Nia: A conversation on the educational value of theatre

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 cast member, Erica Bass, who plays the role of Nia!

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

Two people acting while reading from the script
Nia Rehearsal

A Unique Educational Opportunity 

For Professor David Navalinsky (he/him), Director of Undergraduate Production at the Department of Dramatic Art and supervisor of Kenan Theatre Company, the production of Nia has been long awaited. 

Navalinsky first became familiar with Nia in early 2020 after meeting director Sarah Wansley while she worked with PlayMakers Repertory Company at UNC. Outside of her work with PlayMakers, Wansley had been developing Nia alongside writer Jessica Kahkoska and composer Tommy Crawford. Wansley preferred to do a reading of the play with people who were already familiar with the Iphigenia story. Coincidentally, in that same semester, a UNC student in the Department of Dramatic Art was directing Iphigenia 2.0 with Company Carolina, a student theatre organization on campus. Unfortunately, due to the arrival of the pandemic, that production never made it to the stage.

Wansley, Navalinsky, and the students in the Department of Dramatic Art were determined to make the best of the situation. With their newfound time and their interest in Iphigenia’s story, they teamed up to put on an informal reading of Kahkoska’s Nia over Zoom. After a successful informal reading, they continued to workshop the play. Their work culminated in a public reading in April 2021. Following two years of great experiences working with impressive students in the dramatic art department, Kahkoska decided that the world premiere should be presented at UNC.

Person acting
Member of Kenan Theatre Company rehearsing

Working on Nia with the Kenan Theatre Company, “has been amazing,” said Navalinsky. The team had a clear vision for the play which made the development process smooth. Navalinsky said he’s grateful that, “the students get to see all of the pieces in this play come together, [it’s] a unique educational opportunity that they do not experience often.” 

Three people acting for the play Nia

Members of Kenan Theatre Company rehearse for Nia

Navalinsky added that the pandemic served as an advantage while developing this play, because “without the pandemic, we likely would not have had the time to work on what would have been an ‘extra’ project.” As for struggles in bringing this play to life, he joked, “what could possibly be difficult about doing theatre with students while simultaneously teaching them how to do theatre?” 

For audience members who come to see Nia, he hopes they reflect on their beliefs. He quoted Kahkoska in her summary, “Was there indeed a miracle at Aulis, or just hysteria and violence? What story will we choose to believe?”

Person acting
Rehearsal for Nia

A Blend of Beautiful Music and Haunting Poetry 

Woman wearing sweatshirt smiling for the cameraArts Everywhere recently spoke to student Erica Bass (she/her) about her theatre experience and about managing time as she pursues her Dramatic Art and Political Science majors and Classical Humanities minor. 

What character are you portraying in Nia?


What theater experience did you have prior to this?

I’ve been acting in theatre my whole life, but this is my third show with KTC. Right before this I was in Dance Nation with KTC- we literally had our first Nia rehearsal the same Saturday as a Dance Nation performance. Nijal, Grace, and Laura were in it with me, so it kind of feels like one big rehearsal process in a way.

How do you manage rehearsals while being a student?

I’m not gonna lie, the rehearsal schedule makes you pretty busy! You don’t have time to do a ton else so your cast and crew sort of begin to feel like family. Luckily I’m in a bunch of Dramatic Art classes this semester so people are pretty understanding of the energy drain, but it’s always a bit of a balancing act.

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

I’m not even super involved in this part, but seeing the music come together has been so cool! This cast is so talented, and I’m constantly in awe of the work our playwright and composer have done, and getting to see it all come together for the first time is such an amazing experience.

Describe your character in three words.

I would describe Nia as devoted, desperate, and destructive.

Why should people come to see Nia?

Everyone should come see Nia! It’s based on a story that’s thousands of years old, that people have decided to keep telling because it is both ageless and incredibly relevant. This adaptation blends beautiful music, haunting poetry, and complex, gripping characters to tell a story that will resonate uniquely with every person in the audience. Also, word on the street is that the actors are pretty cool too!

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

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