Theater: Odyssey Works changes another life at BEAT Festival

This photo depicts a previous Odyssey Works performance piece, in which a subject named Carl has a Joan of Arc moment.  Credit: Ayden L.M. Grout
This photo depicts a previous Odyssey Works performance piece, in which a subject named Carl has a Joan of Arc moment.
Credit: Ayden L.M. Grout

Metro spoke with Abraham Burickson, co-founder and artistic director of Odyssey Works, about his latest site-specific project that will come to fruition on Sept. 21 as part of the BEAT Festival. To learn more about this unique work and others, visit www.beatbrooklyn.com.

You held open applications for people to participate in Odyssey Works?

It’s long and involved. The first application is 10 questions about yourself, half of them are scheduling and timing. And if you get past that first round, there’s a questionnaire that’s 15 pages long that takes between two and 12 hours to fill out. That has a whole range of questions, some of them about your psychology, some about your history, some about your aesthetics. They also involve notating dreams, doing free-writes on subjects and giving phone numbers of references. After applications, we did an hourlong video interview with the finalists.

What do you mean by your mission statement to “change the life of a single Brooklynite”?

I can tell you that we’ve been working for six months now to create a series of experiences for this one Brooklynite named Rick. And some have been very intimate and some will be very dramatic and public. For instance, we have already written a children’s book that we gave to Rick’s priest, that the priest gave to Rick, that Rick read to his daughter. That was in July. Through August, he’s been going to a place that we call the cloister, the children’s book is called “The Secret Room.” There are many serious and profound artistic experiences that happen in the cloister, including his listening to a piece of music composed by our composer Travis Weller, and reading and responding to an ongoing story that I’ve been writing in a notebook. And, most importantly, there has been fooling around.

In the book, “The Secret Room,” there is a little girl, much like Rick’s daughter, who lets go of everything and acts crazy once in a while — she fools around. For Rick, we wanted to create a space that was artistic with the seriousness of clowning. On Sept. 21, Rick will encounter a massive mob of the public who will all be fools there to fool around in public with him. Many have already been training in what is actually a very serious tradition of fooling. The public, who sign up, will be invited into this mob of fools at MetroTech Plaza, where they’ll be guided by “expert fools” who have been in training all summer long in creating the most foolish moment that MetroTech Plaza has ever known. There is something great about this space being the site for our foolery, because it’s a very serious public space that could use something more foolish.

So it’s like a flash mob?

Absolutely. The idea of the flash mob is one of the tools that we work with.

Are you going to put it on YouTube?

No.

Why was Rick the standout applicant?

One of the main criteria is that this year’s participant is different than last year’s. Rick was different in his vast creativity, his incredible openness, his unbelievable patience for durational long-term work, his age. We rarely get applicants over 50. And the richness of his network of friends, which are essential to any Odyssey Works performance.

What do you promise your audiences?

We have no audiences, we have only participants. The public who comes gets a chance to be part of a life-changing experience for somebody. They’re not an audience.

Is your piece immersive theater?

Somewhat, although we’re moved out of theater and into dance and into literature, into music. Our work is across all artistic disciplines.

Are you changing Rick’s life for the better?

I hope so. We don’t have a specific way in which we hope to change someone’s life, we just believe that a deeply felt artistic experience will be transformative. I can also tell you that of our last three participants, all three quit their jobs afterward, all three moved and two ended relationships. One of them became very strong in her current relationship. We don’t have a specific agenda for how we change their lives, we just want them to have a deeply felt experience of beauty.


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