AN INTERDISCIPLINARY performance group of actors, writers, musicians and artists funded by Cornell University, will immerse an individual New Yorker in a 24-hour production in which they are the scriptless main character, with no idea of what the performance will be. The Odyssey Works: New York piece, developed over several months of intensive research into all aspects of the main character’s life, will lead the protagonist all over New York, to public and private sites, and eventually out of the city and deep into upstate New York.
Odyssey Works: New York pushes ideas of interactivity and site-specificity to their extreme in order to make the work have the deepest possible impact. “Long ago, theater’s fourth wall was broken,” says Odyssey Works Director Abraham Burickson, “this work breaks the fifth wall–that between performance and reality. Because we know so much about the protagonist we can pull symbols and narrative themes out of real life and develop them in the performance. If we need someone to play a mother, for instance, we call the main character’s mother. If we need to create a nostalgic scene, we perform it in a nostalgic place, such as the character’s childhood home or place of employment.”
Odyssey Works’ actors go through intensive training to move away from performing and toward behaving, so that their roles are believable not only for the protagonist but for themselves. They take the performance out of the prepared zone of the stage and into the uncertain space of dynamic relationship with the audience. Long before the performance, the actors work with the protagonist’s friends and family to be inserted into her life, develop real relationships with her, and to plant the seeds of a narrative, which on April 16th, will grow into a story that draws from every aspect of her life.
The Odyssey Works cast of artists, coming from around the US and Canada, count among them a New York Times Notable Book Author and National Book Critic’s Circle Finalist, a Cornell University Artist-in-Residence, a Concert Cellist, a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellow, a winner of the Celeste International Contemporary Art Prize, the founder of the Austin New Music Coop, an architect, a graphic designer, even a dream expert. Their training is intense and experimental. The artists work with one another to expand their understanding of traditional disciplines in order to be more flexible, audience-focused, and ultimately more open to the unknown. Notes playwright Michael Agresta, “It’s a whole different way of making art for me. It’s different than anything I’ve ever tried to do.”
“In a way it is like writing a love poem,” adds Burickson, “You know your audience, you have an intended effect, you are there to deliver it and it is continuous with life, rather than extracted from it like a poem in a book. We take that process and apply it to beautiful things as well as dark things, music as well as theater, the deeply personal and the almost impersonal. All art-making is a communication, and can be thought of this way.”
Monica Aiken, who experienced Locating the Borderlands, Odyssey Works’ 2003 production in San Francisco, says “[It's] like walking into the chambers of your own heart and then finding someone else standing inside there too.”
Odyssey Works: New York is sponsored by The Cornell Council on the Arts and the Risley College for the Creative and Performing Arts.