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Session 18 - 17th May 2011
Odysssey Session Tuesday 17th May 2011
After a pause, the journey continues. Fasten life jackets, check those knots, pull in the main sheet, and off we go…
…And off we went, a group of about 12 with Federay at the helm. A combination of old salt Factory folk, regular Odyssey travellers and some new faces.
Federay explained that our mission over the next few weeks, prior to the June intensive week, is to try to firm up our familiarity with the story. We talked about how hard it can be sometimes to retain information when we’ve just been looking at the book on our own. In contrast, by exploring the story together in the same space, we can build up our knowledge of it without feeling like we’re somehow trying to cram it into our heads like French vocab; and in this way we can put together the mental telegraph posts we’ll need to tell the story in front of people - solid points in our narrative around which we can riff.
First, an intro around the circle, with everyone picking out a burning question they had about The Odyssey. Some examples:
How does one deal with the interception/power of the gods when thinking about the story in today’s terms of reference?
- Where is the story located geographically?
- How important or not is detail?
- How can monologues be used to best effect?
- Why is this story being told, both many years ago and now?
With no real sticks to hand, we imagined holding one each (remembering their size & weight), bouncing them up and down in a synchronised rhythm.
Without talking about it, Federay then initiated a throwing back and forth of sticks to each other across the circle – it soon became clear that we should try to keep hold of one stick only, so if we were thrown one, we needed to release ours. All the while we tried to keep the bouncing rhythm going.
Then we tried the exercise where you release the stick up into the air above you, and move one place to your left in the circle so that, having moved, you then catch the person on your left’s stick. Again, the rhythm was maintained. And we changed direction at points too.
All of this, remember, with imaginary sticks – interestingly it required just as much concentration as with the real thing. And just like with real sticks, we found that if you lose your focus, forget to breath, panic, or get too cocky, the stick will tumble to the floor. With only a silent clattering in this case.
Telling and re-telling
Federay suggested that we concentrate on the first 12 books. Broadly, what we did was a game of ‘pass the storytelling’. I’ll explain…
So. For books 1 and 2: Two groups: Group A - Book 1
Group B - Book 2
Mission: to come up with any three moments of action from each book.
- Group A described their three chosen moments from Book 1 to Group B. They were:
1. Zeus sends Hermes and Athena off on their missions, as they don their winged sandals
2. Athena turns into a bird [we realised later that this is actually from Book 2]
3. Telemachus tells Penelope to go back to her loom, in front of the suitors.
- Group B put these moments into action, either in a still picture or silent scene
- Group A did a ‘photocopy’ of what Group B had acted out (ie. Tried to do what they had done as precisely as possible)
- Group B acted out the moments, but as fully realised scenes. Federay’s instruction: make it ‘fatter’: anything goes.
Some things to think about included: How about having continuity of people playing specific characters? When we add to the moment and fully act it out, the sky is the limit – what can we do to add to the telling? Think big, think brave. Can we, from within, sniff out what the audience would love us to do with an image or a moment to take it further?
Federay also noted that we were checking in with her a lot about how to do things, and doing quite a bit of pre-exercise clarification along the lines of ‘Should we be…?’ / ‘Do you want us to…?’ / ‘Is this the right way to...?’ She encouraged us to dive in and not worry about whether we were doing the ‘right’ thing, as she did not have an agenda of where she wanted anything to go, and indeed was actively trying things out and exploring as we went along. We were all feeling our way together.
So with this in mind, on we went to
The three moments chosen were:
- Telemachus tells the suitors to sod off
- Two eagles fight
- Telemachus secretly climbs on aboard a ship
Again the two groups ‘passed’ the telling of these moments between each other, trying to build on them each time.
One of the points of focus this time was to try for a fluid transition between moments, in whatever way that could come about. So for example, during the 3rd time of telling, Telemachus’s voice telling the suitors to leave morphed into a screeching eagle, and then the eagle (made up of a couple of people each) broke into parts to become sleeping sailors on the ship, while still maintaining contact with each other.
We were a bit bolder with our methods of portrayal / additions this time, but still a little tentative perhaps. We also encountered the challenge of improvising dialogue: how do we make it pack a punch? When do we know if we’ve said too much or not enough?
So...a writing challenge for
BOOKS 3, 4 and 5
The books were divided between three groups, with the same focus on finding three points of action for each book.
This time, Jay, Barbara and Pat, three of the writers present, assigned themselves to a group each. Their task: by the time we got to the third (‘fat’) telling of a scene, they were to have come up with two lines of text for each one, so that we had six bits of text for each book.
It was an interesting lesson in precision. By restricting the amount of text we spoke, we gave most of the moments great power. Holding an image, speaking a tight sentence or two, can be enough. Often we get so involved in the moment we’re playing (or feel the urge to elongate/elaborate etc.) that we forget to stop speaking or resort to swearing or repetition or just repeating oneself. Going round in circles, for f*ck's sake. You know what I mean? It just gets, you know? Just totally... yeah. Jesus. I mean, really- (That's enough -ed.)
