Soldiering On: Playing the Role of A.J. in Ellen McLaughlin's Ajax in Iraq

Material Information

Soldiering On: Playing the Role of A.J. in Ellen McLaughlin's Ajax in Iraq
Pankow, Katherine
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla
College of Fine Arts; University of Florida
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
Project in lieu of thesis


Subjects / Keywords:
Acting ( jstor )
Classical Greek drama ( jstor )
Costume design ( jstor )
Dance ( jstor )
Dance schools ( jstor )
Education credits ( jstor )
Lighting design ( jstor )
Soldiers ( jstor )
Theater ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
City of Coleman ( local )


Published in 2011, Ellen McLaughlin’s Ajax in Iraq conflates the story of the mythical Greek warrior Ajax, and A.J., a modern American female soldier in Iraq. This contemporary tragedy with Greek roots was produced at the University of Florida in November of 2012, and directed by Dr. David Young. In this production, I played the role of A.J. This paper documents my creative process through rehearsals and production. This document is broken into three main sections, bookended by an introduction and conclusion. The first section is a textual analysis of the script, which provides a context and summary of the text, and a discussion of its development by the playwright. The second section is a documentation of my creative process in the rehearsal period, focusing specifically on the use of physicality to access the character, but also touching on other rehearsal explorations. The third section is an evaluation and discussion of the role in performance.
General Note:
Theatre terminal project

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida Institutional Repository
Holding Location:
University of Flordia
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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This production is performed without an intermission CAST OF CHARACTERS DAVIDA EVETTE TOLBERT* Athena KATIE PANKOW* A.J. TOM FOLEY Ajax, Army Advisor AMANDA SCHLACHTER Gertrude Bell, Tecmessa MATT MERCURIO Odysseus, Therapist, NOG 3, Larry's Friend, Greek Chorus SEAN CANCELLIERI Captain, Teucer, NOG 1, Greek Chorus THADDEUS WALKER Sergeant, Man in the Dark 1, Greek Chorus STEPHANIE LYNGE Connie Mangus, Female Greek Chorus Leader OLUCHI NWOKOCHA Sickles, Judy, Modern Chorus B, Greek Chorus AMANDA YOUNG Rebo, Debbie, Modern Chorus C, Greek Chorus MARISSA WILLIAMS Abrams, Modern Chorus F, Greek Chorus ANTHONY BIDO Pisoni, Man in the Dark 2, NOG 4, Greek Chorus AMOS (A.J.) JOHNSON Charles, Larry, Greek Chorus JAVON JOHNSON Fletcher, Modern Chorus A, Minister, Male Greek Chorus Leader SUNNY SMITH Patient, Modern Chorus E, Greek Chorus Patient, Modern Chorus E EMILY GREEN NOG 2, Modern Chorus D, Greek Chorus DENOTES PROJECT IN LIEU OF THESIS The use of photography or vi deo is strictly prohibited Cell phones and text messaging are not permitted FROM THE DIRECTOR This is a play about the capacity for heroism by those who only wish to serve, and do not see themselves as heroes. SOPHOCLES’ AJAX: In Sophocles famous retelling of the story the hero Ajax is enraged when the arms of the dead Achilles are awarded to Odysseus instead of to him. The goddess Athena drives him mad so that he goes to a flock of sheep and slaughters them, imagining them to be the Achaean leaders. When he comes to his senses, he is covered with blood, and realizes what he has done. His honor diminished, he decides to kill himself rat her than live in shame. GERTRUDE BELL Gertrude Bell lived an extraordinary life. She is chiefly remembered for her pioneering assimilation of Arabic Culture. Despite being a brilliant scholar, archaeologist, mountaineer and linguist, she also found time to be a leading figure for the suffragette movement. Uniquely for her time, she mingled easily wi th Arab Princes, playing a formative role in the creation of the modern state of Iraq. Some have even called her the Mother of Iraq. MORE ABOUT THE WAR When soldiers go to basic training they meet a drill sergeant who seems to be their worst nightmare. When they graduate they leave with an emotional bond with their drill sergeant that they never forget. Ask any veteran the name of his drill sergeant and he will know it. NY Times: March 9th, 2012: The rate of sexual assaults on women serving in the Military remains intolerably high. A 2006 study of female veterans estimated that between 2333% of US service women have been assaulted. Too often victims are too afraid to come forward.Ž


