Skip to main content

Robert Koon mixes myth with the challenges of sustainable forestry

Robert Koon’s latest play takes the audience to the far North, where a writer meets a tree-sitter. The play references one of the great world myths, where the father of the gods, Odin, hung himself on the World Tree to gain knowledge.

Mirror Stage presents "Odin’s Horse" as their first fully staged production in more than a decade. In keeping with the theater’s mission to inspire dialogue about important issues, they will hold post-play discussions and Community Forums following the Sunday matinees from now through Nov. 11. Among the themes to be explored are storytelling, Nordic mythology and the challenges of sustainable forestry. Learn more at the company’s website.

We contacted playwright Koon to ask how fairy tales can spark conversations about modern day issues.

You were inspired by environmentalism and Norse mythology when writing "Odin’s Horse" — what is the dominant theme in the play for you?
That there is a cost to the way we live our lives, and that we often neglect that fact. There is a cost to success, there is a cost to advancement, there is a cost that is paid to simply live in 21st-century America, and we are often far too cavalier about spending our resources. There is a cost to the way we live our lives. Our resources are limited, and if we are not careful in how we use them, the reckoning will come sooner rather than later.

Another related theme is how we are all connected—when we take things, we are taking them from someone, from something. Our actions do not take place in a vacuum. There is an inherent self-centeredness in so much of our lives—who pays for that?

Fairy tales and legends have been popping all over in pop culture recently, from TV shows to successful book series. What do you think is inspiring this recent interest in these oral traditions?
A lot of these stories were ways for people to arrive at some understanding about things in their lives that were difficult for them to grasp. They were a way of taking experience and giving it meaning.

We live in a world of ambiguities, and these myths are very clear—there is good, there is evil, and there is a clear path between the two. That’s a comforting idea, in a time when we might not see our own path that clearly, and it is seductive. The fog of everyday life makes the illusion of simple clarity very attractive.

Character is fairy tales and legend are always active in creating their own fates, and we like to think that we can do the same, especially in a world where we are all subject to being treated as commodities. A commodity is used by others, a hero takes action. We all want to be the hero of our own story.

How can stories like Odin hanging from the world tree speak to today’s audience?
I think the idea that a supremely powerful being would willingly undergo an ordeal, would actually be the instrument of his own suffering, in order to gain something is a powerful statement to a world where the powerful seem to feel that they can simply take what they want.

Odin, the powerful, the Father of the Gods, still bears the cost of getting what he wants. I find this in marked contrast to those in power who look for their own gain and yet expect others to bear that cost.

We all need to be conscious of the necessity of sacrifice to attain our goals—in our careers, in our relationships, in our communities, in our nation. There is a cost to what we want in the world, what we want to have, what we want to be. It is necessary that the ones with the power to take focus on their ability to give.

In the post-play discussions, what is the question you hope the audience will ask?
“What can I do?”

I don’t say that because I think that the question is going to get answered for anyone in the post-play discussions, or maybe even that the question should be answered for anyone. I say that because that is the question I want people to take out of the theater with them—not in a despairing, throw-up-your-hands way but in a way that acknowledges that there are things we can all do, that large problems are usually solved by many small actions, that there are things we can do that will go toward creating the results we want to have. The shift in perspective from “What’s in it for me?” to “What can I do?” is huge.

We are all connected, and shifting our focus from what we can get to what we can give will make us all richer in the long run.