helen, on the eve of her flight to Troy with her new love, torn between staying and going, home and adventure, duty and love, motherhood and independence. Roneet Aliza Rahamim is First Night of War Helen, reeling from the bloody events of the first battle between the Greeks and the Trojans, desperately trying to believe that she is worth the fight that is raging over her. Misti Rae Boettiger is Last Night of War Helen, watching Troy burn after ten long years of war and calculating her chances of survival. Ariane Owens is Unpacking Helen, returning home to Sparta to live another day and another and another with her first husband Menelaus. Sarah Moser is The Face, the mythic icon of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, who speaks in found text handed down to her from poets and painters who have tried to capture Helen through the last 3,000 years.
Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre 2014 (LOST Theatre, London)
Our next 5-actor version took place in London with a new team of artists, exploring how a multi-Helen piece could be part of a solo festival. We told the story one Helen at a time, connected by interludes from The Face between each Helen. Our July 2014 performance told the story backwards, beginning with Unpacking Helen’s grief and ending with Packing Helen’s hopeful adventure just beginning. In October, we reprised the same text in the other direction, which changed the overall tone of the piece. Our Face interludes became soundscapes of found text and a moving statue of the iconic Helen.
DIVAfest 2013 (EXIT Theatre, San Francisco)
In this interactive Helen installation, five actors offer a choice of fragments from our modular performance text. Each audience member sees their own version of Helen by choosing where to stand and what to hear. As The Face, Sarah Moser welcomes the audience with guidance for how to explore the “Helenstallation.” The fragmented temporal Helens collapse into four eternal Helens who might be speaking from any point in time, they are timeless, they are full of memory and story. Each Helen presents two texts, offering an audience member the choice of two evocative words or images. When she’s finished reading that selection, she might keep packing, or go to sleep, or put on her make up in silence until her listeners drift away. Or she might walk away into the audience of another Helen’s story. At the end of the audience’s one-hour visit to Helen’s bedroom, the sun will rise and The Face will say goodnight.
Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre 2014 (LOST Theatre, London)
Our next installation edition took the form of a one-on-one experience in a mirrored studio space. Guided by The Face and her suitcase of artifacts, the audience moved through the story one Helen at a time.
Ultimately, we hope to create a multiHelen narrative installation in which an audience can walk through the story of the story of Helen. We’re currently brainstorming about this format with installation design team Plastic Artists (Hazel Kelly and Madeleine Hunter). Watch this space!
In addition to the ephemeral performance editions, the eternal edition of The Helen Project lives online, as an interactive fiction experience. In its final iteration, we hope to involve a global community of artists in an online interactive experience in which an audience can construct their own individual experiences of Helen (Megan explains this best).
Megan Cohen is the most frequently-produced female playwright in the San Francisco Bay Area, with 37 productions and readings in the past 12 months. Named a 2013 “Artist to Keep an Eye On” by Theater Bay Area Magazine, and one of SF Weekly’s “Top Theater Artists to Watch,” Cohen is a charter member of The San Francisco Neo-Futurists ensemble, writing for and performing in the ongoing run of their weekly show Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind: 30 Plays in 60 Minutes. Her work has been seen on stages across the U.S., from midtown Manhattan to small-town Montana. As a performance artist, she’s currently developing A Totally Epic Odyssey, her durational 12-hour solo show based on Homer’s narrative poem of adventure, sex, and the quest for home. Education: B.A. Drama with Honors, Stanford University ’05. www.MeganCohen.com
Talk to us: @WayBetterThanTV and @AmyClareTasker on #HelenProject
