The Odyssey Project is a feature length documentary film in development that brings together two disparate populations, youth in the juvenile justice system and students from the University of California Santa Barbara, to tell a transformational story about finding their voices through theater collaboration. Together they re-write Homer's Odyssey using their own life stories. 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 documentary follows this ensemble, as they inhabit a level playing field where all are heroes and heroines in their journey toward discovering their unique voice in society.
In the past several years, state and local governments have sought solutions that are more rehabilitative than punitive when dealing with youthful offenders. This new climate offers the possibility of working within communities to prevent criminal violations and redirect juveniles from a path leading to adult prisons to one of productive, beneficial lives in society. The Odyssey Project is poised to enter the field of re-entry and re-education in the current climate of seeking alternate solutions.
In spite of the recent numbers that show a decline in youth incarceration, the United States still leads the industrialized world in the number of youth incarcerations with 70,792 young people behind bars. The rate of incarceration is 18 times higher than France and seven times higher than Great Britain. Additionally, a racial divide persists. Black youth are still five times more incarcerated than their whites; While, Latinos and American Indian youth are two to three times more locked up than their white peers.
On the average, it costs $88,000 per year to incarcerate a juvenile in the United States. By contrast, for the first time in California the state spends more on prison than higher education: $8,500 per year for each public school student versus $12,000 on each youth on probation or parole. The cost to educate a student at the University of California is $29,200 while it takes $65,000 per year to house a youth in a detention facility. With the cost of litigations added to this expense, it can cost as much as $252,000 per year to keep a juvenile confined.
This feature length documentary film will address the complexities and contradictions within the individual teen and student participants as well as the juvenile justice and university systems that contain them. This film examines the issues of criminalization, recidivism and theater as social activism. It will follow the trajectory of The Odyssey of Homer, which uncovers the quintessential heroic myth through examples of overcoming formidable obstacles. Its enduring theme of loss and recovery offers a model for transformation as the "heroes" of the Odyssey gain clarification of their personal quests as well as the personal powers that are required for the journey. The film will explore how these marginalized voices courageously occupy a space within a great western epic, subvert and inform it to fashion a new classic that has both healing and transformational power.
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.