On Saturday June 16, 2012, from 10:00 a.m. to about 10:00 p.m., in a performance co-produced by Ottawa StoryTellers and 2 Women Productions at the 4th Stage of Ottawa's National Arts Centre, I had the great pleasure and privilege of participating in an oral telling of Homer's Odyssey, from beginning to end. Here are the names of the tellers, in the order in which they told their books:
Gail Anglin, Ruth Stewart-Verger, Jacques Falquet, Kim Kilpatrick, Alan Shain, Daniel Kletke, Sherri Yazdani, Jennifer Cayley, Mary Wiggin, Anne Nagy, Marie Bilodeau, Tara Hartley, Dean Verger, Tom Lips, Marta Singh, Katherine Grier, Ellis Lynn Duschenes, Jan Andrews.
The great tale was told, from memory, in hour-long sets (and one 90-minute set), with short breaks in between and longer pauses for lunch and supper. Over a hundred people bought a pass for the entire day, and a sizeable contingent joined at the half-way point. They sat in the shadowy hall, listening intently, hour after hour. Outside, it was a sunny Saturday in June, prime barbecue and yard sale weather, with a dozen or more excellent competing events during the day and evening. Yet still our listeners came, some from as far away as Montreal, Toronto, and Halifax. They came, and they stayed. We may have lost one or two along the way, but almost all got caught up in the power and flow of the epic, and could not break away. In an age and culture that are practically defined by the shortness of our collective attention span and our hunger for special effects, I find that deeply encouraging. We trusted the story, and the story came through for us.
Throughout the day, listeners left comments in the production's guest books. Here's what they said. (I've included all of the comments, which is perhaps a bit self-indulgent, but scroll down: this gives a clear indication of the audience response.) Many of these listeners, like many readers of this blog, I expect, had grave doubts about whether they would want to, or be able to, sit still and listen for that long to a story from ancient Greece. They were surprised!
AUDIENCE FEEDBACK:THE ODYSSEY JUNE 16/2012
"The Odyssey was a once in a lifetime treat. Thank you."
"A marathon telling, performed with grace and skill. I couldn't miss it."
"Mind blowing, enchanting, mesmerizing and back bender."
"Fantastic experience! I loved simply listening and hearing Homer's words. What a story..."
"Came in at 4:30. I thought it was a crazy endeavor and I'm half crazy! I'm even told you do this often! Curious to know what is the next epic."
"I'm enjoying the slow pace of the tellers. Every word is clear"
"Excellent performance. Very organized."
"Great performance. I am really enjoying the 12 hour version. Saw the shorter version 5 years ago."
"The telling of the Odyssey is an epic undertaking. The storytellers were truly masterful and the story, well it's not surprising that it has been around for more than 2000 years. Such beautiful images in the mind, created by Homer's perfect turns of phrase. But most importantly, it is the passion of the storytellers and the delivery of the story with their full life force that holds the listeners in such a state of excitement."
"An amazing day well done!"
"I had no idea the Odyssey was so accessible and universal in its themes. Wonderful for all ages over 12!"
"Loved it! Next show should be Beowulf or a Norse sage or Gilgamesh!"
"What an epic and wonderful undertaking! I'm thoroughly enjoying the show. What an amazing chance to be involved!"
"Engaging and well-told. It always kept my attention, despite the length."
"Well organized and thoughtful execution. Nice variety of tellers."
"Very well done - engaging and captivating."
"Was doubtful at first that I would be able to last the whole 12 hours, but after only the second set I was hooked. Excellent show."
"A very professional presentation."
"Amazing - I thought I might not last, but I cannot leave!"
"A truly outstanding endeavor. Thank you for bringing these words to life."
"Absolutely riveting! The storytellers bring Odysseus home with grace worthy of Homer."
"All the performers were amazing. Most outstanding was Alan Shain - the story of Odysseus's grief was perfectly demonstrated by his vocal styling."
"You brought an incredible book to life."
"Wonderful! Thanks for the trip!"
"Deeply moving. Very connected to life and its challenges. Beautifully done!"
"Polished, Professional, Perfect."
"A once in a lifetime experience. An epic for the ages. Congratulations on a journey well told."
"Well done, great way to spend the day and evening."
"Enthralling from start to finish - I only hope there may be a repeat performance some day!"
"Amazing storytellers and performance! Would absolutely come to another full day show."
"As I write this at hour 10, I don't want it to end. I wish it were another 12 hours! Very inspiring!"
"Great performance! Inspiring! Keep this initiative going, please!"
"What a wonderful experience! I am entranced, moved by this wonderful ancient story full of tragedy, humour and inspiration. Thank-you to all he wonderful tellers for the work and dedication and to Jan and Jennifer for their organization and work in making this opportunity a reality for the audienc."
"The Odyssey – One of my all-time – favourites . Your presentation makes it come to life in a whole new way."
"Bloomsday 2012 - What fun …… “so lend to the rhyme of the poet the beauty of thy voice”
"Here we are at the dinner break and still so much to tell! Most enjoyable!"
"Thank-you for bringing together what for me is a “ Rasputin’s Alumnae” for that is where I first met all of you. The storytelling is of course first rate. A veritable treat for the ears."
"Years ago, I studied the Odyssey at university. It seemed dry and un-inspiring. Today was utterly different. Thank-you, for awakening me to this rich story."
"Thank-you very much for this wonderful experience, my first with storytelling and it was for sure the experience of a lifetime. Thank-you for opening that door to that magical world and sharing your joy and that journey with us."
"This was a wonderful idea. It is such an experience to hear this epic tale brought to life by so many talented tellers."
"What a terrific performance! Such a great story and so many talented storytellers. Thank-you for a wonderful day."
"Thank-you for being a vehicle for me to understand the meaning of gods and goddesses."
"It’s the last break and I am scared of what’s happening next ! OH! ODYSSEUS Please be kind to us ………. Loved it. Thanks to all of you and kudos"
"An unbelievable success. Congratulations and please give us more"
"Thanks for a delicious day of detail and courtesy and adventure and love and blood letting. Most satisfying"
" 'Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage.' Joachim du Bellay. Thank-you for this fantastic journey."
"What a wonderful and well epic accomplishment. A pleasure to have been a small part of this."