This past November, the Upper School English department joined the Arts (Drama, Dance, Music and Art) for a special interdisciplinary project.
Following their reading of The Odyssey, Class 9 students devoted their time and talent in their respective Arts courses reflecting on and analyzing the epic poem. Rather than writing an essay or taking a final, each discipline offered students a unique experience and provided them with the freedom to express their thoughts.
In the Art Room, amidst lively chatter, students designed projects to represent the story of Odysseus in a visual manner. Required to use an inventive and imaginative feature to enhance the original story, students put their creative minds to work, choosing to paint, build or mold their idea.
One student meticulously placed the finishing touches on her three-dimensional toy car that represented Odysseus’ escape from the Cyclops. Next to her, a student painted a stunning siren scene, carefully brushing strokes of “blood” (reddish brown paint) against a bright and shiny gold to depict the sirens’ dangerous yet tempting demeanor. Several students chose to include 3D elements, such as wood, yarn and construction paper, to enhance their thoughtful projects.
In the Assembly Room, dancers performed unique interpretations of the epic poem. Head of Upper School Arts and Integration and Dance teacher Sarah Rutledge explained that the goal was to be as abstract as possible to lend multiple analyses of each piece.
One student described how her dance conveyed Odysseus’ emotional insecurity. The stability in her movements reflected his life when it was stable. “After the Battle of Troy he feels trapped,” she noted, so in her dance she began to dance move on the floor and struggled to get up. By utilizing the full Assembly Room space, she sought to represent Odysseus’ lengthy journey. Using the audience to represent Ithaca, she danced towards them and kept her movements vertical rather than horizontal. “Moving side to side wouldn’t portray the text how I wanted to,” she shared.
Later, in the Black Box Theater, both Drama and Music students gathered. First up were the Drama students, who, in groups, crafted their own scripts by adapting a specific scene into more modern language. One group, for example, transformed the ancient world of The Odyssey into a high school setting, where Odysseus acted as student body president.
Students took advantage of all Drama department offerings, using props and sound effects, including thunder, an eagle’s call, and even Kylie Jenner’s voice, which one group added for comedic effect.
Following the animated actors, Music students took the stage to share their talents with their very own musical, complete with a student-led band. The passionate performers created a parody of Broadway’s Hamilton, calling their rendition “Odysseus.” They turned famous Hamilton songs, such as “Alexander Hamilton,” and “Say No to This,” into “Odysseus of Ithaca” and “Say No to This Goddess,” respectively.
It was evident in the joy etched on students’ faces, in their infectious laughter, and in their heartfelt performances that this collaboration was a stunning success. Using their personal passions to unravel a complex story clearly aided in their overall understanding of the complicated poem.
When asked why this project proved more effective than a final exam, an Art student shared, “You have to imagine when you’re reading, but we actually put something on a canvas, making it memorable.” Another offered, “We put so much time and effort into this project, using something we really enjoy.”
One Music student commented, “I had a really good time with it. It’s different and better than writing an essay, it was a complex book so this is a fun way to bring it to life!” Art teacher Duane Neil affirmed, “You will never forget The Odyssey after this.”