There is an ebb and flow to my work performing The Odyssey and it brings to life for me the theme of identity so prominent in the original text.
From September through May, I'm in the mode of being a Modern Bard, traveling the country and performing frequently. Then things lighten up for June and July with usually just a trip each month. And then comes August: a month entirely off.
And then it all starts again in September.
This September was quiet meaning that the last-week-of-the-month performance here in Chicago at U of I was my first since my NJCL shows in July, a break of two full months. Given what I've had going on with my Joe Goodkin vinyl record release this little hiatus came at a good time and towards the end of October I have a typical run of 9 Odyssey shows in 4 states in 14 days.
The first show back after my August/late summer break is always interesting. I've had a chance to reset my physical performing tools, my brain, and my soul around all things Odyssey. I also feel as if I get to set my "Modern Bard" persona aside for a bit and I'm sometimes a little nervous to come back to him, worried that I won't have the fire for him I've had to this point, worried that I won't be able to slip back into that skin. It's easy to be that person when you're traveling somewhere new each day and performing, meeting new people, having new experiences. That life essentially gives me the persona of the Modern Bard on a plate because I'm living the role in real time and authentically. It's a little harder to put it back on cold after time away.
I also often make mistakes in these return shows but just as often (in fact, every year to this point) I find something new both in performance and in how I relate to the source material.
This is one of the interesting things about performing "the same thing" over 200 times stretching over 15 years: the material is the same but it all comes out different. So what has changed? Clearly, the vessel (that's me). And for a story that is so heavily rooted in identity, it couldn't be more appropriate that doing it continually makes me aware of my own identity: the constants and the changes in it.
So I took the very, very short (like, 15 minute) drive to UIC where I would perform (for the second straight year) for a class on Ancient Literature in Translation. The classroom was intimate: 40 seats for 40 students and my performance space in front was narrow and put me barely arms length from the front row.
I love this arrangement. It's intense and I don't believe people experience music and musical performance in this type of intimacy very often, if ever.
Though I hadn't performed The Odyssey in two months, I had been singing and rehearsing my vinyl release material a lot. So my voice was in shape and it was interesting for me to approach this material with a good set of performance tools but a little bit of emotional and mental distance from the piece. It made for what I think was a good performance and a great discussion afterwards.
Just like that, I was the Modern Bard again.
Afterwards, I couldn't get one particular line out of my head. It's in book 16 during the scene in which Odysseus reveals himself to Telemachus for the first time and (in response to Telemachus' doubts that it is indeed his father in the flesh) says:
"No other Odysseus will ever come home”
οὐ μὲν γάρ τοι ἔτ' ἄλλος ἐλεύσεται ἐνθάδ' ᾿Οδυσσεύς
This is everything I love about The Odyssey in one line: poignant, hyper-real, playful, and sophisticated.
And relevant to everybody no matter their age, gender, or background.
And why I come back to this story and performance every year and in each particular setting can find something moving and interesting to sing and talk about: every year in September a Joe Goodkin who is both the same and different sits down in front of a crowd and tells the story of The Odyssey in a way that is both the same and different as he did it before.
And every year it feels like home.
No other Joe Goodkin can or will ever do that in exactly the same way.