By Diana SaengerIn celebration of The Old Globe Theatre’s 75th anniversary, director Lear deBessonet and writer Todd Almond will premiere a musical theater event, “Odyssey.” The work reimagines Homer’s epic poem from deBessonet’s conversations with San Diegans at large. Commissioned by The Globe, “Odyssey” has a three-day run Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre.
DeBessonet is an energetic artist who is no stranger to creating big events. Her resume includes “The Scarlet Letter,” “My Fair Lady,” “Don Quixote,” a community-based collaboration with a homeless shelter in Philadelphia that was named in “Best Shows of 2009” by
Philadelphia Weekly, and more. She was eager to talk about “Odyssey.”
Q. “Odyssey” is part of the Globe’s Southeastern San Diego Residency Project. How did it originate?
A: I had a commission to create a piece for The Globe so several years ago I came to San Diego to meet as many different San Diegans as possible. Then Todd and I started working on the idea. He wrote the music and lyrics, and we imagined this ideal version of “what ifs” – we had the
Valhalla High School Percussion Ensemble or 30 children from San Diego Jr. Theatre come running out from the floor, or Culture Shock San Diego to perform, St. Stephen’s Church Choir to sing and be the voice of Athena, or the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory to score a dream ballet of Odysseus’ homecoming?
At one point Todd and I looked at each other like, really? Every outlandish thing we thought of we got, and we’re so happy the groups said yes.
Q. The cast features 200 people. How do you pull that off?
A: This is the largest cast I’ve ever worked with, but once it’s above 50 people it’s the same whether 60 or 300. You have to be organized in the same ways of directing a parade, pageant or the Olympic opening ceremonies. I do have a stage manager team of four who are the most on-top-of teams I’ve ever worked with, but necessary since I need to know very hour what we’re working on.
Q. You worked with Todd before on several shows including “On the Levee” at the Lincoln Center. What’s your collaboration like?
A: There is fluidity between us that makes it possible to do something like this. He’s one of the most talented composers of a new generation of musical theater writers, and he has a generous spirit, which this project requires in working with all of these people.
Q. “Odyssey” chronicles the trials the ancient Greek hero Odysseus faces on his long journey home from the war at Troy. Disguised as a beggar he must win back his wife, Penelope, and take revenge on the suitors who have been circling her in his absence. Why was this the story you chose to tell?
A: I spent 14-hour days talking to people all over San Diego – from Balboa Park, the YMCA, border guards, and people taking tutoring sessions – to ask how they came to make San Diego their home. A recurring theme arose that made me think of the “Odyssey,” one of our great narratives of a journey toward home, or someone trying to reconcile with their family.
Q. Does it help that choreographers Tony and Maria Caligagan have Globe experience?
A: Yes. In addition to knowing the space and institution, they have an ease with each other, and with this big of a production, you need two choreographers.
Q. In addition to community groups there are professional cast members as well?
A: Yes. Todd and I worked with Shelly Thomas (Penelope/Circe) before in “On The Levee.” Todd knew Alvin Crawford from Julliard and thought he would be the perfect Odysseus. And Todd plays the Singer.
Q. Do you have a favorite element of the show?
A: Every time a new group comes into the room I feel like I’m falling in love with them. They are all so great, especially since among the 47-core ensemble, a lot had never performed a production before. But then we have three female students from the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts who blew us away. It will be a terrific event.
If you go ....
“Odyssey”When: 8 p.m. Sept. 30, Oct. 1; 7 p.m. Oct. 2
Where: Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, The Old Globe, Balboa Park
Box Office: (619) 23-GLOBE