Blog #1: Embarking on The Other Path

By Laurie Steven.  September 19, 2022

For many years I’ve thought that Odyssey should launch digital events as a counterpart to our live performances. We could introduce our imaginative shows to audiences across the country, and to digitally-inclined audiences. We could entice them to see our productions live. We could also build relationships with artists across disciplines interested in our field of work.

But how could we translate the magic of what we do into the digital realm? It was a question I had no time to answer with the demands of the theatre. Until the pandemic hit.

At that point I was determined to keep Odyssey producing plays, engaging audiences, and providing work for artists. I also wanted to keep artists and audiences safe.

Blithely, I plunged the Company into the digital world with online training and new play workshops, live-streamed performances, and a video series. Challenging, but a great journey

All this paled in comparison with our next venture – a fantasy audio drama podcast series. It was exciting to involve fantasy fiction writers and folklorists, and an intriguing way to make folk tales resonate with adult audiences.

And how hard could it be, I thought. After all, we would only have voices, language and a bit of sound to consider. No sets, costumes, lighting, choreography, props, staging. Easy peasy.

I was wrong. Audio drama has all the above, it just happens differently in the world of sound. I, and a gang of wonderful theatre makers, embarked on a 2-year labour of love filled with many discoveries to bring this series to life.

In this blog I will share the discoveries of that journey as we unfold the series. My hope is to provide a fun insight into our audio dramas, be creatively inspiring for those who want to make podcasts, or write plays or stories. I also hope it gives heart to those with the inkling of a creative project in mind – go for it!

Blog #1: Embarking on The Other Path2023-12-23T17:37:00+00:00

Blog #2: Wherefore Magic?

By Laurie Steven. September 26, 2022

Or – why folktales, why contemporary, and what’s the deal with magic?

Let’s define magic in folk tales as things that happen in the physical world that defy reason: objects that bring sudden beauty or riches, or spells that inflict dreadful curses. Sometimes these mysterious happenings are caused by supernatural beings, like witches, ogres, and goddesses. And these beings might act with good intentions or with malice.

What excites me is that these blasts of magic usually have a drastic impact on the lives of heroines and heroes. In fact, they often lead them on a tortured, marvel-filled path to a major personal transformation. Think browbeaten cinders-sweeper to go-for-it queen, via hard work, brave defiance and creative thinking, like using a pumpkin for transportation.

In the real world, if we want to change ourselves, or our situation, it can be a grindingly slow process of trial and error (or extensive therapy) over a lifetime.  Often, we never discover how we might change if something big happened to us. Without a fairy godmother or a magic spell, we get chained to the way things are.

What I love about folk tales is that their gifts of magic condense change into an explosive brew that catapults us, with the heroine, into a massively different future. That future is often a testing ground for the spirit, one where change is not just possible, but inevitable.

Folk tales and plays of all kinds usually have a moral. If it isn’t expressed on the surface, look for it in how the main character succeeds or fails. Snow White might discover that it’s sometimes best, when faced with a superior competitor out to destroy you, to chill out and let your seven plus friends help you, rather than deal with the enemy on your own.  This is also one of the lessons of The Art of War.

But what intrigues me most about setting folk tales in today’s world is to see if we can let the magic that causes dramatic change, stir our creative thinking, break the chains that limit our expectations, and help make wondrous things a reality.

I hope your journey down The Other Path brings a little magic into your life.

Blog #2: Wherefore Magic?2023-12-23T17:37:09+00:00

Blog #3: Gateways

By Laurie Steven. October 3, 2022

For this series, each of our writers had to devise a modern-day, magical world. To do that, they had to answer many questions.  What kind of magical beings live in this world? Where can they be found? How do people feel about them? And most importantly, how will their magic test our hero or heroine?

Since the plays are set in a version of our world, rather than in a sci-fi future, it might not be convincing if characters bumped into ogres at the gym or witches in the grocery story.

Most writers start in the normal world and let their characters discover the magical world. In fact, in our audio dramas, magic tends to be found in pockets on the fringes of society: a tract of wilderness hidden in an urban park, across the river in a forbidden part of town, or tucked away at a yard sale.

I think that’s because if we are caught up in everyday routines, we can’t give way to the irrational, such as magical objects or mythical beings. We, like the characters in our plays, need to step outside the ordinary to give magic a gateway into our imaginations or into our souls.

