The Odyssey Project

Seldom have I been as conscious of how exposed performers can feel onstage as I was at this fascinating presentation, which brings together students from UCSB with young men serving sentences at the Los Prietos Boys Camp correctional facility. UCSB professor of theater Michael Morgan and his team train the group in a variety of techniques while asking each individual to consider the ways in which his or her own journey through life resembles that of brave Odysseus, the “man of many twists and turns” whose greatest desire is to get back to his home.

Listening to the litany of descriptions of the dark places from which these young people have emerged, the broken homes, the incarcerated or addicted parents, and the seemingly hopeless environments, it became clear that in order to participate in the project they had to overcome a different kind of stage fright, one associated not with the fear of failing to portray a character, but instead with the fear of what it might mean to portray oneself.

The result, I’m happy to say, was uplifting in the extreme. When, at the end of the show, the actors joined together in testifying to the value of their own voices, one could hear the newfound confidence that was born out of this theatrical challenge.


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