The thought still blows actor Will Wallace’s mind, even though he’s been rehearsing the moment all summer.
He’s going to steal fire from the sun.
Not literally, of course. He’ll be performing in an outdoor theater space during the total solar eclipse as the title character in “Prometheus,” which opens Saturday at Stage III Community Theatre. The play retells the Greek myth of the Titan who stole fire from the sun and gave it to humanity. And thanks to a little planning and a lot of hard work, the actors will incorporate the natural phenomenon into the climax of the show.
Prometheus steals the sun’s fire just as totality begins. The cast will blend voices in song — growing increasingly dissonant and eerie — as Prometheus climbs the mountain to steal the fire. For the more than two minutes of totality, Wallace will frame the eclipsed sun in his hands. Then, in a flaming magic trick, he’ll pass the fire to the humans below in the midday dusk.
Wallace said he expects the moment to be the “the most transcendent moment of my entire life.” A total eclipse is already a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many, and Monday’s will be the first he’s seen, he said.
“But to be standing on the top of a pinnacle, reaching your left hand up, literally pulling the fire from the sun,” Wallace said, “that is something that I will have the pleasure of being the only person ever to have done that.”
Actors who performed in ancient Greek theater often referenced the sky and natural environment, said Bill Conte, who wrote and directed the play. The performers would even mention sunrises and certain stars and planets visible during the show.
But “Prometheus” will be the first known theatrical production to incorporate a total solar eclipse into the show and essentially use it as a special effect, Conte said.
“As far as I know, there is nothing like this in the annals of history, either,” said Conte, who holds a doctorate degree in theater and teaches at Casper College.
Conte knows the sky likely will draw more eyes than the stage during the eclipse, and that’s OK. That’s why the tickets come with a pair of eclipse glasses, he said. The show for many might be more of a background to the eclipse. Like audiences of old, they’ll come and go to enjoy the festival offerings as the cosmic forces and battle on stage reflect those unfolding in the sky.
“I think it should be one that is awe-inspiring and transcendent,” Conte said about the moment. “I would like people to feel like they’ve watched an ancient archetype come to life.”
True community theater
Conte had the idea while musing about how to top last summer’s “Motorcycle Macbeth.” Then he remembered his “Prometheus” script, which retells the ancient Greek story of the Titan god who gave the gift of fire to mankind, Conte said.
He wrote the play in 1991 for a performance across the 4 acres of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in New York City. Conte reworked it for the local space and cast members of the core Theatre of the Poor company, who performed in “Motorcycle Macbeth,” and others. The company aims to bring theater to the people in a variety of spaces with a non-traditional style that doesn’t depend on standard theater technology.
His modern retelling follows the classical tale and begins at the origin of the universe. The entire play is staged outside, except for the final scene portraying Prometheus’ rescue from hell.
For many years, Conte has maintained a passion for performing in found spaces and natural environments as well as coordinating shows with special events, he said.
A vacant lot behind Stage III offered a clear view of the eclipse. The team had to clear weeds, dirt piles, trash cans, wood pallets and cable spools, but they used much of the debris to create the outdoor sculptural set. Actors tower on the higher levels and from the theater roof just above. A mural on the wall below tells the story in graffiti-style art designed by A.J. Guillen, who also portrays Zeus.
The eclipse performance will feature an outdoor street festival with food and local artists, hoping to emulate ancient theater’s festival-like atmosphere, Conte said. He strives through his productions to show thespians and audiences alike that theater can happen anywhere while using the resources available.
“Most of theater history has been what we’re doing — outside and raw and emerging from community, like this,” Conte said. “In a way, I want to return theater to its ancient roots. I hope that with the success of this project and as we grow the idea of Theater of the Poor and environmental theater, that Casper will become known for this thing, and that people will be drawn to Casper for precisely this kind of theater experience.”
When the moment comes
Much of the cast and crew will experience the sight drawing visitors to Casper from all over the world from offstage. Actor A.J. Guillen will be standing just to the side of the stage during totality and will hand Wallace the flame stunt gear moments before.
“I can totally just be in awe of the glory that’s happening,” he said.
Tricia Lovelace will watch the eclipse as she prepares to enter the stage in a cow-inspired costume. She portrays the princess Io, while her 14-year-old son performs in the chorus. She’s excited to combine her love for theater with friends in the show and family members in the audience for the occasion.
“To be doing something so historic … and be surrounded by like-minded people just as excited and just as amped to experience something so monumental, is indescribable,” Lovelace said.
Cameron Allender, 15, portrays Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and metalworking. The actor isn’t sure what he’ll feel during totality, but said he’s excited, nervous, humbled and grateful to be part of something that’s never going to happen again.
“I don’t know,” Allender said, when asked what he expects to feel in totality. “I’m probably just going to try to stay in character.”