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Getting Ready for "Iphigenia"

Over winter break, fourth-year drama student Danaya Almenares-Mesa, whose stage name is Danaya Esperanza, returned to Cuba to visit family members for the first time in seven-and-a-half years—the four years she was at Columbia, where she got her bachelor’s degree, and three-and-a-half at Juilliard. (Danaya had moved with her mom to the U.S. when she was 5; they were political refugees.) She got back to J.F.K. Airport very early on January 6, just in time to begin rehearsing the fourth-year production of Ellen McLaughlin’s Iphigenia and Other Daughters—and to experience the record low temperatures that were part of a phenomenon known as the polar vortex.

Directed by Ellen McLaughlin. Feb. 13, 16, 18, 21, and 22; Stephanie P. McClelland Drama Theater

Danaya Almenares-Mesa
(Photo by Christine Jean Chambers )

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2:06 a.m. On the A train at Howard Beach and heading home to Washington Heights after an amazing visit with my mother to Cuba to see my father, grandfather, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins—after so much time away, the airport delays were worth it. Hoping to get at least five hours of sleep before my first rehearsal for Iphigenia (but hey, at least I’m memorized)!

2:12 a.m. I decide to run my lines, just to make sure. And to stay awake. I secretly hope the other people on the train think I’m a little crazy.

3:31 a.m. I arrive at my apartment and text my mom, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., to let her know I’m home safe. I start washing up and pack for my day tomorrow (technically today, but at least it’s a few hours away).

9:36 a.m. My second alarm sounds—I don’t remember turning the first one off.

10:01 a.m. I’m getting dressed. Warmly. What a change from the December summer I just experienced in Cuba!

10:23 a.m. On the train to school, I start drinking the ginger kombucha I found in my fridge this morning. There wasn’t anything else there, though, so I’ll have to buy a quart of yogurt from Gourmet Garage when I get to school. 

11 a.m. Ellen Lauren, the director of Iphigenia and Other Daughters—and a founding member of SITI Company—begins rehearsal with a chat. Through our rehearsal process, we will strive to create an ensemble of artists with a common vocabulary so that we can communicate generously and openly—collaboration is key to creating art in the theater. Then we begin our training with the Suzuki Method, a “physical discipline drawn from such diverse influences as ballet, traditional Japanese and Greek theater, and martial arts [that] seeks to heighten the actor’s emotional and physical power and commitment to each moment on the stage,” as SITI defines it.

12:22 p.m. Now it’s time for training in Viewpoints, an improvisation technique that grew out of the postmodern dance world and which SITI has expanded and adapted for actors in part to improve ensemble work. Then we get up on our feet and begin the work.

1:12 p.m. Our sound designer, Christian Frederickson, teaches us the beginning of a Greek lullaby and then we listen to a clip of Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg. Christian talks about the dissonance in that piece as an appropriate echo of the dissonance between the old and new worlds in the play. 

1:45 p.m. Scenic designer Narelle Sissons talks us through her set model: an elegant, poetical space that is humming with possibility, and costume designer James Schuette presents his beautiful sketches: classic and stunning clothing from the 1910s, yet somehow timeless. We are blessed with a masterful creative team!

2:42 p.m. Time for a read-through. My classmates—Brittany Vicars, Jessica Savage, Kate McGonigle, and Sam Lilja—are brilliant. I’m so lucky to be working with them in our last play at Juilliard.

4:05 p.m. Alex [security guard Gustavo Medina] is securing the 66th Street Juilliard entrance today and we chat about the overwhelming satisfaction of visiting our motherlands—he’s from Mexico— after being away for years. Then I head to Gourmet Garage to pick up an early dinner: ribs with rice and veggies.

4:30 p.m. Sam texts me: “Come into my locker room in 5 minutes. I have something for you.” So mysterious. But I know exactly what it is—homemade beef jerky!

4:38 p.m. I’m sitting next to Sam, eating jerky and my dinner. Mmm.

5:03 p.m. Rehearsal resumes. Brittany gives an insightful presentation on the curse of the House of Atreus. J. Ed Araiza, a member of SITI Company, talks to us about dramaturgy and our roles as our own dramaturges throughout this incredibly collaborative process. We are so fortunate to have gifted and experienced theater makers like Ellen and J. Ed working with us. Then we get dramaturgical homework: come in tomorrow with themes, motifs, and symbols that we find in the play.

6:40 p.m. We’re released from rehearsal a few minutes early, and Jess decides to come to Whole Foods with me to shop and catch up. It’s so crowded when we get there that we have to wait in a line for a cart. The weather reports—bitter cold!—are making people get ready to hibernate. 

8:33 p.m. Back home, I talk with my roommate Andrea, who is watching a telenovela—an entertaining way to continue learning Spanish, she tells me. I’m reminded of the family I visited in Cuba; they might be watching a telenovela now too. Andrea just moved into the apartment in December and I’m glad to have a roommate who already feels like a good friend. One thing leads to another in our conversation aaaand: we might get a kitten! (Shh, don’t tell Austin [Smith], my fellow fourth-year and our other roommate.)

9 p.m. I heat my leftovers in the oven and pair them with bread, cheese and salad—and a relaxing TV show (Revenge!).

10:30 p.m. After reviewing my script, I do my dramaturgical homework for tomorrow: turns out the play is ripe with symbols and motifs connected to themes of childhood, fate, and sacrifice, to name a few. I email my father, do some reading, and …

12:46 a.m. Sweet dreams.

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