Postcards From The Odyssey #7: All In A Day’s Work!

Production assistants from The Odyssey on Angel Island give us a glimpse into everything they do for this unique Bay Area theater experience…

What exactly was a day’s work like for a Production Assistant in The Odyssey on Angel Island, you may ask?

Amorphous as the will of Zeus…

Due to the epic nature of the production (and likely the fickle will of the gods), Ruth Tringham and Hannah Gaff, Production Assistant Extraordinaires, were never quite sure what they might be required to do on any given day on the island.  However, like Odysseus, they were always prepared for an adventure!  Those adventures included (but, were by no means limited to) concocting a recipe for blood; creating a set using animal pelts, bones and taxidermy raccoons; translating ancient Greek for a ritual; spray painting props (many, many props) gold; and scaling Mount Olympus to reclaim poor Hermes’ fallen bike helmet.  These two intrepid souls, along with the rest of the super cool production team, believed in their brains, brawn, and brilliance to bring this big beauty into being.

Below, Ruth and Hannah discuss another of their adventures: the conception and construction of an altar to bright-eyed Athena in the Temenos (chapel) on Angel Island.

http://player.vimeo.com/video/45544096

Pictured in front of the altar are Freida de Lackner, Maria Leigh, and Caroline Parsons. Photo by Tracy Martin.

Hannah Gaff is a Bay Area actor/creator, clown, and director. She is next appearing in a new work entitled Dirty Laundry created by The Collaboratory, August 9, 10 & 11, 2012 at the Exit Theatre.

Ruth Tringham is, among other things, an archaeologist who recently retired as a Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. In another life she would have been a stage designer and hopes still to become a bee-keeper.

Postcards from The Odyssey #6: Little Moralists

In our on-going series of postcards from the We Players’ production of the Odyssey on Angel Island, Caroline Parsons, who plays Calypso (among other roles), reflects on lessons learned from smaller audience members…

Caroline Parsons as Calypso captures an attractive mortal. Photo by Tracy Martin.

After recent performances of The Odyssey on Angel Island, I have been taken to task by a couple of outspoken little girls. This happens after a scene in which I portray the sea nymph Calypso, who had detained Odysseus for seven years in her loving grasp before Zeus compelled her to let him go. As the scene ends she professes her love for mortal men and her outrage at having lost Odysseus to his homeward journey. One day, as I tearfully bade the audience of delightful and attractive mortals farewell, an elementary aged girl with an indignant chin approached me, saying, “Why are you crying? Odysseus isn’t your husband.”

Caroline Parsons as Calypso entreats Telemachus (James Udom) to stay with her on Ogygia. Photo by Tracy Martin.

Watch out Mary Magdalene, the morality of little girls is coming to vilify you! I improvised, as I am wont to do in this interactive scene, “I know…but I loved him.” The fierce crusader in stretch pants and silver embroidered sweatshirt assessed the veracity of the statement shrewdly, and granted, “I believe you” with a curt nod of her head before walking away with her hands on her hips. Another informed girl tore off a bracelet one of my nymphs had given her, a gift representing an eternal promise to stay with Calypso on the island of Ogygia, and slinging it angrily to the sand she said, “This is a reciprocal situation!” meaning, well, I’m not entirely sure what. What was clear was her immense mistrust of the goddess Calypso and her attempt to wrap the audience in binding chains of love as she had done to Odysseus. These opinionated children are coming to the show having read The Odyssey, probably in the company of an intelligent adult partner, but they do not need help understanding the archetypal characters in Homer’s world: the war hero with the fault of hubris, the faithful wife, the beautiful temptress, the evil sorceress, the good son- we know them by heart already. The work of theater is to bring them to life in a way that challenges the audience’s expectations but leaves them saying, “I believe you”.

Libby Kelly as Penelope and James Udom as Telemachus in the final scene of The Odyssey on Angel Island. Photo by Mark Kitaoka.

WePlayers is a company built to shake expectations: Alcatraz is a stage? An audience can walk 3.5 miles during a show? This Odyssey doesn’t end with Odysseus’s home coming? Nowhere is this expectation breaking more apparent than in the ending of this production. In the last scene we find Penelope, Odysseus’s faithful wife who has awaited his return from the Trojan War without remarrying for 20 uncertain years, crying because Odysseus has finally returned home: only to slaughter the men who have besieged her household, the serving girls in tow, and then leave again immediately. In Homer’s poem he comes home to stay and there is a happily ever after ending. In this production, why he has departed so quickly is interpreted variously by the different characters. The old school nurse Eurycleia believes he has gone to absolve himself of the bloodshed with prayer, the politically minded Mentor believes he has left Ithaka to avoid attack by the island families whose sons he has just slaughtered, and it is Penelope who has the wisdom to see that whatever the reason for his departure, he is a changed man after the war and she can no longer spend her life in waiting for the man she once admired. He is gone forever. A brilliantly emotive Libby Kelly portrays Penelope’s descent into despair. A little girl stands nearby and queries, “Why is the princess crying?” I do not know how her adult answered her, perhaps with a lengthy discourse on how war can change a person, on how twenty years away from your spouse is not automatically bridged, something about betrayal, or most likely, “Because she’s sad.” In either case the adult is being asked to describe a complexity of emotion that is often absent in the stories our children see on screen or read before going to bed. In contemplating the significance of my work with WePlayers, I am reminded of a genre of story called temblon, described by the writer/researcher Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves: “[The temblon] overtly entertain, but are meant to cause listeners to experience a shiver of awareness that leads to thoughtfulness, contemplation, and action.”

