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Performing the Odyssey at the Ashmolean

22 August 17 -- jsuess
Claire Frampton, Visitor Services Assistant, Ashmolean Museum

Since Summer 2015 Creation Theatre has been working with the Ashmolean Museum on its 'Holiday Play in a Week' programme, which works with young people (13-16 years) to develop an abridged version of a play over the course of a week, which the young people then perform for family and friends in the museum. Performing 'The Labours of Hercules' in 2015, 'Anthony and Cleopatra' in 2016 and 'The Odyssey' in 2017, Creation works with the museum to use collections to enhance the experience of the young people and their connection with the play and time period, and the drama offers the young people a new perspective on, and relationship to, the objects on display in the museum.

Early in the week of rehearsals the young people came to the museum and took part in activities in the Ancient World galleries that aimed to help them better understand the play, its significance, and the life and times in which it was set. Activities included:

* Finding scenes from the play, and other scenes of ancient life, on objects in the galleries, such as a pot depicting Odysseus, and discussing the significance of these stories in ancient times;

* Object handling, encouraging the young people to think about how their characters might have used these objects - for example a strigil used by athletes to remove oil from their bodies, which also connected with statues of athletes in the Cast Gallery where the final performance would take place;

* Using iPads to collect inspiration, taking photos of relevant and inspiring objects, and creating their own collections and collages.

The final performance was an abridged version of the main events from the story, about 15 minutes long, and Creation worked with the young people to identify their favourite elements and bring them together into a coherent story. They also worked with the young people to develop creative ways of telling their stories: a young person playing Cyclops wore a torch on their head, which was switched off when Cyclops is blinded; live music (cello, clarinet, drum and violin) were incorporated into the performance, and movement was used in a creative way to indicate the passage of time; a wooden model ship was incorporated into the performance to evoke the idea of a voyage.

Maddy Breen, Education Manager at Creation Theatre, has said that working with the Ashmolean on these workshops has been instrumental in launching their relationship with the Ashmolean's education department, and has also led to work with other museums, extending their impact beyond Oxford.

The Ashmolean has also seen theatre enhance other elements of their public engagement programme. For example in September 2016 at their late night event 'Under the Sea' which was linked the with special exhibition 'Storms, Wars and Shipwrecks' and also marked the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, the Ashmolean again worked with Creation to deliver mini performances of scenes of storms from Shakespeare's plays, as well as deliver drama games for children in the galleries. At the same event, theatre was also used to look at more modern issues around sea journeys: a performance by artist Veronica Cordova de la Rosa '2,443 Migrants to be found in the Mediterranean Sea' was a creative response to the media coverage of people who escape from wars and then encounter Europe as an impenetrable fortress. Numbers made out of blue tissue paper floated down through the atrium of the Ashmolean around the other theatrical performances.

This post was contributed by Claire Frampton, Visitor Services Assistant at the Ashmolean Museum, who is researching the potential role of drama in museum education as part of an Associateship of the Museums Association. Claire will be sharing her research at Curiosity Carnival, a major event across Oxford for European Researchers Night in 2017.