Some examples of the writers' text I can remember:
[*please add if you can*]
Tel. to Helen: “You’re so beautiful; you must know things other people do not.”
Menelaus to Tel: “I may be uglier, but I’m the one who knows where your father is”
Menelaus to Proteus: “You’re not fire, you’re not a god, you’re just an old man.”
Hermes to Calypso: “???”
Poseidon to Odysseus: “???”
It was also cool to see an addition (text) which was coming not from within the scene, engendered by the actors in the midst of it, but from the outside eye of an observer. Great potential here for lines of text coming from left-field, and providing a useful opposition to the physical picture being created.
And on the subject of lateral approaches, during this section we began to explore the possibilities of a more surreal approach to the telling. So Poseidon’s storm at one point was portrayed by a massive hacking cough, actors became bits of raft etc. Federay encouraged us to think more in this direction, to explore all sorts of possibilities. We can often be far more interesting if we stray from the literal. We can draw the audience in, in a ‘what-the-hell-are-they-doing-oh-I-see-how-amazing-and-brilliant’ kind of way; and it also allows us to get away from what Federay described as a ‘greek vase’ portrayal of the characters – ie. ‘this feels like an appropriately classical pose or way of greeting someone, I’ll do that.’ We don’t need to adopt a ‘classical style’, whatever that may be, and we shouldn’t be afraid to bring ourselves, and the world we live in now, to the party. Indeed, we saw that we actively need that kind of engagement.
Something different for
Catherine [sorry don’t know her surname] had written a version of Book 6 told by Odysseus, which we read out around the circle. Very immediate, colloquial and classy, with Odysseus grappling with, amongst other things, the challenges of hiding a raging hard-on behind a small branch when encountering Naussica. Exciting to get another reminder of how many ways this story can be told, and how crafted it can be: striking to encounter this alongside the rough quality of the more improvisatory bits.
BOOKS 7, 8 and 9
Back to the ‘pass the storytelling’ game, with another addition. This time we were to portray the chosen moments using objects we found in the room, in whatever way we wished. Federay encouraged us to use different objects each time we passed the telling of a particular moment from one group to another, whilst keeping the basic shape.
Moments I remember:
- Odysseus being led by a little girl carrying the bin to portray her bucket; a scene which in a later telling became the girl leading him around a table, which was standing in for the labyrinthine streets of the city, in which they ended up getting lost.
- The Phaeacian King and Queen greeting Odysseus on either side of their status-bestowing microphone.
- The staircase in the rehearsal room imagined to be a ship, being dragged slowly to the sea.
- A water bottle becoming the Cyclops’s eye, protruding pointedly from his head; when he was blinded the top came out of the bottle, water poured out, and the top was sent spinning on the floor.
- In a later version, Odysseus and his men blinding the Cyclops with an electric heater, plugged in of course.
The use of objects generally helped us find a more lateral approach. And here we saw the huge value that our ‘story telegraph poles’ will offer us. If we know the few fixed points we need to include in our telling of the story, we can be incredibly free in between them. Moreover, it allows us to play with the amount of attention we pay to each one. Federay cited the example of the little girl leading Odysseus through the city: we could decide in one performance to make almost all the telling of that book (7) centre on that one scene (which in reality takes only 20-30 lines of the book) and compress the other major moments of the book into a tiny part of the story we tell that day to that audience. And why the hell not? The more our knowledge grows and our foundations strengthen, the greater the possibilities for GROOVY GROOVY stuff.
BOOKS 10 and 11
We sat in a circle to tell the story of these two. No fixed moments this time, and no different groups. We all jumped in as and when.
We continued to use objects, but now we used them to personify the characters in the story, placing them in the centre of the circle. So Odysseus was a microphone; Circe a large copy of the Odyssey (allowing her to enfold herself around Odysseus when the moment came) etc.
This method of telling the story showed up the gaps in our knowledge, but there were some great moments. Eg: I really enjoyed the shoe theme that emerged: odd pairs of shoes standing in for the 12 children of Aeolus, and then our wiggling feet around the circle becoming the dead souls of the underworld. Odysseus (as microphone) riding in to the underworld on top of the tall electric heater, which scraped along the floor, had a pleasingly epic feel to it. [*Please add*]
Gaps there were, to be sure, but the best moments as ever were when we committed to something, no matter how confident we were in whether it was ‘right’ or not. In fact, after a while Federay gently banned the use of phrases such as’ I might be wrong but…’ and ‘Now I can’t really remember this bit’ etc.
We stayed in the circle, and tried as a group to remember the salient points of book 12. No structure as such, just Federay leading off on a kind of remembering exercise.
Afterwards Federay remarked on the very different quality this kind of storytelling had. We were in a pretty low-key state, nearing the end of the session, just quietly helping each other to remember the story. And yet within this there were some lovely exchanges between us, unintentionally beautiful ways in which the story emerged. So, again, a massive lesson in the variety of the ways we can approach this. We don’t always have to be sweating away in high-octane dynamism. Sometimes it might be a delight for the audience to be, effectively, eavesdropping on a group of friends remembering a story they love. Quietly talking. Magic.