Claire Slattery, Frieda de Lackner and Joan Howard surround Caroline Parsons as they prepare her for the ritual eating of the Lotos. Photo by Tracy Martin.

After performing a trance in the Lotus Eaters scene I am left dangling limply on a long rope in a round depression at an old military site. From this seemingly lifeless state I have the pleasure of overhearing audience members’ reactions as they depart. The voice of a little boy follows an eager run to the edge of my cavern, “Pit of Shaaaaame!” he denounces gleefully. On another day I hear an adult say to a young girl who wants to know why I am down there, “Because she is a bad girl a very very bad bad girl.” The subtleties of the scene have been missed, surely, since the Lotus Eaters’ ritual is a communal one in which the drinking of the Lotus juice induces a clairvoyant and exhaustive trance, the culmination of a meditative group oracle ceremony. However, the use of our play as a version of the traditional warning folktale is no less important than an interpretation more closely aligned with our intentions. I imagine that next time that curious girl doesn’t clean her room or do her homework her adult counterpart can remind her of what happened to the “bad bad girl” in that Odyssey play. The child, who was so concerned about my well being, may have a strong reaction to that! I say, let’s come into the theater like children: full of righteous ideas, full of passion, and ready to be swayed and taught by what we see. I say, let’s care that much.

The cast and audience of The Odyssey on Angel Island dance in Aolia, the land of the wind. Photo by Mark Kitaoka

–Caroline Parsons

Caroline Parsons is a freelance theatre, dance and yoga instructor and teaching artist. She last performed with We Players in their Hamlet on Alcatraz.

Postcards From The Odyssey #4: “There’s a Lizard in my Hiding Spot” and other tales from The Odyssey

We continue our inside coverage of We Players’ “The Odyssey on Angel Island” with some stories from the backstage crew that’s responsible for bringing the Bay Area’s own Ithaca to life.

Loe Matley, Bailey Smith, Hannah Gaff, Eileen Tull and Ruth Tringham – just part of the extraordinary production team for The Odyssey on Angel Island. Photo by Frieda de Lackner.

Today’s Postcard from The Odyssey on Angel Island comes courtesy of Eileen Tull, our intrepid Stage Manager extraordinaire. Eileen makes a lot of the magic happen onstage; but her backstage is outdoors, hiding behind rocks and trees and trekking over hill and dale. She writes:

Most of my backstage experiences have been in small black box theaters. I’d never bothered to count the acreage of the backstage area. For The Odyssey on Angel Island, my black box theater is now a seven hundred and fifty acre stage. My stand by calls are moot, as I am typically yards ahead of each scene. I push the GO button to no avail and my only light instruments are the Heavenly Bodies.

This show is a unique experience, in that we have been rehearsing as well as living together on the Island every weekend for the past few months. We have many rules in place: ten minute showers, no personal clutter, Island quiet hours start at ten, but the most important rule is open and creative collaboration.

Many cans of gold paint were harmed in the making of this production. Photo by Eileen Tull.

A typical day in the life of a stage manager on Angel Island:
6:00am – Try to turn off alarm, turns out to be birds
6:30am – Wake up, camp out next to the one bathroom in the Fire Dorm, to ensure a morning shower
7:00am – Eat breakfast, drink precious, precious coffee
7:15am – Pack up truck, kiss actors on the forehead and begin morning HERD (which is what we call the morning preset — stands for Hannah, Eileen, Ruth and David, core members of the production team)
7:30am – Make blood and milk
7:45am – Carry carpets and pillows up a flight of stairs
8:30am – Raise the We Players flag at West Garrison, Angel Island
9:00am – Drive to Ithaca (also known as Ayala Cove, Angel Island), check in with actors
10:00am – Call soft places, thank you soft
10:15am – Lie in wait for my next cue, atop a secret path. This is when I usually play shoot bubble on my phone or call my mother.
11:30am – Ferry actors around, set up The Land of the Lotus-Eaters
11:35am – In the process, recoat my hands with orange food coloring
12:30pm – Travel to the Cyclops’ cave
12:35pm – Chase a bird out of the cave
12:40pm – Okay, it chased me
12:45pm – Try to get to my hiding place. There’s a lizard. Try to poke it with a stick. It looks at me. I let it know that I have to get in my hiding place. It runs away.
1:30pm – Ferry actors/wait to ferry actors
3:30pm – Race the audience back to Ithaca, actors in tow
4:00pm – End of show, just about. Begin reset for next show. Begin drinking.

A shot from the driver’s seat of one of the We Players vehicles used to ferry actors, team and props around Angel Island. Photo by Eileen Tull.

Eileen Tull is a director and writer who relocated to the Bay Area from Chicago in June 2011. http://www.eileentull.com