The Homecoming of Odysseus
Over many years, Botton-as-it-used-to-be would set aside a week in July or August for summer school. All but essential work came to a halt and pretty much the whole community devoted itself to a project, usually culminating in a performance of some kind (even if there were only half-a-dozen people left to watch it). The theme might be related to history, world cultures, nature, the arts – we once did an opera in a week – and the derivative activities ranged from iron forging to eurythmy. Well, we know the changes Botton has been through that have contributed to the decline of such initiatives (at least in scale), and two years of Covid effectively stifled such extravagances. But this year an attempt was made to reverse that trend.
Odysseus’ Homecoming was a project involving two dozen people, mostly villagers and volunteers, with a guest director from London (via Botton School), Eirik Bar. It involved music, acting, choral speech, costuming, set design and construction. There was very little preparation: Eirik developed a working text, I assembled a cast and crew, and we all turned up on a Sunday afternoon as the national heatwave began to build and plunged in. I have to say, in the days leading up to that Sunday I was asking myself whose daft idea this was – everyone was so busy, school term had just ended, people were heading off on holiday – a feeling of dread was beginning to grow. But part of the magic of summer school is that it is so unnecessary, so surplus to requirements, so utterly superfluous; there is no obligation to do it, as there is with our work, or the Festivals (and I do mean obligation in the most positive sense). It’s a delicious form of madness. But as soon as it started, my reservations disappeared. I cannot overstate the creativity and commitment of everyone involved.
There wasn’t a single tantrum, (which in a room full of regular thespians would be unthinkable);
having assured the cast there was no obligation to learn lines in a week, and that reading from the script was OK, they went ahead and learned them anyway;
could everyone manage without cake and Equity’s statutory half-hour tea break? Of course they could!
Can we sing in three parts a song we just heard for the first time? Of course we can;
can we find our most louche and loathsome inner suitor? Yes! (eventually);
would we mind taking on another role in addition to the three we have already? Not a problem;
and having assured the set & wardrobe crew that we were content with a minimalist approach, they emptied Joan of Arc costume cupboard and started sewing! The resulting kit I’d describe as ‘stripped down yet sumptuous’ (it’s a whole new look).
So once again, as so often over the seven years EVCC has been in existence, I found myself in complete awe of the people I live with and the Camphill community I live in. The ability to first attempt and then achieve something like this summer school comes from a deep community wellspring, a shared watering hole, from which we draw something bubbling, refreshing, challenging, invigorating. It’s not always enjoyable, but even when it isn’t, it’s still called Joy.