Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Odyssey: Heading off to War

Check out my last post on The Odyssey (Finding my Inner Klingon).

This weekend was a wild, wild ride.  Both Saturday and Sunday were slotted to find the shores of Ithaca in an Odyssey rehearsal.

But, through sheer ill-timing on the universe’s part, it was also the weekend of G-Anime.  I simply loved this con last year and had confirmed that I’d be attending in 2012 right after the 2011 con ended. The organizers, bless their flexible hearts, agreed to slot my panels only in the evenings.  All of my writing panels were to be once again with the awesome Jay Odjick, and the two of us were joined by one of my writing group members, Derek Künsken. The three of us had a ball, if I do say so myself.

The evenings were fun, but the days are what sucked up most of my focus. Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cayley, the artistic directors of this journey, worked with each of us in turn, but we all had to contribute and help with visualization. They worked with us to become more aware of our bodies as tellers, to be mindful of our voice and, I believe most importantly, to really connect with Odysseus. To live his story, with all of its horror, heartbreak and hope.  They pushed us to understand the depths of both the character, in his heroic qualities and dreadful flaws, and the setting, the long journey that took him home.

For this weekend, I worked on the end of book 14.  In this part, Odysseus is back on the shores of Ithaca, posing as a beggar in his swineherd’s hut. He has no cloak, and a cold night sets in. He begins to tell them all a story about being at Troy (as Odysseus’ third-in-command), and of a cold night falling in as they crouched and slept by the frowning walls of Troy. In his telling of this story, Odysseus tricked someone into giving him a cloak, essentially saving him from certain, bitter death. 

The story is not lost on the swineherd, who lends Odysseus a cloak for the cold night. 

There’s always a certain amount of role-playing in any storytelling piece. To tell a piece convincingly, the teller must really put themselves in the story and live, breath and see what their characters go through. I had done this, to a certain extent.  As I told this part, I imagined being Odysseus by the fire, in the hut, recalling his days of glory.  I took on the mantle on an old man thinking back, not of a warrior freezing on the battlefield.

I had missed a step. I was not to become the teller telling of past deeds. I had to skip that middleman, once my scene was set and, instead of staying with Odysseus in the hut, I had to leap further back and join him on the battlefield.

Once I did that, the story came to life. I had reached the battlefield of Troy, and suddenly the horror, the cold and the fear pounded my words into shape.

It drove home a couple of points.  One is that I’d now like to read The Iliad again, for background material.  I haven’t read it in about a decade, so the text is a bit fuzzy around its bloody edges.

The second and perhaps most important realization was that you can never know a text too well. Although The Odyssey is an old tale and a well-known one, with themes that resonate through the ages, it still has layers of depth that deserve discovery and contemplation.  Through each teller’s piece, we began to glimpse at those deeper layers, at motivations and emotions that are not necessarily outright stated by Homer, but that are hinted at, or can at least be interpreted to reach out to a modern audience.

And so to the battlefields of Troy I headed Sunday morning, and honestly, I didn’t like it.  It was bitter cold, frightening, and the rosy fingers of dawn promised to grip the morning with bloodshed.

I didn’t like it one bit. But I can’t imagine those who were there did, either. And so I found Odysseus, and will work at finding him there, again and again.

The Odyssey, an artistic collaboration between 2 Women Productions and the Ottawa Storytellers, will be told at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on June 16.  Seventeen tellers will work together to weave the story of Odysseus, during a 14-hour show; the longest show ever given at the National Arts Centre.  Plan on joining us for this unique experience.