Inspiration from the natural world abounds in GTA’s “The Odyssey”

Stormy seas, a hand-painted fish on a 1,200 B.C. Maisano ceramic vase and creatures at the Georgia Aquarium are all inspirations behind the design elements of “The Odyssey,” now playing at UNG’s Ed Cabell Theatre.

Gainesville Theatre Alliance’s production, an adaptation of Homer’s epic poem by playwright Mary Zimmerman, tells the story of Odysseus and his sea voyage home following the Trojan War.

Director Michal Granberry at the stage tour of Gainesville Theatre Alliance’s “The Odyssey.” (Photo by Karen McWhorter)

During a stage tour of production, Emmy Award-winning director Michael Granberry and his team of designers shared a sneak peak of what audiences can expect.

Granberry’s passion for stop-motion animation is evident in the design, which includes high-tech lighting, sound and projections, along with hand-made puppets.

“To conceptualize the play, I got out my sketch pad and began sketching out scenes from the play,” Granberry said. “Once I came up with drawings, I had to figure out how to present the story with puppetry and animation that would be exciting and relevant to the audience, without spending a million dollars on production.”

Granberry visited the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he found inspiration for the sea life in the story — the aforementioned fish painted on a ceramic vase around the time of the fall of Troy. From there he collected additional photos of mythical creatures from the artifacts, which informed the stop-motion animation in the play.

To create the stop-motion animations, Granberry worked with hundreds of paper cutouts on his kitchen table. The animations are projected on the stage backdrop; puppets behind the backdrop appear as dark shadows on the other side.

Along with the shadow puppets, there will be sea monster and Cyclops puppets, plus a specially designed two-person puppet of Odysseus’ dog, Argos.

“I like to include as many kinds of puppetry as I can in a production,” Granberry said. “The old art of shadow puppetry has traveled through time dating back to the day of Neanderthals, who used to create animal skin puppets.”

“The Odyssey” runs through April 21. Patrons can purchase tickets at the Gainesville Theatre Alliance website.

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