We finished with a revisiting of Book 1, this time through a piece written by Jay: a fascinating and beautiful take on it, which started and ended with philosophical musings by a couple of its characters on the nature of their size in relation to the planets. [*Jay please feel free to add!*]
How rich our palette of possibilities can be.
A few general things we talked about:
- Federay mentioned a book she’s been reading called The Singer of Tales by Albert B. Lord (also discussed by TC in session 2 blog), which is about the act of composition going hand in hand with the act of performance, something the best oral storytellers practise every time they tell an story. We were beginning to see in this session how the two can be part of the same process. Again, knowledge and confidence in our material and our handholds along the way will give us the freedom to play and create as we go.
- An interesting thing to note: there are often great examples of parallel storytelling/ dovetailing themes throughout the Odyssey. Eg. Telemachus is welcomed warmly by Nestor, and then we hear the story of the beheading of Agamemnon – which happens just after he has been welcomed warmly by Clytemnestra.
- With this in mind, Federay suggested that we get to know the story of Agamemnon well. Useful to be able to introduce at any point, and to be able to refer to it with confidence. And I’m sure there are other stories we could get to grips with which aren’t directly told within the pages of The Odyssey, but which are sidelines to it. Suggestions?
- Federay was musing that it would be great (in an ideal world with lots of money and time available of course) to be able to come back, carry on and consolidate the work the next day. Indeed.
- She finished with a celebratory eulogy of sailing, which she has recently taken up. She’s thinking of inviting Nirjay’s children to come in and talk to us about it – they’re red hot apparently. Why sailing? One reason: Harnessing the wind, feeling the power of it, the reliance on the forces of nature, the act of skipping over the waves, the rush it gives you – all this would have been known by many of the characters in The Odyssey.
Thank you very much, Fed, for a great evening.
I want to start a conversation here on the blog, about a question some of us were mulling over in the bar, post-session. Much of the following involves things we discussed.
To continue the sailing metaphor theme (loosely): This project seems to be about somehow trying to harness the power of this story and finding a way of filling our sail as fully as possible with it while not capsizing as we get zipped along. And in order to stay afloat we need bodies in the boat.
Wouldn’t it be great if instead of a group of 12, we had a group of 25-30? The nature of the work means that, as in other Factory projects (but perhaps even more so), there is a cumulative effect of knowledge/shared understanding/discovery in the growth of the work that the people who come regularly are getting, and which those who don’t come are not. Because the way we are going to approach the telling of The Odyssey is so open and up for grabs (which is great), it means that the collective development that happens on the way is going to be crucial. And if the group changes radically from week to week, this cumulative process is harder to achieve.
Plus, since what we’re doing is so much about the input and individual offerings of those present, by having more people there we would be multiplying our stock and potential fuel considerably.
I know this is probably obvious stuff to be saying, and I’m not suggesting for a moment that anyone should be made to feel obliged to come any more than in any other project we’ve done.
But the question I want to put out there is, why do you think that numbers have dwindled somewhat since the project began? Clearly a lot of us are very busy, but are there more factors? Eg:
- Is it the amount of work that it’s perceived needs to be done? And there are two strands here I suppose: both in the long-term, overall (because there’s such a large amount of material that we’re all, in theory, needing to be familiar with); and also for individual sessions (are people deciding not to come because they feel under-prepared?)
- Are people missing the immediate prospect of an adrenalin rush of Factory performance round the corner?
(Of course, many of the projects we’ve done in the past have not involved performance for a long time at their start; maybe we’ve just become junkies? And it’s worth remembering that we do have the prospect of showings of the work kicking off in October)
- Are some people not into the movement/dancing/singing aspect of the project?
Or is it none of the above? Or other things? And/or are we worrying unnecessarily? I just think it’s such exciting work with so much potential, that it seems a great shame for it not to be experienced and fed by more of us.
What do you reckon?
Right that’s it. A bit longer than planned. Thanks for sticking with me.
- Scott B.
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, May 19 2011, 2:00 AM EDT
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|Started By||Thread Subject||Replies||Last Post|
|colinhurley||Scott's and Federay's Devious Ruse||0||May 20 2011, 6:01 PM EDT by colinhurley|
|Federay||We love detail||0||May 19 2011, 4:22 AM EDT by Federay|
Thread started: May 19 2011, 4:22 AM EDT Watch
Scott, a brilliantly exhaustive account of the session, thank you very much. I will add some notes when I have a moment.
On the subject of attendance, I have to add I had quite a large response to the "re-start" emails I sent out, lots of expressions of interest but unavailability, questions about the intensive and quite a handful of last-minute fallouts just before this session.
It's a valid point to make because I do want (without hammering the issue) people to know that these sessions are by far the most efficient and inspiring and energising way to get to know the text.
This is not like anything we have done before.
I have a feeling this project will become as collective an undertaking as any of us have yet experienced.
We are, after all, becoming a single storyteller.
Well done Scott. Applause. (I loved this session.)
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