The Odyssey: Update

I’ll soon be updating NPX with the post-show draft of The Odyssey. We closed our show just over a week ago, and now I’m whittling away at the revision.

Some background: as you may know, I write my plays-for-young-actors with and for my students. I use devising, improv, and what I call kinesthetic dramaturgy to develop the plays before directing the first production over the course of a semester, then I make the play available for licensing.

I knew I wanted to write an adaptation. After Dolcevita, I needed a slightly less intense process; adaptation is easier and takes a fraction of the energy to market. While adaptation does conjure existential angst when we work through our personal relationship with the original IP (I drained a beer or two as I lamented reproducing a story about a man who could be so monstrous), and everyone who knows it will have an opinion they will ABSOLUTELY TELL YOU, the crucial task of converting blank pages to word pages is oh-so-much-simpler than making something from scratch.

It became clear that my actors needed something broad and slapstick and loud, and when we ‘auditioned’ different texts, The Odyssey fit the bill. It was simply the best platform for my energetic crew, who would throw themselves around the stage like they were on boat on a rough sea or explode an imaginary eye without a moment’s hesitation. They needed space to be, well, clowns. And a story so ancient could hold up to our remodel.

When I read the truly phenomenal translation by Dr. Emily Wilson, I was struck by a few opportunities as well as challenges.

That The Odyssey doesn’t follow an Aristotelian structure, nor does it slot easily into the hero’s journey genre surprised me. I figured Odysseus would be called to action and then be set on a journey; instead, we’re near the end of his journey when the story starts, and most of what we know as his epic odyssey consists of stories told at banquets. His son Telemachus gets a call-to-GTFO from a goddess, but his journey isn’t overwhelmingly adventurous.

I thought about the Greek amphitheater, of course, from where we draw so many western traditions. A chorus of Homers was necessary, and given my eleven actors would need to play dozens of named characters, this sets up a flexible world. What intrigued me more was that so much of the metanarrative is told at banquets by a Homer-like storyteller.

I thought about how so much educational theatre makes its home in cafetoriums.

What if, what if I wrote a play that wasn’t at war with a cafetorium, but embraced the place of both meal and theatre? What if, instead of regarding these mixed-use spaces as lackadaisical attempts at efficiency, we viewed them as throwbacks to an ancient tradition of ritual, of breaking bread mixed with storytelling and entertainment?

So the play is a series of banquets. While it can be produced in any theatre, it fits in cafeterias, auditoriums, banquet halls, cafes, outdoor found spaces, or pretty much anywhere else that the audience can be seated at tables.

The play is a comedy until it has to stop being a comedy. After Odysseus starts to lose his men, the play shifts in tone.

I made a number of other changes, of course, beyond the tonal shift and folding elements together to reduce 400+ pages to a slim 100. Odysseus has a character arc and is more active as a protagonist, for example. But much of the structure hews closer to the original, and when we deviate, it’s often pointed out in the text.

Below are some pictures from our show. My actors performed fantastically, and for a tiny budget, check out how spectacular our set was.

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