For the same reason these pockets of magic are often associated with nature. Nature, like magic, can represent the wild, uncontrolled, mysterious part of human nature and our world. So too, magical events often seem more believable in the dream-filled night than in the rational light of day.

It’s also possible that the magical world is an image of our subconscious. Perhaps this is why magic is often found in dangerous, forbidden places. If magic represents the buried parts of ourselves, could an ogre be our brutish instinctive side that we don’t want anyone to see? Could an object unlock manic greed we hide even from ourselves?

Entering the magical world or plunging into the subconscious force us to confront our deepest fears. But both ventures can be revealing. And in each case, the trip can help you if it doesn’t kill you.

To warm-up for this series, I walked through neighbourhoods in my town looking for mysterious places that might lead to alternate magical worlds or at least hide a mythical creature or two. Here are a few of the places I found. I’ll leave you to imagine what they hide.

Better still, you might want to go on your own hunting expeditions. It’s a fun way to see your world anew, and, as I did, you are likely to discover things about yourself.

Blog #3: Gateways2023-12-23T17:36:47+00:00

Blog #4: Harnessing Your Witch

By Laurie Steven. October 7, 2022

Witches in folk tales can be found feeding unfortunate heroines poisoned apples (Snow White), plumping up children to eat them (Hansel and Gretel) and trapping  damsels in towers (Rapunzel). They are not nice women.

These days we suspect that women healers in pagan religions were intentionally demonized as Christianity devoured its competition by burning women accused of witchcraft at the stake. In response, there has been an effort cast witches in a more positive light in works like the musical Wicked and in the Harry Potter series.

So what’s a writer to do?  First, I think we should ask: what can a witch do for your story?

Witches are tricksters who can lead people into danger. The rollercoaster journey that ensues as characters try to extract themselves from the clutches of death, forces them to grow and reach a greater understanding of themselves.

One of the ways of creating a witch is to find one in your life. No better place to start than by looking inside yourself.  Did a mischievous inner spirit ever trick you into a potentially devastating life decision and how did that work out?

Who whispered in my ear “make a podcast series, you can do it in six months, it can’t be that hard”? I suspect it was a sadistic workaholic who lurks in my subconscious, hatching sneaky plans that prey on my willful naiveté.

It’s not the first time I’ve been down this road only to find myself saying, two years later in this case, I can’t believe what a nest of toil and trouble I got myself into.

Just as we know that Snow White should not take that apple, I know I should look before I leap. But she takes that apple and I didn’t look. Ask yourself if you’ve ever had a voice whispering in your ear, luring you into your own hornets’ nest.

Once you find your own witch, you’ve got the beginnings of a great character and maybe a path to personal recovery.

Then again, if what your witch tricked you into turned out to be something quite rewarding, you may be back to square one, thinking: I can’t wait to begin work on The Other Path Season Two. Score another one for the witch! 

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy discovering Emily Pohl-Weary’s take on the magnificent witch, Baba Yaga, a multi-faceted immortal whose deadly tests make Lisa face her inner demons.

Blog #4: Harnessing Your Witch2023-12-23T17:37:35+00:00

Blog #5: MORE

By Laurie Steven. November 3, 2022

Have you ever felt that desire for more, a desire that hooks its claws into your guts and drives you relentlessly forward? Here are a few of my musings as I consider this theme in some favourite folk tales.

In The Fisherman and His Wife, this duo lives in a piss pot until the fisherman develops a rapport with a wish-granting flounder. The wife tells her husband to ask the flounder for a cottage and then a castle. Still not happy, she asks to be made king, then emperor, then pope. Nothing satisfies her.

Some of us can relate to this. For example, eating one potato chip leads to devouring the bag. A spree of shopping, cleaning, or winning, promises to soothe the savage beast. Workaholics are always just one more task away from enjoying a better life.

In the end, the fisherman’s wife wants to be like God, but winds up back in her piss pot. And we wind up with stress-related health problems and a mountain of debt.

How about the queen in Snow White? When Snow White displaces her as the fairest in the land, she is consumed with envy and decides to murder the ingénue.  Or consider Dr. Faustus. Fed up with the mundaneness of all human endeavours, he sells his soul to become a mighty magician.

Spoiler alert: these pursuits will not turn out well. The queen is forced to wear red-hot iron shoes and dance herself to death. Dr. Faustus is dragged to hell by the devil.

