Given The Odyssey is a fundamental piece of western literature, the performance this January by Tanglin Senior Drama CCA students – intensely modern in its staging and rich in Asian reference – was both a surprise and a delight.
Amy Garside, Drama Specialist, and some of the Senior School performers explain here the process and experience of staging the production.
How did you conceive the staging of the show?
From the outset we wanted to create a production which offered students a chance to build new skills through the guidance of teachers and experienced practitioners such as Mark Hill, a physical theatre expert; Gary Friedman, a puppeteer; Nanang, a Dalang puppeteer; and Yaser, a contemporary Indonesian, ethnic percussionist. The practitioners worked with the students on building and controlling puppets, on physical theatre techniques and creating choreographed movement sequences. Click here to see a short video on the making of The Odyssey. Students were given the opportunity to devise their own interpretations from sections of the script and much of the production stemmed from the students' creative ideas.
"The Drama CCA gave me a better understanding of the poem, and got rid of any fear about performing. In the Monday group, we worked on the Circe, pig transformation and sailor scenes and choreography I devised was used in the performance – I didn't know I was good at that so I found a new talent! I would definitely look into joining similar groups at University, I wouldn't have thought about that before." Ananya, Year 12
Tell us about how you created the mesmerising atmosphere of the performance
The design aesthetic was achieved through the use of raw materials which added depth and texture to create the environment for Noman's journey. The varied use of puppetry gave an extra dimension to the telling of the narrative, giving a surreal quality to the piece. This included the use of wayang kulit (Indonesian shadow puppetry), where a Dalang puppeteer sits behind a screen, with a light above, projecting shadows onto the screen. The music, created by both Yaser and Giuliano, a Year 8 student, enhanced the magical and atmospheric backdrop to Noman's journey in The Odyssey.
"One of the most important things I took away from The Odyssey was the special bond between everyone at the end of it all. Yaser really inspired me in the way he complemented the action with music. He was able to use many different percussion instruments to add an extra layer to the performance". Giuliano, Year 8
How were all the elements put together?
As the cast was made up of two separate CCA groups, the final week before the production was the first time the groups merged together to form an ensemble cast. Much of the creative devising process was carried out in that week, so all students were able to consolidate their skills, make connections, focus on their performance, build as an ensemble and reflect on their intentions.
It was very much a collaborative project and the students benefitted enormously from the creative involvement of the talented practitioners and staff, which enabled the production to be such a success.
"Through the process of rehearsing and performing the Odyssey, I learnt how to integrate with other year groups, which improved my confidence, acting and ensemble skills. The experience also introduced me to different ways to create a performance. I will use all the ideas and techniques that the specialists taught me in the future to make a performance ten times better!" Connie, Year 9
"Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of watching the Senior School Production of 'The Odyssey'. It was an exceptional piece of drama and once again showed our talented students and committed teaching and support staff at their best. The production looked beautiful and the interplay between movement, music, puppets, costumes and lights created an atmospheric, sensory experience for the audience. The quality of this production reminds me of how many amazing things are going on at Tanglin and, alongside all the academics, sporting events, service projects and overseas expeditions, it is clear that the arts are vibrant in the Senior School." Allan Forbes, Head of the Senior School