HERCULES IN HELL/Odds Bodkin in Nashua, NH Sunday June 25th at 7 pm/Mythology Intro on Celtic Harp

Master Storyteller and Musician Odds Bodkin will perform Hercules in Hell, an epic story for adults, at the Riverwalk Music Bar this coming Sunday. Scored with 12-string guitar and introduced with a Celtic harp accompaniment, this is the myth of Hercules as few have heard it. His teenage rages and teacher murders. How he loses his mind and kills his wife and children. The only escape from his guilt the gods offer? Twelve Labors, done for a despised and weak cousin who orders Hercules to kill the Hydra, capture a stag only the virgin goddess of the hunt may touch, drive off giant birds with brass feathers, on and on. Greek mythology for grownups.

Performed with character voices and vocal effects, this is pure imagination entertainment.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Get them here.

The Helpless Sky

In the last line of a story I’ll be telling at the Climate Symposium in Boulder next fall, Gaia, the original Earth Mother, reflects on how uncomfortable anger makes her feel. Bad things happen when she senses injustice and she’s been implacably rough on her husband Ouranos and grandson Zeus during the story. What, she asks herself after she goes into hiding now that the Titans have fallen, could ever make her that angry again?

 
I guess the time has come. Our atmosphere is definitely angry nowadays. Basically, it’s drier dries, wetter wets, windier winds and hotter hots. Fire seasons continue to lengthen. Whether rain or snow, precipitation is heavier, hence floods in new places. When they do begin to spin, hurricanes and tornadoes are more destructive than before. Insurers are desperate for forecasts. For thousands of years, farmers and herders in Africa, South America and the Middle East counted on rainy seasons to avoid famines. Slowly drying out now, those lands are forcing migrants to flee what are essentially climate wars. We haven’t even mentioned our own great population centers, built at the sea’s edge.

 
Ever cooked spaghetti in a pot? You turn on the heat and wait for the boil. Long ago I learned that if I cover it with a lid, it boils twice as fast. Instead of letting heat escape out the top, I trap it in a closed system. Smart, right? It might be hard to imagine, but Earth’s atmospheric pot had no lid prior to the Industrial Revolution. Over the last 150 years, though, we’ve installed an invisible one made of greenhouse gasses from fossil fuels. It’s not anyone’s voluntary doing. We only figured this out a few decades ago. Up until then, all that exhaust was progress. As vast as it is, we’re slowly closing off Earth’s heat release system, high above our heads. Not completely yet, but we’re getting there, busily tossing tiny carbon footprints by the billions up into a helpless sky.

 
There has to be a way to figure this out before the thing boils, with us in it.

 
I’ll also be conducting a workshop designed to turn climate-aware people, including scientists, into The Cadre of Science Storytellers.

Telling The Odyssey to Eight Hundred High School Students

I’m looking forward to it. This coming Friday I’ll drive down to the Dana Center at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH. This is the hall used for presidential primary debates and other performances, and I’ve been onstage there many times, sometimes for the college itself, but this time to perform The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast for the New Hampshire Classical Association’s hundreds of high school Latin students for Classics Day. They come in buses from all over the state. I guess this is my 8th time doing this. Maybe more times than that, I’m not sure.

 
The stage has a thrust. Like a ship’s bow, it sticks out into the waves of seats that slope upward into the eight hundred seat space. Way up there is the balcony. And it will be filled with kids who’ll be asked to turn off their cellphones as I wait backstage, taking the last few passes at tuning the 12-string before I step out, walk to my chair there at the bow, and hit the summoning motif, which I’ll play for a few seconds before saying anything. Two elemental bass notes at the bottom with harmonic sparkles at the top. This motif is meant to launch my listeners into a receptive level of consciousness, heroic and somewhat dark as it is. The promise of things to come.