Amy Clare Tasker was based in San Francisco from 2008 – 2013 before relocating to London. Her work demonstrates a commitment to new forms and new voices; a fascination with ancient, epic stories; and a profound joy in collaborative experimentation with other creative minds in theatre and across artistic disciplines. In London, she is a cofounder of GAP Salon (Gender and Performance), which aims to connect, sustain, and inspire artists and advocates working for gender equality. In San Francisco, she has been a founding member of Inkblot Ensemble, and an associate artist with DIVAfest, EXIT Theatre and Cutting Ball Theater. Amy holds a B.A. in Drama from U.C. Irvine and has also studied playwriting and directing at the University of Manchester/Royal Exchange Theatre. She is an alumna of Directors Lab West 2012. www.amyclaretasker.com
THE LONDON CREATIVE TEAM (2014)
Sharon Burrell (Co-director) After a career in marketing, Sharon trained as a theatre director at CityLit under the tutorage of award winning playwright and director Simon Bowen. In 2014, she was selected for Springboard, a training programme run by the Young Vic’s Directors Network. Participating directors included Natalie Abrahami, Ramin Gray, Mike Longhurst, Ian Rickson, John Tiffany, Lyndsey Turner and Theatre O. Other practical experience includes workshopping with Frantic Assembly and observing Max Stafford-Clark in rehearsal for ‘Our Country’s Good’. As a producer she has trained with Stage One and founded To The Moon in 2012. Sharon’s directing work includes ‘The Merchant of Venice’ (Goodmann Productions, Courtyard Theatre) which received praise for featuring a female Shylock. She has also directed several shorts for playwrights including Judy Upton, Ed Connole, Tom Jensen and Paul Vates at venues including Park Theatre (Park 200), The Drayton Theatre, and Hen & Chickens. She has also assistant directed on ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’ at the John Lyon Theatre. She was one of the devisers of To The Moon’s first production ‘Silent Shakespeare’ as well as producer.
Angela Bull (Unpacking Helen) has worked extensively throughout her career in many areas of the profession, from Motion Capture for X-Box to running her own theatre company and producing plays of critical acclaim. Angela’s latest film credits are Dom for More Or Less Productions where she plays twins, the British indie flick 3 Stags with Fort Mark Films due for release later this year. Taxi-Playing Against The Clock for Bongo Reef Pictures has just won Best Picture at the Rob Knox Film Festival. Recent Theatre credits include: Skin Tight, Extremeties, Othello and Fun Like Stalingrad (Epsilon Productions), Elegies For Angels, Punks & Raging Queens (Chrysalis Productions), Recognition of Shakuntale (Grit Productions & Community 20), Hamlet (Twisted Elbow), Blood Wedding (CP Theatre Productions), The Way Of The World (Onatti Theatre Co.), God (Birmingham Stage Co.) and Sweeny Todd (Spotlighters). TV appearance includes Doctors and Dangerfield for the BBC. Radio includes Postcards From A Cataclysm for Radio 4 and The Factory and a One Woman production The Desk for Promising Productions.
Rachel Handshaw (Last Night of the War Helen) is an American actress based in London. Recent credits include roles in the feature films, The Fifth Estate and Edge of Tomorrow. Onstage in the United Kingdom, she has appeared in Crowd as part of the ObamAmerica festival at Theatre503, Penelope who Really Cried at the White Bear Theatre, Rhinegold at the Yard, liberty equality fraternity at the Tron Theatre and the Traverse Theatre, Lethe and The Rise and Fall of Lucas Petite at The Arches, and The Wars of the Roses trilogy at the Scottish Youth Theatre. In New York City, she worked extensively in Off Broadway theatres as well as regionally at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and the Hangar Theatre. Rachel trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly the RSAMD), Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and Sarah Lawrence College.
Anna Martine (The Face, July 2014; Movement Director & Voiceover, October 2014) trained at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Her Theatre and Opera credits include: The Wind in the Willows (ROH2 and The Duchess Theatre*), The Marriage of Figaro (ENO) and A Dog’s Heart (Complicité and ENO), Toujours et Pret de Moi (The Print Room), Miki (Greenwich Theatre and Norden Farm Centre for the Arts), ENRON (Noel Coward Theatre), Low Life (Blindsummit – BAC and Tour), Sun (Shoreditch Church), A Corps et a Cru (Indian Runner Productions – Camden Peoples Theatre and Tour), and with Punchdrunk: Tunnel 228 (Old Vic Tunnels), A Guest for Dinner (Arts Depot Finchley) and the launch of London’s W Hotel. She has appeared in several short films written and directed by Maxence Vassilyevitch.The Wind in the Willows received an Olivier Award for Best entertainment and Family 2014.
