The odyssey of Seattle Rep’s community-based ‘Odyssey’

About 100 performers — military veterans, children, homeless people, bikers, plus four professional actors — will perform Homer’s “Odyssey” as the first in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s radical new Public Works Seattle program.

Seattle Repertory Theatre is going big again — but in a different direction.

Last spring, it staged “Here Lies Love,” David Byrne’s newish disco-musical about Imelda Marcos that involved ripping out seats to make a 250-person-capacity, Manila-style dance floor. In some ways, “Love” was a rich person’s sport, with tickets topping $130 (though there was a day-of lottery for $20 seats).

Now the Rep is swiveling toward the opposite point of the compass — a roughly 100-performer production of Homer’s “Odyssey” with free tickets and only four union actors. Everyone else onstage has arrived via a yearslong conversation between Seattle Rep and nonprofits; homeless shelters; and social groups, from the Purple Lemonade dance collective to scruffy members of the Dead Baby bike-race club.

Theater preview

Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Public Works Seattle: ‘The Odyssey’

Friday-Sunday (Sept. 8-10) at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., free, but sold out; there will be an on-site simulcast (206-443-2222 or seattlerep.org).

“The play itself is just a period on the end of the sentence,” said “Odyssey” director Marya Sea Kaminski as she rushed through the warren of backstage rooms where performers were eating dinner (dinner is served for the cast before every rehearsal) and shoving themselves into costumes in various curtained-off areas. A young, long-haired drummer from the Seahawks Blue Thunder drum line interrupted to ask where the other drummers were. “I think there,” Kaminski said, pointing down a hallway. He smiled and scurried off.

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If the play is the period, the sentence has been a long, thoughtful process, inspired by New York’s Public Theatre and funded by a grant from Theatre Communications Group — plus a conversation at the Rep about how to bring new folks, who think theater isn’t for them, into the room.

The answer? Don’t just hand them a free ticket — invite them to be in a show.

“It’s not ‘here’s some theater, you’re welcome,’ ” Kaminski said. She chose “The Odyssey” as the Rep’s first iteration of its Public Works Project because “it’s about…

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