‘The Frogs’ Brings Theatre to GCU Swimming Pool

March 29, 2011 / by / 0 Comment

By Doug Carroll
Communications Staff

Grand Canyon University is putting on a theatrical production in … the outdoor swimming pool on campus?

When the school’s newly reconstituted College of Fine Arts and Production announced its theatre series months ago, more than a few people — including Adam Benavides — thought it had gone off the deep end.

“The Frogs,” an adaptation of an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, was listed as the last of five productions for the 2010-11 school year. And now Benavides, a GCU freshman from Queen Creek, is playing the lead role of Dionysus, the Greek god of drama, who travels to Hades to bring the playwright George Bernard Shaw back from the dead in an effort to improve the quality of theatre.

Assistant Dean Bill Symington and his crew put the final touches on ‘The Frogs” at the GCU Pool.

If the idea sounds all wet, that’s because it’s supposed to be.

“When I heard we were doing this, I thought, ‘What?!’” says Benavides, who has emerged this year as one of the school’s most talented and versatile student performers. “This whole pool idea, people have been saying, ‘What’s going on?’”

The play — which is equal parts musical, comedy and satire — was first performed in a swimming pool at Yale University in the 1970s and includes catchy songs by Stephen Sondheim.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny in places, with several of the jokes poking fun at theatre itself.

GCU’s version is directed by Claude Pensis, the dean of the fine-arts college, with able assistance from Assistant Dean Bill Symington, whose spectacular sets have been a highlight of the Ethington Theatre Series.

Symington says this is the first time he has ever put a show in the water, although his previous experiences in staging outdoor productions have helped with “The Frogs.” The set consists of 15 platforms, painted green and designed to look like lily pads, placed in the west end of the campus pool. The four largest ones are eight feet in diameter and weigh about 250 pounds apiece.

“We had to devise a system to make things work under water,” says Symington, who collaborated with GCU facilities personnel to ensure that the pool wouldn’t be damaged. “We couldn’t drill, cut or sand anything. Everything had to be ready to go once we put it in the pool.”

The watery “stage” is about 15 feet wider than the stage at Ethington Theatre, but its depth of 30 feet is about the same. A black nylon curtain, which Symington calls “the world’s biggest volleyball net,” acts as a backdrop. Temporary bleachers (with a capacity of 240) and lighting have been installed, and area mikes will be used to amplify the performers’ voices.

The use of the pool for a theatrical production has created a buzz on campus, with students and staff wondering what’s up as they walk by.

“We’ve had that ‘What on Earth are you doing?’” Symington says, adding that the mystique is part of the reason for even trying such a thing.

The energy and diligence of the student performers and crew have carried the day, he says. At 8 a.m. Monday, all were at the pool, ready for a long day of installing the set and running through the first rehearsal. They didn’t adjourn until after 10 p.m., and several had sunburned proof of their efforts.

“Our students couldn’t wait to do this show,” Symington says. “They’re jazzed. While putting a production in a swimming pool is a special situation, they’ve been that way all year about everything. They’re having fun and working hard.”

Performances of “The Frogs” will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday and April 8-10. For tickets, call the Ethington box office at 639.8880.

Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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