Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Writing Olympus - A Guest Blog by Min Kahng

Min Kahng wrote the book, music and lyrics for Tales of Olympus: A Greek Myth Musical, playing in Berkeley from December 8th thru 22nd. Min is also an instructor with BACT's Youth Education Program, as well as the Marketing Coordinator for BACT.
Greek mythology is cool. So cool, in fact, that all I have to do is mention the title of my new show (Tales of Olympus: A Greek Myth Musical) and people of all ages respond "Ooh! That sounds cool!" Understandably so. This ancient pantheon of gods and goddesses takes our imaginations on fanciful journeys that could rival the best super-hero/fantasy/science-fiction fare today. The myths also teach us something about our world and our society. And, quite simply, they're fun.

A Greek myth musical? Sounds cool to me.

What was perhaps less obvious or self-evident was how to give Tales of Olympus its form or shape as a show.  I knew I wanted to introduce young audiences to a handful or so of Greek myths - like a "story sampler platter" as one of the characters in Tales says.  But I also wanted to prevent the show from becoming one of those overstated works of "edu-tainment," which ironically serve to lose a kid's attention.  I had to come up with a through-line - a story that tied all of the myths together, so audience members would be thrust into this recounting of Greek myths without feeling like they were in school.

I knew this through-line had to be centered around something that was important to me, something that captured my heart.  So, I looked back to why Greek myths strike a chord with me. I recalled how Mrs. Abelmann, my fifth grade teacher, introduced me to Greek mythology by acting out portions of the famous lore in class, and eventually had us write our own myths. Mine was on the origin of the sunset, and I was quite proud of it. There was something very empowering about being able to create my own story. I was joining the ranks of Homer - or at least following (far, far behind) in his footsteps. I realize that because of Mrs. Abelmann, Greek mythology will always be a part of my own journey as a writer.

This led me to think about the other people or events that have influenced my writing journey.  Encouraging teachers, mentors & professors who affirmed, critiqued, sharpened my writing voice. Hours spent alone, dreaming up stories and scenes on paper, video camera or at a keyboard. I also remembered the doubts and set-backs. The times when I denied my writing ability because I felt like I would never be good enough. Or my hesitation to let others read or hear what I have written, for fear of harsh criticism or ridicule. These fears were especially strong during my middle school years. I remember writing a song for a 7th grade class project. My teacher lauded it and gave me an A+. Then she asked if she could play the recording for the class. I said "No," embarrassed at the thought of drawing attention to myself, and later, full of regret for not having taken the chance.

What had it taken for me to finally declare that I was a writer? When did I finally start thinking "I can do this?" Perhaps, more poignantly, why didn't I just give up and go another route? What made me stay on this path in spite of my own defeatist attitude?

I think the answer has to do with the work of writers that came before. Books, plays, films - anything with a narrative that has inspired me - kept nudging me to find my own footing; Greek myths included.

And then I had it; this would be my through-line. 
Tales of Olympus: A Greek Myth Musical would be my little nudge to younger artists and writers.
Zeus & Aphrodite show Jason the wonders of Olympus.

This led to the birth of the character Jason - a talented, twelve-year old storyteller who needs some gods and goddesses to help him see his potential. Meanwhile, the gods and goddesses need Jason's storytelling ability to keep their tales alive. The show is indeed rife with popular Greek myths, as the title promises. But underneath all that is the coming-of-age of a young bard who is influenced by the work of bards who came before him. Tales of Olympus is a story about telling stories.

And I'm pretty sure the ages of human history would agree that stories are pretty cool too.

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