By Stephanie Butzer
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
If at first it does not sound right, revise, revise, revise. Then, when it is perfect, the show can go on.
Logan Sutton, senior BFA acting major and Lumen scholar, is the playwright of “Story of Home,” and after several revisions, adjustments and minor tweaks, his play is ready to welcome an audience into the Black Box Theatre.
The process of revising “Story of Home” — an original play that explores Odysseus’ family’s struggle in his absence during the Trojan War — has not been an easy one. Sutton has been exploring the topic and its modern connection since fall break of his first year.
The play explores the idea of waiting, a very different kind of struggle than is present in most productions, but one that has a familiar ring to it in the modern age.
Sutton’s “Story of Home” focuses on the characters that Homer, author of “The Odyssey,” does not touch on in his Greek epic. In Homer’s work, what happens at home is left mostly up to the reader’s interpretation.
Finding and tweaking characters
Sutton wanted to explore not only the 19-year wait for Odysseus to return to Ithaca, but also what happened during those years. His son, Telemachus, played by second-year Sam Jones, and wife, Penelope, played by senior Lauren Bambino, grow during this period. Telemachus, who was a newborn when his father left for war, had to be able to embrace playing several ages.
“We needed an actor who could go through all those different perspectives truthfully,” Sutton said. “That’s what we were looking for the most with Telemachus.”
In the original drafts, there were two people playing the part: a young Telemachus and an older version of the boy. As the drafts progressed, it became clear it would be best to cast the same actor in both parts. Sutton said Jones fit this description because he was able to play the character’s full range in a believable way. Telemachus and Penelope provide two different ways for the audience to interpret the conflict. Sutton hoped this would help tell two different stories. They both have inner conflict, and this containment builds to create scenes of uncomfortable tension.
As the older, more mature character, Penelope is fully aware of the circumstances and their potential effects on Ithaca. Audience members then see Telemachus, a young boy who struggles to grow into a man without a father figure to look up to.
“Telemachus doesn’t have a father figure in his life because he’s waiting his entire life for his dad,” said second-year Corbin Mayer, who plays Eurymachus. “He’s wondering, ‘Who should I be? How should I act?’ and taking all this advice from people who are not his dad.”
Sutton wanted to explore Telemachus’ and Penelope’s struggles simultaneously as dual protagonists. It creates a stark contrast between the world of an adult and that of a child, he said.
Both characters, as well as several others outside Odysseus’ family, go through stages of hope and hopelessness. Each character handles the situation differently, which helps develop their personality.
“It’s really interesting to watch Penelope go through that because she has different stages throughout it,” said senior Emily Tryon, who plays Anticlea. “That’s really applicable to today. When things get rough, how do you handle it?”
An expert’s helping hand
Sutton has not been alone through the creative process. Director Kevin Otos, associate professor of theater, has many years under his belt and has been working with Sutton since he first started the project. After the initial read-throughs and callbacks were complete, Sutton and Otos spent four hours looking over the script and editing it together.
“Some playwrights take offense to that, and understandably so,” Sutton said. “Everybody has a different process. For me, I don’t mind at all, especially someone I trust as much as Kevin and who I trust has a similar vision for the play.”
Whether Sutton decided to actually change the script was completely up to him. Otos said he respects Sutton’s work but has continuously pushed him to make the production even better. As heartwarming as it is to hear positive feedback, Sutton thinks it’s better to receive Otos’ critical comments so he knows what he needs to change to enhance the play.
“Kevin has been really good with pointing out points when Penelope seems passive- aggressive, which is a human tactic,” Sutton said. “It’s a way of dealing with situations. For the character of Penelope, it became particularly important that the audience, because she’s the protagonist, is able to empathize with her.”
Constant collaboration between both parties
Even with two people plus the script designers analyzing the lines in “Story of Home,” the actors and actresses are the people who make a lot of the calls.
“When they’re struggling unnecessarily with a set of lines, it’s my job as the playwright to look at those, and I can usually sense when it’s not a memorization thing and it’s not a justification thing,” Sutton said. “It’s just that there’s something not right about this part in the script.”
The script has been finalized, but the actors are still getting rewrites when it is appropriate. Sutton described the importance of being able to sense the comfort level of a cast member when he or she gets a rewrite.
He often got this response from Bambino. They reworked many of her lines to bring out the qualities he wanted to emphasize in Penelope. Sutton can see she is more committed to the lines now.
“Sometimes the way they memorize it, omitting a word or two, will read better than the line I wrote or provide better quality because their mind will take what’s essential and leave out the rest,” Sutton said.
During rehearsals, Sutton and Otos scribbled notes for themselves and the actors in order to look at a specific moment and clarify their objective. Now that opening night is approaching Oct. 5, these comments have diminished into questions and very minor changes.
The actors and actresses take these notes to heart and said they look up to Sutton. Junior Caroline Klidonas, who plays Melantho, said she will apply all she’s learned from this experience to her studies next year.
“I’m an Honors Fellow and for my senior thesis, I’ll have to do something similar,” Klidonas said. “I think it’s great to be a part of that process and just see someone write an original work and see it put on its feet.”
Standing behind the spotlight
Sutton wrote the play by himself. He created the characters, interactions and dialogue in the way he thought best. Now, dozens of eyes have scrutinized and edited his work. It has changed from its original state, but Sutton said he likes the progress.
“Once the designers were able to get involved and I got their input and their original vision as they interpreted the show, it started to evolve in a way that’s neither better nor worse,” Sutton said. “But I like it just as well as what I wrote.”
The play has stayed true to the original feelings and ideas Sutton wanted to communicate. It has not been altered past recognition. He does not feel betrayed by all the different twists and turns the play took during edits.
Many minds came together to create the final project. Sutton has slowly faded out of the production, although not entirely. It is his role, as a playwright, to understand that if the play is published, he won’t be able to be in every room when people are rehearsing it.
“I need to make sure that what’s on paper matches what is achievable and what is artistically inspiring,” Sutton said.
The play has helped him understand acting much better overall. It has shown him how much work happens both on and off the stage between the cast and crew.
Sutton said he used to take breathers in between lines when he played major roles. Now that he has experience as a playwright, he knows breathers are not helpful. He has recognized how to avoid cliche pitfalls into which many actors can get trapped, and it has become an experience he will never forget.
“I feel, honestly, like I’ve been a little bit spoiled in terms of how good this process is going with what everyone — the actors, the director, the designers — have brought to the process,” Sutton said. “It’s helped the show become so much more substantial and impactful when it finally gets an audience. I think it will be just what I wrote on the page.”