Art created by members of the "Homecoming: An Odyssey" collective in preparation for the Mad Horse Theatre Company immersive installation production. (Courtesy Stacey Koloski)
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What is home? How do we define it? What does it mean to be away from home, to return home, to live there?

This week, Mad Horse Theatre Company invites us on a journey to consider these questions, in the world premiere of their immersive installation production “Homecoming: An Odyssey.”

Drawing on Homer’s epic tale of return, “Homecoming” is an original devised project, with both a designed element and a series of six performances that will transform both the indoors and outdoors of Mad Horse’s South Portland venue from June 23-26. This large-scale interdisciplinary project, which is nine months in the making, will include elements of puppetry, music, sound design, weaving, paper crafts, and found-object sculpture, and will welcome audiences as both spectators and participants in the sojourn.

"Homecoming" prep
Ian-Mer Lindsey, Hollie Pryor, and Shannon Wade at an open house for Mad Horse Theatre Company’s immersive installation production “Homecoming: An Odyssey.” (Courtesy Stacey Koloski)

This endeavor began, “Homecoming” co-creator Stacey Koloski explained, with several Mad Horse Company members’ interest in creating a design-centered work.

“We wanted to explore the idea of what dramatic storytelling looks like in a devising process that starts with visual, auditory, tactile theatrical design work that subsequently leads to the narrative,” Koloski said, “rather than starting with a performance script that would then be supported by design.” 

The epic of Odysseus became a touchstone for the group early in the process.

“Homer’s Odyssey was a source text that excited us,” Koloski said, “both for the challenging themes and the fantastical characters, creatures, and worlds that provide tremendous inspiration for designers of all disciplines.” 

As they explored the text, company members considered its myriad themes before landing on “homecoming,” the driving momentum of the ancient story. 

Many playwrights have been drawn to interpret “The Odyssey” over the years, and early in the pandemic, Mad Horse members read theatrical versions of the story by several of them, including Naomi Iizuka, Derek Walcott, Margaret Atwood, and Emily Wilson.

“Seeing how different playwrights used their creativity and lived experiences to inform their adaptations provided further inspiration to the process,” Koloski said.

"Homecoming" collage
An “artistic provocation” and community-generated collage created at the “Homecoming: An Odyssey” open house, in preparation for the Mad Horse immersive installation production. (Courtesy Stacey Koloski)

The group then assembled a core “Homecoming” devising collective of multidisciplinary designers, which in addition to Koloski includes Reba Askari, Brooke Bolduc, Jennifer Halm-Perazone, Josh Hsu, Ian-Mer Lindsey, Mark Rubin, and Shannon Wade. In monthly meetings, the collective explored the dimensions of their text and theme, and they soon found themselves a central character for the narrative: Odysseus’ wife Penelope, who, Koloski said, “came into focus as a character with an infinite web of homecoming/home connections.”

This approach to theater creation is new to the company.

“We’re pretty sure this is the first fully devised production at Mad Horse – at least in recent memory – so that’s very exciting,” Koloski said. “We’re also excited about centering design as performance in our space, and about giving designers space to flex a bit and show us what they’ve got when they are not being reined in by a more traditional production process centered on a scripted work.”

Visitors will be able to experience the project through a range of modes as they’re invited to consider how they connect with home.

“There will be moments when the show resembles a seated theater-going experience and moments of moving through space,” Koloski said. “There will also be opportunities for audience members to participate more directly in a hands-on way in the installation itself if they are so compelled.”

While excited for the culmination of this nine-month journey, Koloski said the process itself has been transformative.

“This slow-burn production process over nine months creates a scaffold of intentionality and heart we believe will come through in the production,” she said. “It has been a humbling, challenging, and deeply rewarding artistic and spiritual process for the group.”

And the hope is that audiences will now share in that process, exploring their own understandings of home.

“Consideration of what ‘home’ means is a deeply individual process, unique to each person,” Koloski said. “‘Homecoming,’ to that end, is not an answer as much as it is a question that each audience member will be on their own journey – ‘Odyssey’ – to reflect upon.”

Megan Grumbling is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Portland. Find her at megangrumbling.com.

Homecoming,” an immersive installation inspired by Homer’s “The Odyssey,” created by the “Homecoming” Collective and produced by Mad Horse Theatre Company in South Portland. Shows run June 23-26. FMI: https://www.madhorse.com/.

Theater at Monmouth
“It’s Greek (and Roman) to Me!” is a series of shows at the Theater of Monmouth.

Bring on summer

Can we choose to be happy, or is it just how we’re born? The Public Theatre of Lewiston poses the question in its latest show, “Be Here Now,” about a pessimistic professor of nihilism who becomes happy and optimistic as an unexpected medical side effect. It runs both on stage and streaming on-demand through June 26. FMI: https://thepublictheatre.org/

Summer theater is getting started at the Theater at Monmouth, whose season is themed “It’s Greek (and Roman) to Me!” Accordingly, the lineup includes “Lysistrata,” “Antony and Cleopatra” and Sarah Ruhl’s shimmering version of “Eurydice,” among others. The first show, opening June 25, is “Lysistrata;” on July 2 comes the workshop production of “Pandora,” in which Pandora is a teacher’s pet with big concerns about global warming and a secret science experiment in a suitcase. Other shows open soon thereafter, and they run in repertory. FMI: https://theateratmonmouth.org/

If you’re headed up to beautiful Deer Isle over the next month, consider checking out Opera House Arts’ al fresco production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” which will include live music by folk composer Ray Duncan and whose cast includes local theatrical favorite Hannah Daly. It runs in Mariners Park from June 28-July 17. FMI: https://operahousearts.org/much-ado-about-nothing/.

Finally, do you need to be healed? If you’ve been alive for the last two years or so, the answer is probably yes. And so you should head over to Payson Park on June 24 and/or 25 for the free dance performance “You are Going to be Healed.” Performed by Imaginary Island, a company comprised of therapist-dancers Kristen Stake and Hannah Wasielewski, this interactive experience will be riddled with fake Tarot cards, intake forms, spell-casting, and fluorescent wigs, and it will take place as part of Tempo Arts’ series of performances staged amidst the large sculptures of artist Pamela Moulton’s installation “Beneath the Forest, Beneath the Sea.” FMI: www.imaginaryisland.art for info on the performance, and https://tempoartmaine.org/projects/beneath-the-forest-beneath-the-sea/ for info on the installation.

— Megan Grumbling