GLOSSARY RPG'S Rocket Propelled Grenade; in other words, a rocket launcher. The noise a rocket makes typically sounds like a piece of sheet metal or paper being ripped. UNIT Another way of saying a "Company." A company usually consists of 2-4 platoons. A platoon consists of 2-4 squads, a squad consists of 2-4 teams, and a team is comprised of 3-4 soldiers. Overall, a company or unit has an average of 80-225 soldiers. SUNNI One of the two major factions of Islam, they make up about 8090% of Muslims in the world. They differ in beliefs with Shiites, and in Ir aq, they struggle for power in politics with the Shiites. SHIITES Second of the major factions of Islam. They make up about 1020% of the Muslim population worldwide. In Iraq, they constitute the majority (about 65%) and struggle for power with the Sunni. JA'FAR PASHA Prime Minister of Iraq in the 1920s. An important historical figure, he sided with T.E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) at one point. SERGEANT An NCO, non-commissioned officer. In the military rank system, the NCO is supposed to be the person you go to if you have a problem or you need something. They are the leaders of the Joes and grunts. They are one of your own and they earned their rank by experience and hard work, and not necessarily because of a college degree. NVGS NOGS Night visions goggles. Night optical goggles. (NOG should actually be NOD, D for device.) In night vision, the vision is green, and 2 dimensional. SPECIAL THANKS Stacey Galloway, Zak Herring, Kate Glennon, Robin McGee, Todd Bedell, Tony Berry, Tiza Garland, Sarah White, Jack Nguyen, Elizabeth Adams, Officer Randolph Delapena of the UF Army ROTC program THE COMPANY DAVIDA EVETTE TOLBERT (ATHENA) is a 3rd-year MFA Acting candidate, who is honored to be a part of the UF SoTD and is beyond ecstatic to be portraying the biggest diva of all time. She is grateful to Dr. Young for her first and last acting opportunities here. Shes been featured in: Note to Self, Circle Mirror Transformation, Romeo and Juliet, Oedipus the King, You Cant Take it With You, Agbedi di, Signs of Life, BHM Variety Show and Ajax in Iraq. Davida humbly thanks God, he r Mama, friends, family, mentors, students, professors and all of her boosŽ for support. KATIE PANKOW (A.J.) is a third-year MFA Acting candidate. Previous UF credits include A Piece of My Heart, You Cant Take it With You, Oedipus, Romeo and Juliet, and The Grapes of Wrath. To the SoTD faculty: thanks for all your help, guidance and support, and for making me fall in love with this craft over and over. Much love to Mom, Dad, Nate and Beef, and to my extended theatre family (you know who you are„thanks for keeping me sane). For our soldiers, past and present„I cannot express how thankful I am for your sacrific e and commitment to this country and to your brothers and sisters in arms. TOM FOLEY (AJAX) is a first-year MFA acting student with the SOTD. He is very excited to be taking part in a work that honors the commitment and sacrifices of American soldiers serving in combat. He served for 4 years in the US Army as a Combat Me dical Specialist with the First Infantry Division and it was his great plea sure to scream abuse at the cast as they learned to march and do pus hups in preparation for the show. AMANDA SCHLACHTER (GERTRUDE BELL, TECMESSA) is a First-Year MFA Acting Candidate. She has worked with suc h companies as Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Mad Cow, Asolo Rep, The Source Theatre and American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Amanda is so gr ateful for the opportunity to train here at The University of Florida! Go Gators MATT MERCURIO (ODYSSEUS, THERAPIST, NOG 3, LARRY’S FRIEND, GREEK CHORUS) A bone marrow transplant can save the lives of people battling leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood cancers. For some patients its the only option in continuing the fight agai nst those diseases. Check out Becoming a member of the re gistry is fast and easy. For Christina, who inspires me with her strength every day. SEAN CANCELLIERI (CAPTAIN, TEUCER, NOG 1, GREEK CHORUS) is a first-year MFA candidate from Las Vegas. He gradua ted from UNLV with a Bachelors degree in Theatre Studies. He is thrilled to begin his work here at The University of Florida. His recent credits include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Taming of the Shrew. THADDEUS WALKER (SERGEANT, MAN IN THE DARK 1, GREEK CHORUS) would like thank his family for all their support and Dr. Young for this wonderful opportunity. Previous UF credits: Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Nick u/s), She Stoops to Conquer (Thomas/Valet) Florida Players: Othello (Montano) The Childrens Hour (Dr. Cardin) Enjoy the show!


