Guts duel with heart in Baylor Theatre’s fencing production of ‘Athena’

Baylor Theatre will be presenting Athena by Gracie Gardner. Photo courtesy of Baylor University.

By Olivia Turner | Staff Writer

Two young women with foils in hand and fire in their eyes, sparring back and forth across a stage in a dance of jabs, slices and lunges is what lead actress and Long Beach, Calif., senior Lauryn Bedford said the audience will behold when they attend Baylor Theatre’s latest production, “Athena.”

Though “Athena” will prove to be an action-packed performance that explores female ambition with grit and fighting spirit, director John-Michael Marrs said the show will also have plenty of emotions to go around.

“These are two overachieving, brilliant, athletic, fierce strong women who just do battle,” Marrs said. “Within that there’s a lot of heart.”

When the two fencers, Athena and Mary Wallace, aren’t doing battle at their fencing club, they are putting up a different kind of fight, said Marrs. That is, doing the battle of life as two 17-year-old people. Marrs said the characters, though skillful athletes, deal with the everyday happenings many teenagers can identify with, from discussing topics like Accutane to suffering the post-game tears of losing a sports match.

Marrs said he admired this vulnerable peek into the teens’ lives when selecting the production and hopes it will present something both foreign and familiar for the audience to experience.

“My motto is ‘do stuff that scares you,’ and ‘Athena’ scares me in all the right ways,” Marrs said. “It’s about two women qualifying for the junior Olympics in fencing, and I’ve never been a woman or a fencer, so I’m learning a lot of things in the process.”

In addition to Marrs’s unfamiliarity, Bedford said the production has been a new experience for her as well with regards to fencing.

Though she said she has no previous experience with the sport, Bedford said she has been learning the art under the instruction of choreographer Brandon Sterrett, who served as a fight director in past productions for Trinity Shakespeare Festival in Fort Worth, Fire House Theatre and Virginia Repertory Theatre.

“I’ve actually found the actual fencing choreo easier to do than the emotion-filled stage combat,” Bedford said of the physical and emotional challenges her character faces throughout the storyline.

Athena, though a fierce sparring prodigy, has human characteristics that bring her down to earth, Bedford said. For instance, Bedford she can be awkward, creepy and quirky at times, highlighting the teenage aspect of her character and bringing out her emotions despite her tough demeanor.

Bedford also said that one of the main problems Athena has to navigate is the friction between fencing — her passion — and her life and relationships, a dilemma many Baylor students may relate to in their own lives.

“I’ve learned from my character that for everyone there comes a point where you’ll have to compromise, whether that be your own beliefs or your relationship with somebody else,” Bedford said.

For Athena, Bedford said this means figuring out her relationship with her competitor and potential friend Mary Wallace, played by Westlake Village, Calif., senior Kayla Jou. Bedford said because Athena has so much passion, the compromise does not come easy.

Working on the production with these actresses has allowed room for conversations on many of the topics the production focuses on, such as ambition and female friendships, Marrs said. The female-focused content of “Athena” was no accident, Marrs said, as he and his colleagues planned it to open during Women’s History Month.

“It has been remarkably humbling and educational and exciting to be on the wall for conversations which I would otherwise not hear,” Marrs said.

Marrs said it is conversations like these that make him excited to get members of the Baylor community in front of the stage to see “Athena” so they, too, may find common ground with these fierce, inspiring young women.

“[‘Athena’] brings up a lot of good discussions about belonging and about where one fits and who your people are,” Marrs said.

“Athena” opens at 7:30 p.m. on March 29 in the Mabee Theatre. Tickets for “Athena” are on sale now and can be purchased in the Theatre Box Office.