Chances are you’ve never heard of Odyssey Works, an oddball collective of local actors, artists, writers, and musicians who’ve been mounting “plays”—each one for, about, and starring a single “audience member”—here and in New York since 2001. But if you’ve passed a gang of angels strutting down Market Street or stumbled upon a guy wearing a plaid shirt and a donkey’s head at your favorite coffee place, you may have seen them in action without knowing what the hell was going on.
Now’s your chance to get in on the act—even if you’re not sure what the act is. Anyone interested in participating (or just checking out the weirdness) should swing by Viracocha (998 Valencia St., at 21st St.) this Sunday, Aug. 26, at 1 p.m. Be prepared to make some noise (more on that below).
But first, here’s a cheat sheet explaining the audacious Odyssey Works process, from start to finish:
The troupe gets dozens of applications from people who want to be the subject of their very own play. Finalists are interviewed for a couple of hours, with videotapes sometimes submitted to a psychologist (“to make sure we aren’t going to screw anyone up,” cofounder and director Abraham Burickson says). This Sunday’s lucky audience member/star: an Argentine-native school advisor in Oakland who works with the kids of immigrant parents and runs a bike collective.
After making its selection, the troupe spends the next few months hanging out at their star’s home and office, getting to know her family and friends, walking around her neighborhood, eating at her favorite restaurants, reading her favorite books. “It’s an exercise in radical empathy,” Burickson says. “We try to be overwhelmed by them.”
In a hideaway north of Seattle, the troupe outlines a narrative and begins putting together the necessary props. No word on what these are for Sunday’s performance, The Narrative Spiral. But the troupe’s last performance, in and around New York this past spring, involved writing a novel under the name of star’s favorite author, recording a fake radio show which they then broadcast into his apartment through a transmitter hidden in his alarm clock, and a mid-day kidnapping in Central Park.
Up to six months after he/she first applied, the star is asked to clear his/her schedule for an entire weekend. Then the troupe takes over. For editor/art director Sasha Wizansky (of Meatpaper
fame), the star of a 2009 performance, this involved having Saturday brunch with a TV journalist who insisted on interviewing her in French and a family with two little girls claiming to be there for a house swap. Later that day, Wizansky cavorted through the main branch of the S.F. public library with a mind-reading angel and schmoozed in a Hayes Valley café with a half dozen horse-people. “The next morning I woke up in a tent on a goat farm in Sebastopol.”
What to Expect
This Sunday: Burickson is mum on most details of the performance, which runs over 24-plus hours. But at Viracocha, he plans to bombard his unwitting audience member/star with “a live sound field composition,” using a chorus of household items such as tapping teacups and snipping scissors. According to Burickson, this meticulously composed “crescendo of mundane sounds” will play on the woman’s most deeply seated childhood memories for maximum emotional resonance. For you, it might just be a whole lot of fun.
The public portion of Odyssey Works’ “The Narrative Spiral” will take place at Viracocha (998 Valencia at 21st) on Sunday, August 26th, from 1-3 pm. Bring a friend.