STEPHANIE LYNGE (CONNIE MANGUS, FEMALE GREEK CHORUS LEADER) Is a 2nd-year MFA; Broadway: Beauty and the Beast (Sugarbowl, u/s Mrs. Potts and Wardrobe). National Tours: Mamma Mia (Ensemble, u/s Donna, Rosie), She Loves Me (Amalia). Off-Broadway: Three Penny Opera (Polly.) Regional: Showtune (Pasadena Plyhs), A Little Night Music (Goodspeed), Lend Me A Tenor (Mountain Playhouse), Tartuffe (Barter), Empire (Husdon-LA). UF: You Can't Take it With You (Penelope Sycamore), A Piece of My Heart (Maryjo). Love to my family and friends, old and new. OLUCHI NWOKOCHA (SICKLES, JUDY, MODERN CHORUS B, GREEK CHORUS) is a 1styear MFA Acting candidate from sunny California. She is ecstatic to be making her University of Florida debut here at the SoTD. She would like to thank Dr. Young for this opportunity and for making her first show a memorable one. God is good! AMANDA YOUNG (REBO, DEBBIE, MO DERN CHORUS C, GREEK CHORUS) is a Junior in the BFA Acting Program. She is th rilled to show her tough side in Ajax in Iraq. You may have seen her as the Unicorn/Amalthea in the Last Unicorn last fall. She would like to than k her family for their continued love and support! MARISSA WILLIAMS (ABRAMS, MODERN CHORUS F, GREEK CHORUS) is a junior in the BFA Acting Program. She is extrem ely excited and grateful to be given this amazing opportunity! She woul d like to thank her family, friends and cats for all of their love and encouragement! Hooah! ANTHONY BIDO (PISONI, MAN IN THE DARK 2, NOG 4, GREEK CHORUS) is overjoyed to be a part of this production. He would like to thank Dr. Young for his guidance and wisdom, his wonderful and immensely talented cast and crew, and his friends & family for all they do. He would like to dedicate this show to his father. AMOS "AJ" JOHNSON (CHARLES, LARRY, GREEK CHORUS) a sophomore, is ecstatic to be in his first production at UF He would like to thank his family, friends, all of the new friends he ha s made at UF, his brothers Geoff and Nathan serving in Afghan istan, all those serving beside them, and all who have served before them. JAVON JOHNSON (FLETCHER, MODERN CHORUS A, MINISTER, MALE GREEK CHORUS LEADER) is a 1st-year MFA Acting candidate from Tulsa Oklahoma. Javon is a graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma and holds an Associate of Arts degree from Northeastern Oklahoma A & M. Some of his favorite roles include Det. Tulposki from Pillowman, Jim in Big River, and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth night. SUNNY SMITH (PATIENT, MODERN CHORUS E, GREEK CHORUS) is an MFA Acting Candidate in her UF acting debut. Regional credits: Miss Electricity (LaJolla Playhouse), King O' the Moon, Wit, Dracula, Julius Caesar, Hansel & Gretel (North Coast Rep), Into the Woods, Heidi Chronicles (New Village Arts), Frozen (Ion Theatre), HMS Pinafore, Daughter of the Regiment (San Diego Lyric Opera). Thanks, Dr. Young! EMILY GREEN (NOG 2, MODERN CHORUS D, GREEK CHORUS) is a 2nd-year MFA Acting candidate. Prev ious UF credits: A Piece of My Heart (Sissy), Measure for Measure (Mistress Overdone), Roberto Zucco (Mother). Much love and thanks to Dr. Young, the cast and cr ew, and, of course, BAM!: The Experiment. THE PRODUCTION TEAM DR. DAVID YOUNG (DIRECTOR) has been Graduate Research Professor in the School of Theatre and Dance at the Un iversity of Florida since 1993. He was, for 15 years, the Producing Director of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, a national education program whose network includes 450 colleges and universities. He has directed over 100 productions throughout the United States and internationally, including Amadeus, Company, Six Characters in Search of an Author, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Private Lives, Vincent in Brixton, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, How I Learned to Drive, The Clean House and Circle Mirror Transformation, and An Inspector Calls. MIHAI CIUPE (SCENIC DESIGNER) Associate Professor in Scenic Design University of Florida School of Theatr e and Dance. Originally from Romania, He received a double MFA degr ee in costume and set design from Carnegie Mellon University and his BFA from Ion Andreescu Academy of Visual Arts, in Cluj, Romania. Prior to the United States he was resident scenographer at The National Theatr e of Cluj, Romania. During his former years he traveled extensively in Europe in tours with the shows that he designed, getting exposure to th e various schools of theatre from England, Scotland, Hungary, France and Yugoslavia. As a designer he worked with some of the greatest Romanian directors: Gabor Tompa, Alexandru Dabija, Iulian Visa, Mihai Ma nutiu, Victor Ion Frunza. In 1991 he received a scholarship to attend The London International Festival of Theatre. Since 1995 he has been a member of the United Association of the Romanian Fine Artists in the scenography section. BECKI LEIGH STAFFORD (COSTUME DESIGNER), currently pursuing her MFA in Costume Design & Technology, is from Pensacola, Florida. Other shows she has designed at UF include Roberto Zucco and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Special thanks to everyone in the costume shop for their support and hard work to make this show a reality. TOPHER STUMREITER (LIGHTING DESIGNER) is a 2nd year MFA Lighting Design Candidate. Originally from southern California where he received his Bachelors Degree in Theatre Arts and worked on staff at a local high school mentoring and designing. He also designed and organized a touring community/educational outreach production spanning six schools with ages 12 to 68. Previous UF design credits include She Stoops to Conquer and Tick, Tickƒ Boom! PATRICIA COLEMAN (ASSOCIATE LIGHTING DESIGNER) is a first year Lighting Design MFA candidate. She received he r BA in Theatre Design and Technology from UNLV. Some credits include For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is En uf, A Christmas Carol, A Streetcar Named Desire, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.


