“To have a voice is to have a choice” – Dr Michael Morgan
The Odyssey Project is a full-length documentary that is currently in pre-production. Filming is scheduled to start spring 2014 and will be completed in the fall of the same year. Using the template of Homer’s Odyssey the film documents the transformational adventures of a group of eight incarcerated gang affiliated young men as they struggle to find their voices through a unique theater undertaking. The young men become heroes in their own life journeys in a quest to throw off stigmatizing labels and determine their destinies in spite of a system that has targeted them for the prison pipeline.
The Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group are the two major builders of privatized detention facilities. These two companies, with their combined total annual revenue of $1,737 billon and deep connections to politicians, present formidable adversaries to these youth. This is particularly true for Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans who are incarcerated at a disproportionate rate. Black youth are five times more incarcerated than are whites; While, Latinos and American Indian youth are imprisoned two to three times more than their white peers. In his Brother’s Keeper speech, President Obama recently observes a “cultural backdrop” of complacency where “we’ve become numb to these statistics. We’re not surprised by them. We take them as the norm. We assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is”. The popular media narrative continues to define youthful criminal behavior in terms of deviancy and thus inherently worthy of penalty. However, The Odyssey Project seeks to challenge, contest, and destabilize this assumptive logic by illustrating a model of youth in a juvenile detention center reclaiming their voices and simultaneously re-inscribing a narrative of hope and liberation into their lives.
The Odyssey Project will be centered on an outreach collaborative educational theater program between eight incarcerated 17-year-old males from Los Prietos Boys Camp (LPBC), a juvenile incarceration facility in Santa Barbara county, and undergraduate students from the Theater Department at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). The film reveals a distinctive blending of privileged and non-privileged youth coming together, struggling with and overcoming their preconceptions to demonstrate how artistic cooperation transcends stigma, victimhood, class, and racial barriers.
The incarcerated youth will undertake a six-week curriculum of specialized modules, mentored throughout by university faculty, and working alongside undergraduate students as their peers. The Odyssey Project follows the teens as they engage in a series of reading and creative writing exercises, improvisation classes, martial arts choreography, mime, mask building, animation and dance that culminates in a public theater performance of a student-authored adaptation of the Homeric epic poem The Odyssey. The program utilizes the themes of self-examination and self-discovery inherent to the poem as a template for marginalized youth to fashion their own journey, creating a sense of empowerment, liberation, and self-determination. The film evaluates the program’s mission to enable these youth offenders to take control of their own lives through their decision making, to see a future beyond the arbitrary limitations of economy, ethnicity, or education imposed by society and their own family norms. The film will document the entire process from an extended orientation/audition workshop to the ice- breaking moment when the two groups first encounter one another through the ups and downs of rehearsal to the accomplishment of performance at a professional community theater. Beyond the theater program, The Odyssey Project will track the eight adolescents as they navigate through the world of their homes – their Ithaca.
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention the recidivism rate for youthful offenders is 76% in California. The Legislative Auditor reported that 75% - 90% of incarcerated juveniles in the United States are subsequently arrested as adults. In the state of California, more money is spent on imprisoning young people than on educating them. In 2012, the state allotted $29,200 per student for educating individuals at the University of California and $65,000 for imprisoning each adolescent. Furthermore, with court and litigation fees, the cost can shoot up to $252,000 per year to incarcerate a youth. This legislation illustrates a clear shift in priorities from instruction to penalization. The film will examine this discrepancy by looking at a novel program that brings incarcerated teens onto a prestigious university campus to interact with undergraduate students as their peers as they work on a collaborative theater project. The Odyssey Project will follow these heroic young men as they seek to maintain their courage in the face of overwhelming odds as ordained by their class and the prison pipeline.
Michael Morgan is a classically trained actor and voice teacher. He is realizing a life long goal of producing films that honor the stories of marginalized and neglected voices through intersection with literary masterworks. As an actor, he has performed at the Mark Taper Forum, Yale Rep, La Mama, California Shakespeare Festival, Ensemble Theatre New York, Independent Shakespeare Company, La Jolla Playhouse, Shakespeare and Company, Peoples Light and Theatre Company, The Red Pear Theatre in the South of France, City Street Theater, The Negro Ensemble Company, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Lobero Theatre, Center Stage in Santa Barbara, Classical Theater Lab in Los Angeles, Sierra Repertory Theater, and The Working Theater in New York. Currently, he is on the theater faculty at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Michael has also taught at Penn State, Yale School of Drama, Temple University, California Institute of the Arts, Neighborhood Playhouse, Theatre Conservatorium of Brussels, Royal Conservatoire in Liege, Theater of Changes in Athens, and Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. The Odyssey Project Film’s significance connects with his origins growing up in Harlem where he came to understand the survival choices that dominate the youth in tough neighborhoods. While instructing young actors in conservatory programs around the world has been rewarding he has discovered that facilitating someone to go on and believe in their potential and shift their lives from destructive to productive, has been his highest calling as a teacher. Through documentary film, he seeks to infuse new meaning into revered classics and provide a forum for social activism.
Mark Manning is the Co-founder/Executive Director of the nonprofit media company Global Access Media and the Founder/Director of ConceptionMedia film production
company. He is an award-winning filmmaker with a series of critically acclaimed documentary films, including The Road to Fallujah, Caught in the Crossfire, The Consequence of Oil, The Circle of Life and American Voices. His films have screened worldwide and have played in international film festivals including; Telluride, Docufest, Atlanta, SlamDance, New Orleans, Marseilles, Santa Barbara, Honolulu, Miami, Dubia, Istanbul and the United Nations. He has covered a broad range of difficult and compelling issues from war in Iraq, the BP spill, the American media’s effects on U.S. civilians to compelling personal issue stories. He has interviewed over 1000 people including world leaders and Iraqi resistance fighters. During the Iraq war, he was the only westerner to live with and document the lives of Iraqi war refugees in the city of Fallujah, and co-founded an international relief agency that specialized in delivering humanitarian aid into combat zones. He is the creator and executive director of A Dialogue for Peace, a groundbreaking peace mission to connect and build relationships between university students in the United States and the Middle East. Media coverage of his work includes: Variety, LA Times, Air America, Entertainment Weekly, LA Weekly, Democracy Now, Free Speech TV, 100’s of U.S. and international radio interviews, Clear Channel, Al-ˇArabiya, Al Jazeera, Fox, CNN, CBS, and NBC. Through his experience as a documentarian and journalist, from the battlegrounds of war, Mark has developed a deep understanding and ability to connect to the heart of issues. It is his life’s passion and mission to offer alternatives to hopelessness, fear, hatred and ignorance by empowering people to connect to each other and become instruments of positive change.
Zachary Price completed his doctorate at UCSB in Theater Studies and is currently an Assistant Researcher in the Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. Price has worked in film development at Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, in television production for Law & Order, literary theatre management, and has had plays produced in spaces such as H.E.R.E. Arts Center, 651 Arts, Samuel French Off-off Broadway Short Play Festival, New School University, New Professional Theatre, and Dramatists Guild where he was a Playwriting Fellow. Price’s scholarly writing has appeared in Theatre Topics, Journal of Asian American Studies, and he is co-author of the Bunche Center’s 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report: Making Sense of the Disconnect. Price has been involved with The Odyssey Project since its inception working as a collaborator in numerous capacities including fight choreographer, movement coach, researcher, assistant director, associate producer, mentor, and community activist.