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Adapting Homer’s tale something of an Odyssey for students

Some of the lead cast in the EDSS Drama team’s production of the Odyssey. Front: Simon Zenker as Odysseus, Lydia Wilson as Penolope and Raven de Haan as Artemis. Behind them are Jared Wallis, playing Poseidon, and Ella Campbell as Athena, while in the back is Brevin Leis taking on the role of Zeus. [FAISAL ALI / The Observer]

It’s a tale of timeless tradition. A story of gods and men, love and war, that has become the progenitor for modern literature: Homer’s the Odyssey. It’s one of the classics of Western canon; and now the EDSS drama team are taking their original adaption of the sprawling epic to the Ontario Drama Festival (formerly the Sears Drama Festival) regional showcase in April.

Qualifying at the district-level competitions earlier this month, the Elmira team will be facing off against 12 others for a spot in the provincials.

“There is no other one-act version of the Odyssey out there, so this is totally unique, totally our own thing,” said EDSS drama teacher and play director DJ Carroll.

The teams weren’t required to write their own play, notes Carroll, but he says he had been wanting to do a live version of the story for some time. Of course the original poem is massive, spanning thousands of pages, so Carroll worked with the EDSS students to create something that could be performed on stage.

“So what I did is I looked at what are the iconic scenes? And then from there we said, ‘let’s build a story,’” he explains of the process.

“I started adapting the story of the Odyssey, and then the kids took the scenes and worked them. From those scenes I was able then to write more and put more of the words down on the page, so it turned into a very collaborative effort between the cast and myself.”

The final version is 32-minutes long, and it’s a production positively brimming with the diverse talents of the 37-member student cast and crew, earning them an Outstanding Production Award at the district competition.

In just half-an-hour, the play features a full-on battle sequence, for which the team also won an award of merit; elaborate costumes seemingly pulled straight out of the era; a towering Cyclops brought to life as a massive puppet; creative movement dance scenes; and a modern arrangement of the Epitaph of Seikilos, a song dating back thousands of years to ancient Greece.

“And it just sort of all comes together in the sense that everybody has been working on their little pieces,” says Carroll.

For many of the students, putting together a production of this calibre and complexity is an entirely new experience.

“I’ve been involved in school dramas since elementary school, but starting here was like the beginning of acting for me,” says Grade 10 student Lydia Wilson, who co-stars as Penelope, Odysseus’ wife.

“Drama isn’t a sport, but this feels like a team. Like everyone just works together,” she says.

Ella Campbell, meanwhile, who plays the role of Athena, says she was “overwhelmed” to receive the part.

“I love the gods, I love all the mythology stuff. And then when I saw it on the list I was like, ‘oh my goodness, I am the Goddess of Wisdom!’” she says. She notes that it was challenging figuring out how to play a goddess, but that she was really enjoying the role.

The EDSS drama team will be taking their production to the regional showcase on April 17, which is being held at John F. Ross Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph. Besides that, Carroll says that they are planning to do another public performance closer to home at EDSS, with the dates to be decided.

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