 
Briefly I’ll describe how in 700 B.C. in ancient Greece, not many people could read, books had yet to be invented, and people either told stories themselves or relied upon professional “Singers of Tales,” the most famous of whom was Homer. I’ll mention how in Homer’s time, when he was performing his Odyssey and Iliad poems with character voices and a lyre, his stories weren’t myths, but were more like forms of religious worship. How he and his listeners believed in the gods and goddesses of Olympus as surely as we believe whatever we do today. And how like William Shakespeare, writing about Julius Caesar long after the fact, the Trojan War was already five hundred years in the past in Homer’s time.

 
And then the story will begin. I’ll enter the dream, which lasts about an hour, become all sorts of characters, play the 12-string guitar like a bat out of hell and emerge at the end ready for something new this year. A Q&A. In the past I’ve just stepped offstage, but Flora Sapsin, she who arranges for my performances, has asked me to take questions from the kids and teachers this year. Usually high school audiences have all kinds of good questions. How do I remember all that? Did I make up that music? How do I change my voice? Do I have a favorite color? Do I own a dog? Why did I become a storyteller? On and on they’ll go until we run out of time, since I’ve done this sort of thing with lots of young audiences. It’s always fun and rewarding and I’ll try to crack a few jokes along the way.

 
And then I’ll pack up and drive home, too exhausted to do much else for the rest of the day. As I said, I’m looking forward to it.

 

You can purchase an mp3 of the entire four hours of The Odyssey here at my shop, if you’re interested.

The Real Hercules Was A Rage-Filled Killer

When the Art Institute of Chicago commissioned me to tell the story of Hercules for an exhibition, I wasn’t aware that the glossy hero Hollywood had told me about was actually a sociopath and killer. His temper was volcanic and nobody near him was safe. This is the actual myth we’re talking about.

 
In order to free himself from the guilt of murdering his young family in a blind rage, Hercules is given a way out: ten labors (it ends up twelve). Worse, he must perform them for his weak, cowardly cousin, the king of Mycenae. It makes for a good story, though, how his cousin hates him and tries to send Hercules on labors that will kill him. The Nemean Lion, for instance, has a hide that blades or arrows cannot pierce. Hercules breaks its neck and ends up skinning it with its own claw, hollowing out its skull and wearing the dead lion as a helmet and robe. After that, arrows bounce off him.

 
Later, as poison blood hisses onto his lion’s skin, he kills the Hydra by knocking off its many heads, but makes a fateful mistake by dipping his arrows in the blood, which kills on contact like VX. That one act haunts his life and in the end, kills him. But being less than immortal, he can’t know that will be his end. At first he thinks nothing of people, or of slaying them, until after his labors he is forced to live as a woman and a slave for three years. Something in him changes and he is free to love again, but even so, he must still kill again to save his newlywed wife.

 
Hercules in Hell is a full-blown immersion into Greek mythology, told in a very fun way. Lots of amusing character voices and a score on 12-string guitar. The show is on the The Boston Calendar. 8 pm, Sunday April 23rd. Tickets are here.

HERCULES IN LOCK-UP

Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall is the lock-up for dangerous teens in California’s Central Valley, and until that day, the girls and boys incarcerated there had never been allowed into the same room. The warden, however, had okayed it for my show. With arms crossed and hands on opposite shoulders so nobody could hit anybody, the kids filed in, about forty miserable, thrown away children, past the guards with sidearms and pepper spray. There wasn’t a single African American kid among them, I noticed, just whites and Latinos. Some were quite young, nine or ten, but most were twelve to sixteen. Forbidden to speak to each other, they sat in chairs and listened to the 12-string guitar music I was playing through a couple of massive speakers. They were seated about six feet away from me. What these kids had done to end up in this hellhole, I had no idea. My friend, Roy Stevens, opera singer and polymath, had set up the show.

 
By then I’d told this hour-long story, Hercules in Hell, many times. Earlier in the week I’d performed it at the men’s prison, and they’d asked for autographs afterwards, so I knew the story worked. It moves people who are in trouble because the genuine Hercules of myth is nothing but trouble. Incredibly strong, he suffers from blinding rages, even as a teen. After each one he wakes up and sees the death he’s just dealt. But like a werewolf returning to human form, he can’t remember having done it.

