I really had no idea what to expect when I sat down in my seat. After walking with the other YPALs to the theater at l’atelier, I realized that I really had not done my homework. And while normally that would bother me somewhat, I genuinely believe that my complete unawareness of what I was about to see made my experience even better.
I was confronted with a very large screen, and I shuffled into my seat with a pocket full of lollipops and no expectations whatsoever. Christiane Jatahy, the artist, introduced the piece, discussing it as a work about borders, about the border between cinema and plays, about the borders that separate people from countries, about the borders that separated people from their friends. And then I sat back and watched.
It took me a while to catch on that members of the cast were hidden throughout the audience. A man sitting near me loudly poured water into a cup, and my initial reaction combined annoyance with being impressed that somehow the sound of the water fit in with the rest of the show so well. It hit me when he began making popping sounds with the help of a prop. Again, I felt annoyed, but a sea of other popping sounds joined his, to make a sea of sounds that felt like splashes or intense, heavy rain.
The show was almost always surprising me, whether by the effectiveness of the director’s comparisons to The Odyssey, by the impromptu dance party just over halfway through, or by the bravery that it must have taken cast member Yara to tell a room full of strangers about her experiences being imprisoned in Syria just for trying to see her family.
I really liked the performance. I’ve studied The Odyssey before, and loved it. As a student of Political Science, I was very captivated by social commentary about humanity and the walls and institutions that separate us from one another. Although I was initially confused by the stories being told on screen, which combined lines from the Odyssey with refugees telling their own stories. But I guess that’s the point– Jatahy wanted us to be confused at first, to recognize her main point that everybody has their own odyssey. That odysseys were not just ‘things that happened’ over a thousand years ago, but people’s experiences and stories that are still taking place today.
As the first performance I saw while attending the YPAL conference, I was forced to think critically. The show really did make me rethink my own experiences and those of my friends, and really brought together the worlds of theater and society, setting the stage for a whole weekend of thought-provoking art and experiences.