Students in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University have participated in a ‘Reason to Read’ project that involves working alongside a group of young people in the care of Gateshead council to encourage them to broaden their choices of literature. The stories in Homer’s classic poem, the Odyssey, were chosen for the group of ten young people aged between the years of eleven and sixteen.
The main themes and events from the Odyssey were addressed in a number of after-school and weekend sessions that were run by the Newcastle University students with the support of Cap-a-Pie, a theatre company. Workshops and rehearsals were held over a four week period that concluded with the group performing their own interpretation of the poem, applying it to the modern day to increase its relevance, to an audience at Northern Stage.
According to Dr Stacy Gillis, a lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Newcastle University, “Ever since it was first sung and performed, Homer’s Odyssey has inspired countless writers, performers, thinkers and scholars. Many of its themes, such as exclusion, revenge, the role of strangers, community, and the importance of home, are themes to which all of us can relate, and which continue to resonate with audiences hundreds of years after the poem was first written.”
The project brought together young people in care and university students who learnt about creativity and the importance of theatre in education. The opportunity was beneficial to students as many of them are considering a career that involves working with young people.
The Artistic Director at Cap-a-Pie, Brad McCormick, added, “The most exciting part of this project, for me, is seeing two quite diverse groups work so well together. In the rehearsal room individuals become one group with a common purpose which is brilliant to watch. It’s immensely exciting to see what interests and excites new readers within these ancient texts. Everyone participating in the project has engaged with it with equal energy and enthusiasm. This has confirmed to us the power of theatre in engaging with books like the Odyssey and allowing groups to create their own meanings and interpretations through performance.”
Councillor Angela Douglas, Gateshead Council’s cabinet member for children and young people said, “This project has given some of the most vulnerable young people in our community the chance to read and understand a classic piece of literature which they may not have picked up and read themselves.”