BEN HAWKINS (SOUND DESIGNER) Is a 3rd …year BFA candidate in lighting design. He has enjoyed working on productions at UF such as Chicago (Assistant Lighting Designer) as well as lighting MFA one acts and BFA dance showcase earlier this year in the spring. He gr eatly enjoies fulfilling the role of technical supervis or at P.K. Yonge supply lighting and sound support for many productions. Thanks to all those who support me. CHARLECIA JOY PAUL (PROPERTIES/ASST. SCENIC DESIGNER) is a BFA scene design major. Shes had the honor of being props mistress for Florida Players Spring New Works Festival and Jeffrey. She also volunteers at the Actors Warehouse and looks forward to continuing working with Florida Players and The School of Theater and Dance. ANGELA C. ROSARIO (STAGE MANAGER) 3rd-year BA. Other SM credits: STNJs Jr. & Sr. Shakespeare Corps productions of The Tempest and Beowulf. Florida Players production of The Childrens Hour. Angela would like to thank her parents for their never-ending support, Sarah White & Topher for always offering advice, and Kenny & Erin for keeping her sane. ELLEN MCLAUGHLIN (PLAYWRIGHT) Her plays have received numerous national and international productions at theaters such as Actors Theater of Louisville, Mark Taper Forum, and Th e Public Theater in NYC. Acting Credits: Best known for having origin ated the part of the Angel in Tony Kushners ANGELS IN AMERICA … appearing in every US production from the earliest workshops throug h its Broadway run. Instructor: Playwriting at Yale School of Dram a, Princeton University, among others. FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT ABOUT THE PLAY Past and present collide in Ellen Mclaughlin's mash-up of Sophocles' classic tragedy Ajax with the modern-day war in Iraq. The play follows the parallel narratives of Ajax, an ancient Greek military hero, and A.J., a modern female American soldier, both undone by the betrayal of a commanding officer. Athena, goddess of war, coolly presides over the whole affair. Inspired by material collected from interviews with Iraq war veterans and their families, Ajax in Iraq explores the timeless struggle soldiers face in trying to make sense of war. PRODUCTION TEAM Army Advisor/Marching Choreographer Tom Foley Drill Sergeant Matt Mercucio Vocal Coach Russell Schultz Alexander Technique coach Kathy Sarra Associate Lighting Design er Patricia Coleman Assistant Lighting Designer Zack Titterington Assistant Scenic Designer Charlecia Joy Paul Sound Board Operator Charlie Malcolm Light Board Operator Kristi Hess Spotlight Operators Tyrone Johnson, Alli Baldwin Projection Operator Candice Alvarrao Scenic Crew Haidee Cano, Nazeeh Tarsha, Alison Gensmer Technical Director Zak Herring Master Carpenter Tony Berry Scenic Advisor Mihai Ciupe Scenic Studio Assistants Jaime Scott Frank, MacKenzie Otnes, Anne Tully, Jason Wright Costume Advisor Robin McGee Costume Studio Manager Stacey Galloway Asst. Costume Studio Manager Kate Glennon Drapers/Costume Studio Assistants Tracy Floyd & Erica Bascom Crafts People/Costume Studio Assistants Janae LaFleur ,Becki Stafford &Lee Alexander Martin Lighting Advisor Stan Kaye Master Electrician Todd Bedell Light Shop Assistants Ryan Bible, Timothy A. Reed, Patricia Coleman, Dan Hopper, Topher Stumreiter, Julia LaVault Director of Operations Sarah White Poster Designer Joseph Urick Wardrobe Head Zackery Ryan Dressers Dean Thomason, Ross Mogerly, Amber Ospincs, Madison Cherry, Veronica SalGueiro


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