A sorceress is coming to Birmingham.
The moon obeys her command. It descends to the earth at her whim and returns to the heavens only when she allows.
Don’t believe it? Congratulations: you’re one of the skeptics. One of the questioners. Perhaps, like Aglaonike, one of the scientists. If you’ve never heard of Aglaonike, you’re not alone; her story is largely untold. But this month, she’s stepping back into the limelight.
A staged reading of Aglaonike’s Tiger will be performed in the Carver Theatre in Birmingham’s historic Fourth Avenue Business District. The play follows the story of the historical Aglaonike, an astronomer in ancient Greece whose male peers attributed her ability to predict lunar eclipses to sorcery.
“She was the first astronomer who was a female,” said playwright Claudia Barnett. “So I was thinking about astronomy, but I was also thinking about what it would be like to be the first female astronomer and not be taken seriously.”
The play debuted last August in the summer reading salon of March Forth Productions in New York. Inspired by the plays of ancient Greece, Barnett incorporated ancient techniques, such as the use of masks, along with innovative features like puppetry.
“I really tried to keep to a lot of what the ancient Greek plays would do, although it doesn’t feel ancient at all,” Barnett said.
However, since staged readings don’t involve scenery or costumes, anyone who comes to the show won’t experience these elements. Despite their absence, director Bree Windham said that she believes people will have a “unique experience” with the new play.
“We’ve really been working on telling a story through physicality and voice, and working with those things that we do have, to let the audience fill in those things that we don’t with their imagination,” Windham said.
Barnett’s play does call for classical, tango and calliope musical elements, which will be performed by members of the Birmingham Jazz All-Stars and guest musicians.
For Rebecca Sheehan, the experience of playing Aglaonike was too good to miss.
“She’s a skeptic,” said Sheehan, a copy editor for Weld. “I’ve always been like that, since I was a kid.”
Although Sheehan was hesitant to take the role due to potential scheduling conflicts, she explained that she found herself drawn to the part. “It’s just kind of a cool role that resonates with me,” she said.
The cast also includes Payne Hopton-Jones as Tiger and Gabrielle Metz as Erictho. Michelle Griffo, Elizabeth Grady and Elisse Mayor will play the three Chorus Members, and Rachel Wilson will read stage directions.
While Aglaonike’s history could lend itself to any number of themes, Windham believes that the play is “about a young woman who wants to have her voice heard.” The director said that she relates to Aglaonike’s desire to share her vision without losing a part of herself, stating that it’s something she has experienced in her own life. She explained that she believes the play can appeal to other young women who want to share their own visions.
“There’s so much optimism and so much hope for the future, and we want to be a part of that,” Windham said.
Aglaonike’s Tiger will be read at the Carver Theatre on Friday, April 24 at 9 a.m. and Saturday, April 25, at 7 p.m. The Carver Theatre is located at 161 4th Ave. N., and admission is pay-what-you-can. For more information, visit jazzhall.com or call (205) 327-9424.