The Factory Theatre Company is a collective of theatre artists specialising in interactive pieces that change every night. In this production of The Odyssey, the twenty-four books of the story are each enacted according to a prompt that an audience member pulls out of a hat at the beginning of each scene. A cross between a structured improv game and a polished performance complete with harmonised singing and pre-written monologues, this Odyssey is a pastiche of storytelling methods that demonstrate how we as human beings understand and create our most fundamental tales.
The Tanner Street space resembles more of a rehearsal hall than a true performance space, with wooden floors, white walls, and an in-the-round set-up of mismatching chairs. The company of actors likewise are clad in everyday street clothes. For the audience, it feels more like we have been invited into their creative process than that we are watching a completed performance. And that seems to be the point; the show cannot be completed without the participation of the audience, and even then, it is always still in the process of growing.
The audience is involved throughout the show, not just in picking pieces of pottery out of a hat to decide what prompt the actors receive for each scene, but also in a variety of scenes during which select audience members join the actors onstage. In ‘Puppets,’ each actor takes someone out of the audience to become their puppet-master as they perform the scene. In ‘Interview,’ one spectator comes on stage as a tv reporter to interview the Odyssey characters about what happens during this book (our interviewer was brilliant, and clearly a true Greek mythology nerd). In ‘Advice,’ one of my favorite scenes, the actors periodically ask for the audience to give input on what they should do next–proving just what a terrible influence our playful audience wanted to be.
From the very beginning of the play when one actor explains the set-up of the game, the company makes clear the level of theatrical artifice they are working with. And while some scenes (‘Conjoined by Sticks’ and ‘Rhyme,’ for instance) felt shaky and improvised, plenty of them were clearly fully rehearsed scenes in which the given prompt could be inserted. Yet, that in itself becomes part of the game; there are clearly dozens of scenes that could be played for each iteration of The Odyssey, and we only get to see a small sampling of them. The show is an exciting experiment, and while there is no pressure to take part in it, most audience members were eager to do so. There is something wonderful about getting to join in and create theatre together with such talented and flexible performers, knowing that your show was unique in part because of you and that you can always come back for more.