My earliest memories of my Dad involve silliness, laughter and sheer joy for him to finally come home from work each day. Each night, he climbed into bed and read to me. Most of the stories were FULL of adventure, heroism, sacrafice, self-discovery or even complete transformation. In this nightly ritual, my Father stoked in me the fires of my own imagination. He blessed me with an insatiable sense of curiosity that, to this day, has pushed me along in my personal quest for knowledge and understand, a fascination with life’s mysteries, the joys of making art and teaching it with Chicago Public Schools.
As a young artist, both during the development of my thesis work as a BFA student and afterwards, I quickly learned that my best work happened through taking creating risks and stepping fully into The Unknown. I have since come to see this process as being almost mystical in nature. This understanding coupled with my initial exposure to Joseph Campbell’s theories on the Monomyth and “The Hero’s Journey” which he laid out in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Carl Jung’s theories about the collective unconscious, the archetypes and the role they play in the artistic process helped build the foundation for my future career in the arts and as a Storyteller.
I was born in 1980, and my intense awakening to the works and insight of Joseph Campbell became notable to my memory sometime during my studies as an undergraduate student in the Baccalaureate of Fine Arts program at The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN. My Father was100% Irish Catholic. He was the youngest of seven and was born just after his parents lost all of their newly earned wealth during the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and The Great Depression that followed. It’s almost surreal to be recounting this tragic tale of my Father’s poor childhood (told always by Mother) as we are currently experiencing the closest thing to The Great Depression that we never thought we’d come to behold ourselves; a thing that, in of itself, seemed more Myth or Fairy Tale then cautionary – something shocking but too tragic, too bad and too far away to be repeated: it was a story told of a different time – something that happened to a much younger nation which had learned its lesson and moved on.
My introduction to Campbell’s theories on mythology remains a most significant event during my eventful time spent as a student in the BFA program at the University of Notre Dame from 1998-2003. I was fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity to study at a liberal arts school such as the one at Notre Dame where I had a wide range of experiences aside from my area of concentration in Studio Art.
Aside from my initial courtship with the ideas of Joseph Cambell (which seem to have been most impressive contemporaneously – and impressively-so currently), Before that time, I had found Mythology to be seductive, yet persistently allusive to my youthful point-of-view. I understood how clearly significant these ancient stories were, but I didn’t understand why or how. I didn’t get the metaphors and mirrors – those mirrors into the Self and the labyrinthine maze of the psyche with its terrifying beasts lurking in the shadows and its puzzles, angels, and its gods and goddesses.
College changed my life. I did not enter into it with any practical ability to draw and in fact saw drawing at the time as an unattainable ability that some people had, but I clearly lacked and would never possess. I was fortunate enough to answer a scary, yet persistent itch to take a drawing class which I conceded to scratch by taking an Intro to Drawing for Product Design class during which time I gained unexpected personal satisfaction having previously been strikingly unconscious of my own desire to pursue drawing nor any ability nor talent in it. While only receiving a “C” in that class despite obvious personal improvement during one semester of study, I was so fascinated with the process of drawing and surprised by own ability to learn how to do it that I went on to choose it as my focus of study – one of the great, collective nightmares of the majority of contemporary parents. Though once my enthusiasm began to show, to their credit, they did start to come around. I completed my degree at Notre Dame with the unanticipated, yet life-altering experience of having my thesis work in studio art designated as “Best-inShow” for the graduating class of 2003. The drawing professor who taught the drawing class that tempted me through the terrifying, yet exhilarating threshold into an entirely unknown realm in my life with a “C” also had the good nature to approach me after I was presented with the award by a line of art professors become personal heroes, most of whom possessed a hitherto, unfamiliar look to gaze which I can affirm now was admiration and respect. My initial drawing professor had the decency to congratulate by telling me how “shocked” he was, my mentor and advisor cried and embraced me after a rich and emotional ride to success largely made possible via her guidance and instruction, and a professor under whom I did not personally study stood up during my thesis defense process and stated that there was no negative criticism for me to defend due to the unprecedented quality and affect the work provided, and, and notable to me, I sounded “like a real artist” while after answering some previous questions about the process of creating it and my history with it.
This experience set the stage for my further calling into Myth and storytelling. This laid the framework for my work as studio artist, performer and workshop instructor for Von Orthal Puppets in Chicago creating and performing original designs under the direction of Cynthia von Orthal. Cynthia, who garnered significant attention during her initial career as a Hollywood TV and film actor, pursued post-graduate studies in Prague of the ancient art of puppetry after having a life-changing experience in the forests of Peru where she was received cosmological guidance to create the Von Orthal Puppet Studio under the mission to “travel the world telling the story of our hearts”. Cynthia decided to follow this mystical guidance and upon our meeting, I found myself immediately enamored with her passion and the multi-cultural nature of her work having been largely inspired by the traditional “Bunraku” (hand and rod) puppets of the traditionally Japanese style. We soon recognized our similar passion for art and storytelling, and she took me under her wing as one of her apprentices and colleagues.
By the time I met Cynthia, her studio practice was well-established and she quickly became equally a mentor and personal creative hero. When she asked me to come work on the production of a show that she had agreed to coordinate on with a fledgling non-for-profit in Guatemala called “La Casa Kame”, I agreed with much enthusiasm. The show itself would be performed just outside the ruins of Tikal, Guatemala at a gathering of Maya elders they organized in an effort to help them learn to communicate with each other anew after many years of tribal isolation placed on them by the Spanish Empire after colonizing the area centuries prior. We spent a year creating and workshopping the show in Chicago which we called “The Galactic Mayan Project” and performed and “La Unificacion Maya” Gathering in Guatemala at the beginning of 2010. We then traveled to another location in Guatemala where we performed the show in a local community auditorium as part of a cultural outreach program. After completing this first show, we began work on another yearlong production of an entirely original VOP production and full-length stage theatre show called Berwyn Ave. which told the autobiographically-inspired story of a summer during CVO’s childhood growing up in the Northside-Chicago neighborhood of Ravenswood. Having the opportunity to help create, produce, perform in and assist in the direction of these two shows with VOP were two of the most satisfying years of my life, the memory of which I can recount to any audience with rich and vivid detail due to the extensive nature of our collaboration. After completing 6-week, 5-day per week run of Berwyn Ave. at one of the largest theatre spaces in Chicago, The Ravel Theatre (www.raventheatre.com). I would go on continuing to work with VOP until I left Chicago in 2010.