 
It’s a good story for kids in lock-up, and for folks in general. I perform it often and will be telling an adult version of it this coming Sunday, April 23rd at 8:00 pm for my final appearance at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA. The other shows have gone remarkably well, with wonderful audiences. As with all these epics, I’ll be playing the 12-string guitar to accompany myself. The Hercules score is unique among all my scores, employing a tuning I use for no other tale. It certainly mesmerized the kids in Juvenile Hall that day. They sat there for an hour in silence and then asked questions for twenty minutes. And nobody hit anybody.

 
Tickets for Hercules in Hell, if you’re interested, are here.

A FEW TICKETS REMAIN…

A few tickets remain,
I make this claim,
For this evening’s show,
Just so you know.
Wily Odysseus, on his journey west,
Lost on the sea, doing his best
To hold things together
In all sorts of weather,
Missing his wife
And missing his boy,
Not having seen them in ten years at Troy,
Faces a beast with a glowering eye
And watches again as his best friends die.
But oh, he is wily, which gives him his fame.
Now journeys are odysseys, based on his name.

The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast, an adult storytelling event with live music on harp and 12-string guitar is tonight at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA. 8 pm, April 2. A few tickets remain.

Tickets.

WHEN A GUITAR SOUNDS SYMPHONIC

I’ve been playing 12-string guitars to accompany stories for a long time. Nowadays I play a Taylor 12 and a custom-built Ron Ho made in Port Townsend, Washington, both great instruments. This coming Sunday night I’ll be using the Taylor to score The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast, tuned to a modified open E, a unique tuning that allows the guitar to sound, well, symphonic. Or at least that’s the goal.

 

The music is like a second voice, adding drama to the spoken words, much the way a movie score works. Leitmotif is a cool word coined by Richard Wagner denoting themes for characters and emotions, and The Odyssey is filled with many of them. One is a soothing, broad oceanic theme meant to relax my listeners. Another is a haunting, melancholy theme of longing that signifies Odysseus himself, wishing he were home even as he’s facing terrifying dangers. Polyphemus the Cyclops has his own music, too, bursting atonalities played in double-stops on the bass strings. Musicians tend to enjoy the accompaniment as much as the tale itself.

 

The show is at 8 pm on Sunday, April 2 at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA. If you know anyone in New England who might enjoy this performance, please pass it on.

 
Tickets are $20 here.

INSIDE THE TROJAN HORSE

Homer’s original Odyssey begins with his son, Telemachus, searching for his long lost dad. In my re-imagined telling, it begins with Odysseus himself crouched inside the Trojan Horse along with his men, hoping the Trojans don’t discover and kill them. They are, after all, utterly alone on the battle plain, the thousand ships of the Greek fleet having sailed away to give the illusion of defeat. And Odysseus, who never wanted to come to the war in the first place, reflects on his beloved wife and son––he hasn’t seen them in ten years––and all his fallen comrades.

 

 
I follow Odysseus’s story all the way, mostly from the wily hero’s point of view, since he’s the only one who survives to the end. He makes terrible mistakes, lapses of judgment he only regrets later. His first, to go raiding for extra plunder instead of sailing straight home. This causes the deaths of friends on the beach at Ismaros, followed by a nine day storm that blows his fleet to the ends of the earth. After that, he’s utterly lost.

 

 
So begins The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast, a storyteller’s version of Homer, told with haunting themes on 12-string guitar and a host of character voices. Plus descriptions of the sea, of islands with waterfalls, of grisly caves, and of life aboard a Bronze Age ship.

 

 
Join me in Cambridge, MA on April 2nd at 8:00 pm at Grendel’s Den to listen and imagine this tale, told in English, of course, with no poetry. Just storytelling. The show is 75 minutes, the first quarter of this epic telling.

