5 questions about The Antyssey

The Antyssey
Book, music and lyrics by Joel Crichton and Richard Lee
Public performances January 23 – 24 at the Westbury Theatre. Tickets $13 – $19 from Fringe Theatre Adventures.
More information: concretetheatre.ca

An interview with Joel Crichton and Richard Lee.

1. Your show The Antyssey premieres with Concrete Theatre this month. What is The Antyssey about?

Joel: Oscar, the only yellow ant in the black ant hill, who sets forth on a journey to discover where he came from. He’s joined by Andrea, the future queen ant, who doesn’t want to be a queen and needs to see what else is out there. Along the way to the mysterious and wise Tiresias Caterpillar, they run into a bunch of other interesting insects who help or antagonize them. It’s also a musical!

Richard Lee: The Antyssey is about home; the ones we make, and the ones we’re born into.

2. How did the idea of the collaboration together on this show come about? What was your process of working together?

Joel: We knew we wanted to write something together for Concrete’s Sprouts Festival a couple of years ago. After some thought, we hit upon a common experience that we had – we’re both of “mixed” heritage. I’m 1/4 Scottish, 1/4 German, and 1/4 English – Richard is 1/2 English and 1/2 Chinese. Despite the obvious differences, we shared the experience of being of somewhat nebulous ethnicity, and not having a clear “something” to identify as.

Most of the first draft was written after winter sunrise yoga sessions. Getting up for a 6:30 am yoga class in January is brutal. The sun hasn’t even risen when you leave. But it was a great way to keep disciplined about getting things done. Later on, we had to do a lot of the work individually because we weren’t in the same city as often. So I would make some edits, send them to Richard for approval, who would then do the same…it became writing-by-correspondence.

Nadien Chu, Oscar Derkx and Jesse Gervais in The Antyssey. Photo credit: Kim Clegg

Nadien Chu, Oscar Derkx and Jesse Gervais in The Antyssey. Photo credit: Kim Clegg

Richard: It helped that we were roommates for the first draft– although we had our own work schedules, we could always holler across the house about last minute edits. Later we relied on the occasional skype-writing session, and used google docs a fair bit. We also had a number of sessions around Joel’s piano for writing the first few songs.

Co-writing is a satisfying process; you instantly have another voice to provide perspective, to do another take on the same scene or even the same line. In a way, you function as editors for each other.

3. Reading the literature about Generation Z, a lot of it focuses on how their uniqueness has been emphasized throughout their childhood. I know the idea of identity and celebrating uniqueness is one of the themes of the show – what did you want to convey about that theme through this show?

Joel: Uniqueness and being true to yourself are definitely strong themes of the show. An important message that it also carries, though, is the idea of fitting in once again. Our suggestion is that you learn who you are and what makes you different in order to truly be yourself in the context of the group. It’s individuality without the narcissistic isolation; without burning bridges.

Richard: Celebrating self-acceptance is vital; it’s equally important to recognize that self-acceptance doesn’t necessarily follow social acceptance – that takes work and dialogue on all sides.

4. I know you both work in adult theatre as well, what are the similarities between creating work for adult and young audiences?

Richard: The same things excite me: presenting a simple theme, then layering moral complexity on it; theatrical visuals; comedy. While there may be some differences in terms of presentation modes (touring to school gyms vs. ‘proper’ theatres, explicitness of subject matter), to me, good theatre is good theatre.

Joel: It was always important to me to write in a way that gave our audience the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think children gain much by being talked down to. As a result, The Antyssey, deals with “adult” concepts in a fairly nuanced way. We don’t present a black-and-white situation. Having worked with kids before, I know that if there’s something they don’t understand, they’ll ask about it later, or continue to process it on their own. I think that’s empowering, in a way.

5. The media release says the show features a lot of amazing facts about ants. What is your favourite ant fact that you learnt by writing this show?

Richard: I was interested in the symbiotic relationship ants develop with other species, like how they farm aphids, and protect caterpillars in exchange for the dew they generate.

Joel: Weaver Ants, in general. They do amazing things – attach leaves together, build bridges of themselves to cross distances – they’re like that cartoon swarm of bees that turns into all sorts of shapes.

Honourable mention to cordyceps, the horrifying fungal spore that zombifies ants and takes over their minds to accomplish its own goals.

Bonus question: Anything else you’d like to say about the show?

Richard: I hope you like puns!

Joel: I think the best kids movies – Pixar is a good example – appeal to adults as well. We’ve striven to achieve that balance, and create a show that should be, and I say this unironically, “fun for the whole family”.

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