Georgina Panton (First Night of the War Helen) trained at East 15 School of Acting. Recent roles include Mistress Overdone in Measure for Measure (Immersion Theatre), Nancy in Oliver Twist, Belle/Mrs. Cratchitt in A Christmas Carol (TNT Theatre), Felicite in Breakfast with Emma (Rosemary Branch/Tennison’s Quirk) and Nell Gwynn in Five Clever Courtesans (Cabinets of Curiosity). Previous theatre includes Proof (Birmingham Stage), Hell and High Water (Strange Face), The Picture of Dorian Gray (White Horse Theatre) and tours to No.1 venues in Europe and Asia with Harold and Maude, The Canterville Ghost, Dinner for One and One Language, Many Voices (all TNT Theatre). Film and TV includes Looney Tunes (Scene Productions), The Gift (Savitri Films) and the comedy pilot Wonderdog (Marron). She also voices the character of Melissa in the Channel 4 interactive web game Smokescreen.
Kandy Rohmann (The Face, October 2014) has worked in theatre and film since leaving drama school. Kandy’s most recent role was in Exhibit B, produced by the Barbican, as the Hostess. The show was controversially closed due to protests and concern over public safety, which led to her participating in a live debate on BBC’s Newsnight. She performed in The Beauty Project at the Young Vic in January 2014 and completed her first independent film in the Spring 2014. Kandy performed as the West Indian Miss in Sket by Maya Sondhi and also produced her first piece of theatre – Nothing To See Here with KimBo Theatre Company at the Arcola Theatre in August 2014. Kandy will be reviving her role as Terris in The Lonely Soldier Monologues in Spring 2015 with Liminal Space Productions at the Cockpit Theatre. She is a British actress who grew up in the Caribbean and New York.
Serafina Salvador (Packing Helen, October 2014) has trained at Lee Strasberg in New York. She has written and produced 5 films with director Elcid Asaei. Off these, her film Rage against Symphony was screened at the Oxford Film Festival, USA. Piranha – the movement (written by Elcid Asaei) , a film about the London riots was an official selection for the BFI Return to Riots festival and was screened to a standing ovation at the BFI on 15 August 2014. Her credits in theatre include All that Glitters by NSR Khan (Bush Theatre) and House of Bilquis Bibi by Tamasha (Hampstead Theatre). She has a film out in the fall titled Before Spring directed by Mary Hasavari, which is a drama exploring the plight of asylum seekers in Norway.
Pearl Mackie (Packing Helen, July 2014) trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, graduating in 2010. Theatre includes: Hello Kind World (To The Moon); Beef (Little Pieces of Gold at Southwark Playhouse) The Rain That Does Not Make You Wet (Vibrant 2014 at The Finborough) Home (The Last Refuge); Holiday (DarkbloomTheatre); Only Human (Theatre 503) Neighbors (HighTide Festival); Blue Blood (Riverside Studios); K (Write-On Festival); Ma Kelly Goes to the Games (Attic Theatre Company); The Crucible (Bristol Old Vic Theatre Royal); The Comedy of Errors (Circomedia); Dick Whittington (Redgrave Theatre); The Beaux Stratagem, Bluebird, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Three Sisters (BOVTS); Beautiful Thing (Studiospace). Screen includes: Doctors (BBC); Svengali (John Hardwick); Live reading of The Lady Vanishes (Debs Paterson) Radio Includes: Great Expectations (Marilyn Imrie); Special Commendation BBC Carleton Hobbs Award 2010.
