Nia: A conversation on adaptations and music

Nia reimagines the iconic Greek story of Iphigenia’s sacrifice in a rural coastal town governed by fundamental religious rules and a blue collar military tradition. Written by Jessica Kahkoska and directed by Ashley Oliva Teague, the play is being presented by the Kenan Theatre Company, the undergraduate production company housed in UNC’s Department of Dramatic Art.

Be sure to scroll all the way down for a bonus Q & A with a cast member!

Nia is on stage from November 17th to November 21st at Kenan Theatre.


A Greek myth, a haunting, and a mix of blues and honky tonk and billy rock 

Ashley Olive Teague (she/her), the director of Nia, has worked with UNC students and playwright Jessica Kahkoska before. Originally, the production was to be helmed by Director Sarah Wansley who worked to develop the play with the playwright, composer, and UNC students. However, due to scheduling conflicts, Wansley was no longer able to lead the production, but Teague gladly stepped in. Teague said, “I am a huge fan of Jess’ work and I relish any chance to delve into the worlds she creates.” 

People acting and singing
Rehearsal for Nia

Although Nia is based on the story of Iphigenia, Teague emphasized the importance of separating any adaptation from its original source. She said, “while the Greek myth of Iphigenia was a jumping off point for this play, the creators utilized that source text as a tool of inspiration to tell a NEW story.” The creators wanted to send a message to a 21st century audience, and so viewers don’t need to know about Iphigenia’s story to enjoy the production. 

Teague described Nia as “the story of a people terrified by an apocalyptic world of their own making. And instead of choosing to come together across socio-political and religious, tribal-like ideological differences, they chose fear and misinformation and violence.” She also said, “the play is a haunting. It is a hurricane of our past and possible future. It is a surreal and yet all too familiar re-telling.”

four people singing and someone playing guitar
Scene from Nia (photo courtesy of HuthPhoto)

One element that makes Nia so special and unique is its music. Composed by Tommy Crawford, Teague described the music as, “a mix of blues and bluegrass and honky tonk and billy rock.” She promised viewers that they will be blown away by the talent and songs on stage. 

Teague has enjoyed her time getting to know the students during rehearsals. In her reflections, she said, “I have the privilege of creating theater in a lot of different spaces all over the country, both as a director and as the Artistic Director of a theatre company in New York.” Even after working with students at Julliard, NYU, Amherst, and Brown University, the students at UNC blow her away each time she visits. She continues, “The students here are so bright and brave and kind and respectful and talented. It is truly a special place.”

cast of nia
Cast, director, and faculty advisor of Nia (photo courtesy of HuthPhoto)

Balancing Classes and Rehearsals 

woman performing on stage
Grace Wissink (photo courtesy of HuthPhoto)

Arts Everywhere recently spoke to student Grace Wissink (she/her) ‘23 about her theatre experience and about managing her time as she pursues her Dramatic Art major and Writing for the Screen and Stage, and Music minor.

What character are you portraying in Nia?

The Cashier

What theater experience did you have prior to this?

I’ve been doing shows at UNC all four years here! I’ve done shows with student groups like Pauper Players, Company Carolina, and LAB! Theatre. Nia is my second show with Kenan Theatre Company this semester – I got to be a part of Dance Nation this past October as well!

How do you manage rehearsals while being a student?

Good time management! It’s definitely not always easy, because rehearsals often mean working on a show from 6-10, five days a week. However, because I’m a drama major, I consider being in shows a part of my education. I hold attending every rehearsal and preparing material for a show to equal importance as my classes.

What’s been your favorite moment while working on this play?

Definitely the first time I got to sing a song with the guitarist playing the musician – I’ve never sang over electric guitar before, and it makes me feel very cool.

Describe your character in three words.

Spellbinding, impassioned… demonic?

Why should people come to see Nia?

First of all, because it’s never been staged before – it’s a world premiere, which is very exciting! But also, because it’s a thought-provoking and engaging show.

Arts Everywhere is a proud sponsor of the Department of Dramatic Art’s production of Nia by the Kenan Theatre Company.

Read more about Nia in our interview with Dave Navalinsky and Erica Bass.

$5 student tickets are available and can be purchased here!