Picture Homer’s “Odyssey,” but the protagonist is a queer woman, the story leans toward radical hope and characters stop every so often for a jam around the campfire.
That’s the premise of an intimate new audio drama series, now in production in Greenpoint thanks to a group of Brooklyn creatives and their friends.
“Hearthbound: An Untelling of the Odyssey,” is a queer version of the classic Greek epic the "Odyssey," in which Odysseus, a Greek hero and king of Ithaca, journeys home after the Trojan War.
In "Hearthbound," the audience follows Odessa, a butch woman, as she makes her way home to her wife Penelope after something terrible — no spoilers — has happened in Troy, writer and producer Jo Chiang told BK Reader.
Chiang is a queer, Taiwanese-American storyteller based in Brooklyn, who identifies as masculine-of-center. She is also the voice of Odessa.
As Odessa journeys “through the ridges and the ruins" of an apocalyptic Great Basin, she meets a cast of fascinating characters. Slowly, the audience figures out why the journey must take her so long and the healing she has to go through after “something as traumatic” as the mystery event at Troy.
“I’ve always been interested in the classics and what they say about the human condition and what it means for us to read them in modern times, with a modern lens: How they relate and don’t,” Chiang said.
“They’re part of the canon, but maybe not as representative of different perspectives or aware of the queer perspective. It’s always interesting to play with that and see how I can bring universal themes about longing to return home, and trauma, and change it and make it accessible and engaging to a new type of audience.”
Chiang said the story resonated with her personally, considering the theme of leaving home, and when you return — perhaps changed — wondering if people will still be there for you, or if too much has changed.
“They are ruminations that are very specific to the immigrant, queer experience, and it makes the canon a lot richer,” Chiang said.
Chiang added that, while queer representation in the media has come a long way, there are still gaps.
“I was daydreaming about what kind of mainstream media out there represents butch Asian women, and there’s actually none.”
"Hearthbound" is intended to be a "warmer and softer" reimagining of the "Odyssey," which, when written in the seventh century BC, held a mirror to the human experience and to themes of helplessness, loneliness, and despair.
The audio series is written in the subgenre of "hopepunk," in which characters are fighting for positive change, radical kindness, and communal responses to challenges. In this case, themes of ecological restoration and found family are explored.
Chiang and her team started recording the audio series last week, and they expect to have the series finished by late spring, early summer of 2023.
She said she chose the audio format because of her background in live theater and as a voice actor for other audio dramas.
“I’m very attracted to the medium as an interesting in-between of theater and film where you can sort of have fantastical settings and work with a small budget and create a sweeping story in a way that’s quite accessible and relies on people’s imaginations.
"There is also the intimacy of hearing a character’s voice in your ear: It’s a beautiful way to build connection.”
The musical director for the project is Ginger Dolden, a multi-instrumentalist and producer based in Brooklyn. Dolden said it had been fun to reimagine the Odyssey after being isolated from friends, family, and community amid the pandemic.
"The songs and experiences in the story feel real and lived-in as they mirror our own realities -- the music is scrappy and takes influence from various folk traditions to support the story and characters as they journey through this post-apocalyptic world."
Meanwhile, the "Hearthbound" team — including director Jack Calk and sound designer Anna Kelly Rodriguez — are fundraising for the project through Kickstarter. They have already reached more than $4,000 of their $10,000 goal.
“I’m both excited and extremely stressed — asking for money makes me sweat," Chiang said.
"I hope this project is worthy of the love and support we’ve already seen from our community, and it's performing better than I ever could have imagined. There is a hunger for these kinds of stories."