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It's Not Me, Its You: A Paradise Lost Reimagining

Yes Maam is a new circus company, and for our first show, we thought it might be nice to do something, ya know, light, fun, and we picked PARADISE LOST the story of the war in heaven! We wanted to take this well known story of God and the Devils first conflict, a heavy piece of classic literature, and make it come alive on stage and enrapture children and adult audiences alike.

Our depiction of Paradise Lost is very character-driven. Each of the four angels changes drastically from the beginning of the show – in peaceful Heaven, before the Fall – to the end, with the corruption of Man. Lucifer’s change is taken directly from Paradise Lost: they rebel. Lucifer is unhappy but obedient at the beginning, and becomes happy and rebellious by the end. Simple enough.The central theme of our story turns on the characters of Azazel and Uriel. They are the best of friends at the beginning of the play, but Lucifer’s exile disrupts this happy existence.

From left to right: Michael Uriel Azazel and Lucifer

When Azazel leaves Heaven to find Lucifer, their curiosity is piqued by the newly emergent human race. By following Lucifer into rebellion they are able to explore the new world in a way that Heaven would not have permitted. This portrayal of Azazel draws from references in the Book of Enoch, where Azazel’s great sin is teaching forbidden knowledge to humanity.

For Uriel, life gets very complicated. They were quite happy in Heaven. Azazel’s departure, Michael’s anger, and the deepening of the division between Heaven and Hell all combine to force an unwilling Uriel to grow and evolve. No longer is Uriel’s work going to be happily singing the glories of God. Instead, they are forced into a role of watchful judgment, and the sting of Azazel’s betrayal leads them to throw themself into this new position. This portrayal draws from a conflict in traditional understandings of Uriel: they are both a patron of wisdom and the arts (consistent with Uriel at the beginning of our play) but also of a frankly terrifying sort of judgment. In Jewish tradition, Uriel is the one who goes through Egypt on the night of the 10th plague (death of the firstborn) to see which houses are marked as faithful to God. They are also sometimes identified at the angel who announces the Flood to Noah.

Lastly there is Michael. Though the construction of the show began with the friendship of Uriel and Azazel, we do not neglect the pairing of Michael and Lucifer. At the beginning, they too are friends. And they are quite well-matched: both are powerful, and both quite proud. But whereas Lucifer’s pride leads them to rebel, Michael’s pride is admirably satisfied with being one of God’s chief servants. Lucifer’s rebellion brings out the darker side of Michael’s nature, however. Michael had a vision of a perfect Heaven. The idea of a rebellion, particularly a rebellion by one of Michael’s friends, is more than that vision can bear. Michael spends much of the play consumed by rage. They treat even the still-loyal Uriel rather shabbily. It is only toward the end that we see Michael begin to recognize their own flaws, and to soften their approach.

Our Esteemed narrator

These character stories are really very dark. Among ourselves, we sometimes joked that the play could be entitled “Uriel’s no good, very bad, day.” But we didn’t want a show that left people feeling so down. So we played up the comedy. Michael could have been like Achilles, sulking by his ships. Instead, they are more like a miles gloriosus, their arrogance dialed to 11. In a dozen small ways we draw out the ridiculous to lighten the tension. During devising we strove to balance the ridiculous and the dark, creating characters that had depth and nuance, and who developed along with the plot.

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