I really like seeing cars used in novel ways. So when I heard Machine Project was planning a performance of Homer's Odyssey in Honda's Odyssey, I was interested. The end result was striking, engaging, smelly, and disturbing in a fun way, and makes me appreciate the performance potential of minivans.
Odyssey Odyssey is a project by Johanna Kozma, and part of Machine Project's Field Guide to LA Architecture. I'm pretty sure the concept was thought of in an instant by chance, possibly with a sentence starting "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if..." But, true to Machine Project's past projects, the end result proves to be something much more than the original idea.
The performance takes place entirely in a Honda Odyssey driving through East LA. It's limited to an audience of two, and has two main actors, one playing the god Hermes and one playing Ulysses. Mostly. There's also a windshield-pounding, freaking out Kalypso that helps get things started with a nice sense of chaos and panic.
The performances are sold out, but I'm still a bit wary of spoiling things even in the fairly unlikely case anyone gets to take part in a performance of this, so I'll keep things vague and just say the inside of the van does offer some surprises, performer-count wise, as well.
The performance is roughly based on books 5 and 6 of the Odyssey, as Hermes attempts to rescue Ulysses from the clutches of the sorceress/demigod Kalypso. The Honda-based performance is heavily modernized, as you'd expect, and feels a bit more like being trapped in a forgotten chapter of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas than a Greek tragedy.
The inside of the minivan is littered with trash, and smells, frankly, pretty rank. The scene is desperate, frightened, full of nervous energy. Once you're there in the van, trapped with these two manic people you don't know, the result is maybe the best recreation of that excited, frightened feeling you get if you've ever ended up a passenger in a car with a stranger you don't really trust.
I've been in that situation a few times, usually after some night of drunken whatevering with friends that somehow slowly ended up out of control, and, while it can be dangerous and terrifying, is always an adventure. There's something to be said for recreating that feeling in a controlled environment.
While the performance isn't perfect, and this will certainly not be for everyone, it makes me realize how much interesting potential there is in cars as performing spaces. Sure, the audience is pretty limited, but the intimacy and inherent excitement of driving all add something really novel to staged performances.
The Honda Odyssey itself does pretty well as a mobile performance space. The seating is comfortable, and there's enough room in between the second row seats to do a good bit of physical acting. The overall height is good, almost allowing standing, and the rear seating/cargo area is deep and long enough to allow for prop storage and even a sort of off-stage area.
There's even a flip-down video screen, which could be employed for additional A/V use. As it was Odyssey Odyssey makes good use of the Honda's sound system and phone calls from remote actors.
The latest-gen Odyssey even has an integrated vacuum cleaner, and I'm pretty sure that'd come in handy for something in a performance.
So, plays and performances in vans to really small audiences is absolutely, quantitatively bonkers, but I'd like to see more of it. Plus, bet those new Transits would work really well — they seem tall enough for a bit of wire-flying work or something.