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The spirit of the community coming together. Seeing people from all over San Diego, working toward a common purpose. It was beautiful. — Greg McKinney, Choir Director of the St. Stephen’s Cathedral Gospel Choir (Voice of Athena)
One year ago this month, a cast of more than 150 people in the San Diego community opened Odyssey — a Music Theatre Event on the Lowell Davies Festival Stage at the Old Globe Theatre. Lear deBessonet directed this new musical by Todd Almond (both of New York). Odyssey brought together professional actors, Culture Shock Dance, St. Stephen’s Gospel Choir, San Diego Youth Symphony and Jr. Theatre, Valhalla High School Drumline, and a 40-person ensemble from the San Diego community. Together we created a beautiful piece of theatre that answered questions woven into our city’s fabric: “Who are you? Where are you from? How did you get here?”
On Oct. 1, the Old Globe hosted “Odyssey — One Year Later,” a reunion party attended by about 50 of the cast and crew. Odyssey alums shared a favorite memory — everything from SCPA freshman Davina Van Dusen’s giddy recollection of “my sky-high shoes!” to an assistant stage manager’s poignant description of her opening night experience: “After the adrenaline rush of running around getting everyone on for the finale, we stopped. It was such an incredible and quiet moment. Because 180 people were onstage and backstage was empty.”
My own personal and professional “odyssey” since serving as the show’s primary stage manager has been shaped by the experience of the epic production. I learned patience, compassion and gained true understanding for the depth of humanity that I too often forget. I’ve always known that theater enlightens, entertains and educates its audiences. Throughout the Odyssey process, I witnessed theater doing the same and more for its participants.
Shelley Thomas, a professional actor based in New York, played Penelope and Circe. She emailed me: “Being part of such an ambitious project with so many wonderful human beings instilled me with hope, joy and inspiration. Our show and the fellowship that everyone displayed renewed my faith in the human spirit and all that we can truly achieve together!”
“Faith in the human spirit” is a unifying theme among those who took the Odyssey journey. Director Lear deBessonet addressed the group via video-conferencing technology. She looked at us from her Brooklyn apartment and described how we have been an inspiration to her throughout the past year. When she starts to lose faith or hope, she thinks of the strength of each individual in the collaboration.
As a stage manager, my days are packed with meetings, emails, phone calls and scheduling puzzles to be solved. Odyssey spoke to the larger purpose behind that work. When I need a reminder of the reason I do this and the reason theater artists work to tell stories of the human spirit, I too think of our cast. I think of Craig, an Old Globe tour docent and “Suitor #4,” who constantly tells me how seeing “the Globe Machine in action” has enhanced and informed his tours. I think of Lamine, an African Dance Teacher and one of Odysseus’ Men. His smile and joyful energy were infectious to everyone. I think of Al, an ensemble member with a resilient spirit and hope in the face of constant struggles with unemployment. I think of Andre, also one of Odysseus’ Men. He experienced a major life event when his birth parents and adoptive parents met for the first time at a performance of Odyssey.
I recall my favorite memory. It was during the finale on closing night, and all 180 people were on stage singing the final chorus. Just before I glanced at my script to call my last cue, an enormous owl flew across the backdrop of the towering eucalyptus trees that frame the festival stage. He banked to show off his impressive wingspan of nearly four feet before flying back into the night.
In ancient Greek mythology, the owl was a symbol of protection. If an owl flew over a Greek army before battle, it was a sure sign of victory.
In the last moment of our production of mythical proportions, this owl gave the Odyssey army a sure sign of victory as we prepared to part ways and do battle with the world’s difficulties and life’s challenges. Darlene Davies (Old Globe Historian and “Eurynome”) said it best: “I remember the joy of being a part of something, with others on a great adventure. Thank you.”
Evangeline Whitlock is currently assistant stage manager for “Allegiance” at The Old Globe. She was the stage manager for “Odyssey.”
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