The message is clear: if you can’t accept the realities of the human condition, you’ll be devoured by your desires and self-destruct.

Are you finding this blog post depressing? It’s too soon for that yet. I’ve only just begun.

You’ll also be sorry if you yearn for fast money. Take the poor miller in The Handless Maiden. He agrees to sell what’s behind his shed to an old man.  It turns out that his daughter was behind the shed, and the old man was the devil.

Plan for a life of hard work like the third little pig or be gobbled up by a wolf. Don’t be tempted by gingerbread houses or you’ll end up in a witch’s pot. And in general, when beggars and talking animals ask for help, don’t let your hoarding instincts get the better of you.

Is there no help for those of us who want to improve our lot in life? Fear not, for Jack, and a slew of goodhearted bumblers, come to our rescue.

The Jack I refer to is the seemingly foolish boy who trades his cow for magic beans. But these beans turn into a wondrous beanstalk and lead him on a great adventure. Jack is rewarded with a sack of gold, a hen that lays golden eggs, and a golden harp.

I believe that Jack is rewarded because, though he would like to improve his circumstances, he isn’t obsessed with doing so. He meanders through life at home with himself and his world and ready to see opportunities that others might pass by. He is rewarded for trusting himself and believing in his dreams.

I hope you enjoy Marty Chan’s mischievous musings on wanting more in Double Trouble.

Blog #5: MORE2023-12-23T17:37:46+00:00

Blog #6: Tales of Stripping

By Laurie Steven. November 7, 2022

Many folktales, myths and much post-apocalyptic pop fiction deal with what happens when characters are stripped of the life they thought was theirs.

In the folktale King Thrushbeard, a proud, arrogant princess who refuses all suitors is forced by her father the King to marry a vagabond minstrel. As a result she finds herself living in a hut, doing sweaty chores and demeaning paid work, and being ridiculed at court. Finally, the humble, capable princess is able to feel happiness, and the minstrel reveals that he is a king.

It’s easy to be appalled by this story of men putting a woman in her place. But what’s more disturbing is the thought that we could at any time have our possessions, jobs, and status stripped away by causes that might range from health, to natural disasters, to corporate restructuring.  Would we grow and prove ourselves capable in a new reality?

In the Norwegian tale, King Lindworm, a dragon prince demands wives and then eats them. Eventually he gets a maiden who dresses in many layers of clothes on their wedding night.  Every time the dragon asks her to remove a layer, she insists that he peel off a layer of his dragon skin. Once he is a raw, bloody mass of flesh, she whips him, which must hurt like hell, then bathes him in milk and holds him in her arms.

A dreadful ordeal? Yes. But it’s one through which the voracious dragon becomes a human prince.

King Lear is another stripping story. A vain king, subject to flattery banishes the one daughter who speaks the truth to him, and is subsequently betrayed by the others. Poor Lear loses his possessions, power, clothes and sanity. As the mad king wanders with his fool, he comes to understand his misguided vanity and misuse of power.

So, on a positive note, folk tales suggest that the suffering involved in this process of stripping helps us conquer our faults like arrogance, brutality and vanity. It reveals truth and draws forth our latent good qualities like wisdom and compassion. Ultimately, the journeys we are forced to take make us more human.

One of the greatest stripping tales is the myth of the Sumerian goddess Inanna’s descent to the kingdom of the dead. Inanna is the goddess of love, fertility, procreation and war – a goddess teeming with life, full of ambition. To enter the realm of her sister, the Queen of the Dead, she is forced to remove her fine clothes, crown, jewels, armour, and sceptre.

When Inanna stands naked before her sister, the Queen fastens the eye of death on her and Inanna winds up on a meat hook. This grisly demise, however, precedes her rescue and return to the land of the living.

It’s hotly debated whether Inanna returns to the world strengthened by her journey or not. But pondering this myth is a chastening experience. It reminds us that life ends in death, and in death, all that we value is stripped away. This story challenges us to make the most of ourselves, and our lives, while we have them.

All these stories, give us the chance to think about who we are, who we want to be and what we value. And we can do this with a glass of wine, while we still have some time to go forth and try to make our vision of ourselves a reality.

Enjoy Jo Walton’s exploration of what characters learn about themselves and each other when their known world vanishes.

Blog #6: Tales of Stripping2023-12-23T17:37:54+00:00
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