THE SAN FRANCISCO CREATIVE TEAM (2013)
Misti Boettiger (Last Night of the War Helen) is a San Francisco based actor and artist. Roles and collaborations include Future Motive Power with Mugwumpin in San Francisco’s Old Mint, a workshop production of Heroin/e (written by Carson Kreitzer, dir. Rebecca Longworth); Io (Satellites, Inkblot Ensemble); Ophelia (Hamlet on Alcatraz, We Players); Flora/Ms. Jessel, (Turn of the Screw, dir. Rod Hipskind) and site-specific performances and installations with Scrap and Salvage. www.mistiboettiger.com
Sarah Moser (The Face) is so excited to work with such extraordinary women. Recent credits include Time Stands Still at TheatreWorks; Olive and the Big Bully Battle, a TheatreWorks school tour; You, Nero at Arena Stage and at Berkeley Repertory Theatre; The Lily’s Revenge at Magic Theatre; In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) and Hamlet at City Lights Theater Company; Almost, Maine at California Conservatory Theatre; Restoration Comedy and Don Juan at Stanford Summer Theater. She has appeared in Megan Cohen’s A Three Little Dumplings Adventure and Dumplings Go Bananas in the annual Bay One-Acts Festival (BOA), and she recently took part in San Jose Rep’s Emerging Artist Lab production of The Bad Quarto of Hamlet. She has performed with San Francisco-based sketch comedy groups Hot Mess and Killing My Lobster. Sarah has trained at Studio A.C.T. and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s Acting Shakespeare program.
Ariane Owens (Unpacking Helen) was most recently in Superior Donuts with Custom Made Theatre. She has performed in the Bay One Acts Festival for the past three years in pieces by Chris Chen, Lauren Yee and Sam Leichter. As a Company Member of Sleepwalkers Theatre she appeared in several productions including Tim Bauer’s, Zombie Town and JC Lee’s, The Nature Line. She is currently a Company Member of the new group 2by4 Theatre, trained at The New Actor’s Workshop and has a BFA from CalArts.
Roneet Aliza Rahamim (First Night of the War Helen) is thrilled to be a part of The Helen Project and to be performing in DIVAfest! A Bay Area native, she recently returned after living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There she worked with Mixed Blood Theatre, Park Square Theatre, The Minnesota Jewish Theater Company and Theatre Unbound, who received an Ivey Award for their all female production of Julius Caesar (Octavius, Decius Brutus) last year. Here, Roneet has had the pleasure of performing with Golden Thread Productions in their middle eastern theatre festival ReOrient 2012 and with City Lights Theater Company playing Thea in Hedda Gabler. Other favorite roles include: Janice in Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake) (Swandive Theatre) and the title role in Marisol (Theatre Pro Rata). She received a BFA from Marymount Manhattan College in NYC.
Lily Yang (Packing Helen) Born in Taiwan, and raised in Australia and Singapore, Lily has called the Bay Area home for the past five years. She was last seen at The EXIT in a staged reading of Pleiades as part of the 2011 San Francisco Olympians Festival. Since 2005, Lily has been active in V-Day, a movement to stop violence against women and girls, and has acted in, directed, and produced multiple productions of The Vagina Monologues in Taiwan, Oakland, and San Francisco, to raise money for local women’s groups dedicated to stopping the violence. With a background in broadcasting and arts administration, she is currently the special events manager at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Lily is honored to be a part of The Helen Project.
Julianne Fawsitt (stage manager) is a San Francisco based performer, director, and stage manager. She is honored to be working with the talented ladies of both The Helen Project and DIVAfest. She was the movement director for Pussy, in DIVAfest 2012, and has also worked on such plays as No Nude Men’s Merchants, Strange Angles’ Hunter’s Point, Crowded Fire’s The Secretaries, and Vanguardian Productions’ Truce.
Maura Halloran (dramaturg) is jazzed to return to SF DIVAfest with this crack team of brainy ladies after debuting her solo show Pussy here last year. A “Teaser Edition” of Pussy recently anchored Berkeley’s “Women in Solodarity: Cat Ladies” festival and will be featured at Stage Werx “Solo Sundays” in July. Maura holds a BFA Acting from UBC Vancouver and performed in several cities in Western Canada as well as the Setkani Festival in Brno, CZ before relocating to San Francisco in 2010. Here she’s worked with New Conservatory Theatre Center, No Nude Men, SF Theater Pub, Tides Theatre, SF Shakes’ school tour, One Minute Play Festival, Bay One Acts Festival, CalShakes (at the National Steinbeck Festival) and The Cutting Ball Theater.