 

 
Ticket are $20 and available here.

Learning to Tell THE ODYSSEY

The letter arrived from a teacher in Norwich Vermont, addressed to storytellers across New England. David Millstone, a fifth grader teacher, who ended up writing a great book called An Elementary Odyssey, was searching for someone who could tell a few episodes from Homer’s great epic. The Sirens, maybe. The Cyclops. Maybe the Test of the Bow. I didn’t know any of them, but immediately wrote him back claiming I could tell the whole thing. Hire me! I’ll tell the entire epic in three hours, I told him, two half-hour shows a day for three days.

When I was a kid I’d seen a movie, Ulysses, with Kirk Douglas. Made in 1955 with early stop-action monster effects, it was a mixture of tan guys in knickers, sword fights and beautiful women filmed among blue waters and craggy islands, most of it on a sailing ship with oars. It was a hazy memory at best.

After I’d walked out to the end of this limb, he wrote me back fairly quickly. I was hired. The residency was in three months.

Imaginative work is really good if you can get it, and here I had the perfect excuse to create a new spoken-word tale, but a really big one this time. A storytelling longer than a movie. I’d never tried to stow anything quite that large in my hold, so I bought the Fitzgerald translation and set to reading, jotting down essential details I thought were either crucial to the story or gratuitously gory and fun. I ended up with 42 episodes in all, but still, they were spread over thirty pages in my journal. If you’re trying to forge mental images and remember them while playing a 12-string guitar, a mess like that doesn’t help.

“I need to be able to see this whole thing in one place,” I told myself, and so for my own sanity and the feeling that yes, this was manageable, I forced myself to write the essentials of each scene in teeny tiny script, cramming them all onto a 2-page spread in my journal.

Here are those two pages from many years ago. It was the beginning of an odyssey of my own.

PS: I’ll be performing The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA on April 2nd
at 8:00 p.m. It’s the first 75 minutes of what is now a 4-hour performance. You can buy tickets here, if you’d enjoy such a show. From the Walls of Troy to the Cave of the Cyclops.

Odds Bodkin Tells Love Stories at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA

Down through the ages, certain stories have tried to capture the mysterious relationship between women and men––everything from Samson and Delilah to Antony and Cleopatra.  Plenty of lesser-known cultural attempts at capturing what trust and love mean are out there, too.

For Worlds Apart: Tales for Lovers, I’ve chosen two of my favorites from the lesser known side of folklore. A haunting, swelling musical theme on Celtic harp tuned to resemble a Japanese koto underlies The Crane Wife, the first tale in the final show of a series at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA this coming Sunday afternoon at 4:30 pm.

Osamu is a poor and lonely sail maker who can’t afford a wife. Living alone in his hillside hut above a salt grass marsh, he often sees the white cranes landing in the wind. He marvels at how it seems to be held in their wings. But when a fierce storm blows a white crane into his door, leaving it stunned, he sees one up close after he brings it inside, nursing it back to health. The bird’s black, shining eyes gaze up at him until he sets it free.

But the season of storms is not over, and a second tempest brings a frantic knocking on his door. Astonished to find a beautiful young woman standing there, soaked and shivering, he lets her in. The mysterious Yukiko will not tell him where she comes from, but she does not wish to leave, either, and so becomes Osamu’s wife.

All is well until they run out of food and she offers to weave him a magic sail to sell in the village, a sail that whispers wind itself and can propel a ship in calm air. Her one condition: never look at her as she works at the loom behind her privacy screen. At the heart of their relationship is her trust in him that he’ll never do it and look. Does he? Come see the show and find out what happens.

The second tale, The Dame Ragnell, originally written in the 14th Century, asks the universal question, “What does a woman desire most?” Sir Gromer, a dark knight who will kill King Arthur unless he can answer it, demands that the King solve it in a year’s time or die. Once he starts to think about it, Arthur falls into a depression. There are just too many answers. He has no clue.

