Theatre transforms stage into pool

PASADENA, Calif. — Resident artists at A Noise Within often work as an ensemble, but for Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses,” there’s no denying who, or what, the star of the show is: the swimming pool.

“You don’t get too many chances to direct in a body of water,” director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott laughed.

What You Need To Know

  • The pool built for the production holds 575 gallons of water and is 11 inches at the deep end
  • The water needs to be heated to roughly 82 degrees to keep the actors safe
  • “Metamorphoses” weaves together ancient Greek myths, including the stories of Eros and Psyche and Orpheus and Eurydice
  • The show opens on Saturday and runs through June 5

Adam Matthew is the theater company’s production manager and his knowledge of pools runs deep. He’s worked in and around water his whole life and his mother is a retired aquatics director. It’s not why he was hired, but it doesn’t hurt.

“Absolutely a happy coincidence,” he said. “It’s actually quite fun that I get to apply all my aquatic experience to the theater world, which I love working in as well.”

He has been submerged in the project every step of the way, overseeing the build from start to finish, even filling the pool himself, all 575 gallons of it from what looked like your standard garden hose.

While the production design is a work of art, getting there takes a lot of science, with Matthew tossing around words like “sodium thiosulfate.” There are filters, disinfectants and pH testing to make sure the water is safe and clean.

Costumes need to move through water without absorbing too much of it, so costume shop manager Maria Uribe said her team looked at primarily synthetic materials.

“The lightest fabrics and the ones that dry faster,” she explained. “Polyester is our friend today in the costume world.”

Finally, the water must be heated just right because a few degrees in either direction could spell disaster.

Matthew explained that the target goal was 82 or 83 degrees.

“Any hotter than that, we start evaporating into the space and it gets really, really humid in here, which isn’t good for the electronics,” he said, “but colder than that is really bad for the actors.”

Like Rafael Goldstein, who’d never performed in water before, he has fallen in love with it and not just because he plays Eros, the god of love.

“It’s been a wonderful dance partner, actually,” he smiled.

Once the actors got their feet wet, he said, the show really came to life. Water can be anything, and he’s loved discovering all the ways they can work with it.

“I think people’s minds are going to be blown,” Goldstein mused. “The sound of bodies moving through water in a silent theater is shocking.”

“Metamorphoses” weaves together ancient Greek myths in a uniquely modern way, and while the stories are thousands of years old, Rodriguez-Elliott said audiences will certainly see themselves reflected in its themes of love, loss, family and the human condition. A Noise Within had planned to do this production before the pandemic, which means she’s had this show swimming in her brain for a few years, and she’s excited to finally be able to share it with audiences.

“It feels like, ‘wow, what a splash!’” she said. “What a way to, you know, to return post pandemic!”

“Splashing is definitely going to happen,” Matthew predicted, especially because some characters have fights in the pool. “Not a lot of water is going to get out, but I would definitely say there is going to be a splash zone.”

So be prepared. If the fates seat you in the first row or two, you may find “Metamorphoses” to be a somewhat immersive experience.

“Metamorphoses” officially opens Saturday and runs through June 5.