Development in San Francisco
In May 2013, DIVAfest produced a five-week workshop of our Build-Your-Own-Helen-of-Troy Play Kit, a modular text with rules for constructing your own version of the most beautiful woman in the world.
Five different versions of Helen crowd her bedroom, packing to leave Sparta, reeling after her first glimpse of war, watching Troy burn as the final battle rages, and sifting through decades of memory to find the truth of who is really to blame and what really happened. The fifth Helen, The Face, is the iconic Helen, “Helen” in quotation marks, who speaks in found text handed down to her through the ages, from Homer and Marlowe, from modern poetry, and even ripped from the headlines of our contemporary tabloids.
The DIVAfest workshop featured:
Misti Rae Boettiger, Sarah Moser, Ariane Owens, Roneet Aliza Rahamim, & Lily Yang.
dramaturg: Maura Halloran.
stage manager: Julianne Fawsitt.
After the DIVAfest workshop, Amy moved to London, where she continued to develop various “editions” of the piece with new collaborators.
London Performance History
AT THE CANAL CAFE THEATRE
April 12, 2015
a solo excerpt performed by Amy Clare Tasker
along with other short pieces in a new writing showcase
AT THE FACE TO FACE FESTIVAL
directed by Sharon Burrell and Amy Clare Tasker.
featuring Angela Bull, Rachel Handshaw, Anna Martine, Pearl Mackie, Georgina Panton, Kandy Rohmann and Serafina Salvador.
textual sound design by Megan Cohen; musical sound design by Xander Edwards.
movement direction and voiceover by Anna Martine.
October 7, 2014
The Helen Project returns to the Face to Face Festival of solo theatre, bringing back five interconnected Helens, each telling her version of the story.
July 11, 2014
an hour-long, five-Helen edition of the Build-Your-Own-Helen-Of-Troy Play Kit
performed as interconnected solo pieces in the beautiful Lost Theatre.
July 13, 2014
a five-Helen, one-on-one immersive installation in a Lost Theatre studio.
AT STAND-UP TRAGEDY
June 12, 2014
A solo excerpt performed by Angela Bull
along with other short performances at Stand-Up Tragedy‘s Greek Tragedy Night
at the Dogstar in Brixton.
AT THE SOUTHBANK CENTRE
March 5, 2014
An excerpt performed by Angela Bull
along with other short performances at the GAP Salon/Female Arts/ So and So Arts Club WOW Party
at the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival.
5 STARS “Poignant, provocative, and engrossing, you’ll never look at the Iliad in quite the same way again.” Read More…
– James Waygood for Grumpy Gay Critic, London, October 2014.
“I had never been made to think about the Helen myth in this way before… Really effective, really bold, really challenging…I can’t really ask for anything more when I come to the theatre.”
– #freshoffthestalls video review, London, October 2014.
“All of this is told in shards of monologue as Helen is left alone with her thoughts overnight…There’s something that feels resonant and right about representing Helen through fragments. She’s a figure who’s almost never looked at straight on as a character in her own right, but always seen through others’ eyes for what she represents. And as frustrating as it may be, maybe there’s something appropriate too about the pieces not quite coming together into a coherent portrait. That’s Helen all over.” Read More…
– Sam Hurwitt for KQED, San Francisco, May 2013
The Helen Project is “intriguing” and “provocative.” “A test of their build-your-own Helen play kit, it’s five intersecting monologues from many more different takes on Helen they’ve written… a whole new set of material is promised for a second outing this weekend.” Read More…
– Robert Hurwitt for The San Francisco Chronicle, May 2013.
“Cohen and Tasker masterfully juxtapose the recorded text of Helen with sensory and emotional detail that never made it into the histories. From the moment Helen convinces herself to abandon her children, to the public contempt and shadow of a marriage she returns to after the war, the audience is right beside her. The result is eerily intimate, as though you were watching shadows of Helen’s memory flit by.” Read More…
– Setsu Uzume for Art Animal, San Francisco, June 2013
Amy Clare Tasker on KLAX radio with Arts in Review host Gregory Scharpen, May 2013
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