Enter Sir Gawain, Arthur’s best friend and the handsomest of the Round Table men. He’s the most eligible bachelor at Camelot. The ladies-in-waiting have hot flashes as he walks by. They’re all in love with him.

Gawain laughs at the question and says, “I think it best to ask a woman, sire. Or many. We’ve got a year. Let us ride out and ask women everywhere what they desire most, even in foreign lands. Surely an answer will occur again and again. Tell that to Sir Gromer, my liege, and you’ll be free of this.”

Hopeful and excited, Arthur rides out in one direction with a book in which to write down the answers, and Gawain rides off in another. They interview thousands of women, of all classes, and write down their answers. But after the year is nearly out, Arthur and Gawain grow despondent. There are just too many answers. There isn’t one that stands out.

In three days Sir Gromer will cut off Arthur’s head  and Arthur’s code of honor obligates him to die––he’s given his word––unless he can answer the question. Alone, Arthur rides to the glade in Inglewood Forest where it all began and the most hideous woman Arthur has ever beheld appears on a fine pony. The Dame Ragnell knows the answer and will tell Arthur in time to save his life, but for a price. Sir Gawain must marry her of his own free will.

From there, the story becomes hilarious and very moving. Hope to see you there.

Tickets are here.

The Great Mother’s POV

How would you feel if Earth’s creation––mountains, sea and sky, all living things––were your work and you were Gaia, the original creator of it all? She was, at least according to the ancient Greeks. Gaia is the first of the Titans and she’s driven by Eros to create life constantly. She gives birth to the Twelve Titans, all of them perfect. But when she births six monsters, peace in the Titan family falls apart and launches a Game of Thrones-style conflict among generations. Sex, violence, betrayal and rebellion fill this vivid adult story from Greek mythology told from Gaia’s point of view.

Come hear Master Storyteller and Musician Odds Bodkin tell this wondrous and shocking tale at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA at 5:30 pm this coming Sunday, January 22nd. With character voices, a full score on 12-string guitar and fresh narration, Bodkin turns this little-known myth into a vivid imagination entertainment.

Adult storytelling. Not for children.

Bodkin’s first show at Grendel’s Den sold out, so grab your tickets now!

Fall of the Titans: The Original Game of Thrones

Wednesday Nov. 9th in Boulder, CO: StoryEarth Debut Performance!

Have you ever heard of a performance that combines live storytelling of earth myths with multimedia and provocative new philosophy? Philosophy that tackles the challenge scientists face in telling the true story of climate change? If you haven’t, we’re not surprised, but nothing like StoryEarth has been done before and we want you there.

With Gaia theorist, scientist and naturalist Martin Ogle, I’ll be in Boulder, CO this coming Wednesday night to swap center stage back and forth, moving between ancient story and modern science. Why? To engage the audience (and a further ongoing conversation on Facebook here) with the question: “Do our ancient beliefs about our and earth’s origins serve us any longer?” Yes, it’s controversial, but then again, how humans envision our place in Nature determines how we treat it. Considering global weather, one could say that the Earth is annoyed with us these days. Everyone sees it. Mass migrations have begun as people flee drying regions.  Sea levels are rising. Storms are dumping unprecedented amounts of rain on places that used to be safe.

Serious as the topic is, the show is also going to be highly entertaining. I’ll be performing The Elf of Springtime on Celtic harp and Fall of the Titans, an epic piece with giant voices and a full score on 12-string guitar. And the event will be emceed by Kendra Krueger, nano-materials scientist and Colorado public radio personality.

Even if you’re not in Colorado, if you have friends in Boulder, Denver or nearby places, please share this blog post with them. If they go, I’ll bet they get back to you, excited at what took place.

StoryEarth and is sponsored by the Parent Engagement Network and Entrepreneurial Earth. Tickets @ $15 general admission and $12 for students are available at: http://www.parentengagementnetwork.org/odds-bodkin