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Odyssey Project at UCSB Raising Money for Documentary Film

Performing-arts program pairs incarcerated youths with university students

Students perform a scene from their play during the Odyssey Project at UCSB, which pairs incarcerated youths and university students.
Students perform a scene from their play during the Odyssey Project at UCSB, which pairs incarcerated youths and university students. (Odyssey Project photo)

A local theater group that works with incarcerated teens is expanding on its work and fundraising to create a full-length documentary.

The Odyssey Project, a UCSB course that has been pairing teens from Los Prietos Boys Camp with UCSB liberal arts students since 2011, works with local youth to help them process their own journey and imagine a life beyond incarceration.

Each year, teens from the camp are bused daily onto UCSB’s campus to work for six weeks and create a staged play in which they combine their personal stories with themes from Homer’s Odyssey.  

Each year's performance is staged for the community, and past shows have been sold out as people come to experience the storytelling. 

This year’s Odyssey Project Performance is set for Sept. 13, 2015.

Michael Morgan, a senior lecturer in UCSB’s Theater Department, founded the Odyssey Project, and has been working with filmmaker Mark Manning to create a documentary on the project and its participants.

Morgan was busy with this year’s Odyssey project, which involves eight from the Los Prietos Boys Camp and seven UCSB students.  

As the UCSB students work alongside those from Los Prietos, Morgan said, the boys begin to realize how much potential they have.

“They are not their obstacles,” he said.

Michael Morgan, a senior lecturer in UCSB’s Theater Department, founded the Odyssey Project, works with a youth in the program. Click to view larger
Michael Morgan, a senior lecturer in UCSB’s Theater Department, founded the Odyssey Project, works with a youth in the program. (Odyssey Project photo)

Manning, who also filmed the documentary “Road to Fallujah,” has documented last year's Odyssey rehearsal and performance process, and teens from that group have also been given phone cameras to document their transition back to home life.

“It extends the Odyssey and their storytelling,” Morgan said, adding that many of the problems the teens left are still waiting for them at home, but that he hopes they’ll be able to analyze and process that as they take their footage.

The project will also interview politicians and activists about youth incarceration and recidivism.

Fundraising for the project has about a week to go on Kickstarter, and has raised about $40,000 of the $65,000 goal.

To learn more about the project and to donate, click here.

Part of the fundraising effort will go towards Morgan creating a manual, a guidebook of sorts, for other communities to use as they replicate similar programs.

Morgan said that the program has worked well on the South Coast because of support from the Santa Barbara County’s Probation Department and UCSB, but he thinks that the program could work well in other cities, as well as with adult populations in prisons.

Most of the youths Morgan works with are in the system because of gang crimes, drug issues or for crimes such as robbery or burglary.

Working with youths at that age presents them with a choice to pursue college or other opportunities or become 18 and deal with an adult sentence, he said.

“I think this a really tender transition, and it’s important they know there are options,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Students take a bow during their play as part of the Odyssey Project at UCSB. Click to view larger
Students take a bow during their play as part of the Odyssey Project at UCSB. (Odyssey Project photo)

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