Broadway Legend André De Shields discusses voicing Hermes in latest season of the Live from Mount Olympus podcast

DeShields details his relationship to Greek mythology and how parents and kids can doubly benefit from listening together!
Norm Lewis & Sierra Boggess Join The Cast Of Broadway's "The Phantom Of The Opera"
Norm Lewis & Sierra Boggess Join The Cast Of Broadway's "The Phantom Of The Opera" / Walter McBride/GettyImages

Looking for a bit more learning in your kids' audio intake? Look no further than Live from Mount Olympus, an Onassis Foundation-produced podcast featuring the voice talents of Tony and Grammy-winning performer André De Shields!

Live from Mount Olympus is currently in its fourth season, titled "Prometheus," which is centered on the young Titan Prometheus as he forges an alliance with Zeus. As they team up, they realize that they have different perspectives on how to fix the broken world around them. The podcast has received critical acclaim including a Kidscreen Awards nomination for Best Podcast (Teens/Tweens) for Season 3, a Silver Signal Award, and a Bullhorn Award. According to the Onassis Foundation, "the podcast is also able to be licensed to listen in schools across the nation with inquirED". This means that it is now accessible in 1,600 schools across the US.

DeShields narrates this season as Hermes and is best known for his run as Hermes in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hadestown. In our conversation with the veteran performer, DeShields dives deeper into his discovery of Greek mythology, how theater has informed his work in other mediums, and how parents can engage and learn alongside their kids by co-listening to the podcast!

The Parent Watch: Can you talk about first learning about Greek myths?

André De Shields: This takes me back to my high school. It's all attributed to Edith Hamilton, who wrote one of the definitive books on Greek myths. As a young man, I was liberated in a way by reading about the Greek myths, and I'm applying that sense of liberation to the role I'm playing now as host of Live from Mount Olympus. It releases what I consider the strongest virtue that we have as humankind, and that is our imagination. It is our imagination that allows us to understand the world around us, and more to the point, understand our role in the world around us. What I have learned and continue to learn is that the gods are created in our image. We very much have the same temperament. We have ambitions, we have jealousies, we have envies. We cannot pass off the responsibility of what we do. We are the responsible entities.

What we do with our imagination is what becomes the environment around us. So once I learned that lesson, I started on the road to my destiny. I'm not surprised that my destiny brought me back to the mythology of gods, not just the Greek gods because there is a creation myth for every religious discipline. We in the new world simply claim Greece as our informative sovereign state, but obviously, that was done by those individuals who are from the European diaspora.

You have such a rich theatrical background, too. Now that you're working in this audio format, what do you think you've learned from being on stage when becoming the character in a podcast?

They're hardly related. They're very different. The Hermes from Hadestown is not the Hermes from the podcast. The Hermes from Hadestown is a guide. As a matter of fact, I like to use the term griot because Hermes is a fount of all information.The god Hermes, although he's one of the youngest of the Olympians, created language and music. Those are the two important ways that we communicate with one another. So Hermes in Hadestown is serving the mortals who live on Earth and their intermittent passage to the underworld, which is called Hades. Now, the Hermes who's the host of Live from Mount Olympus, what we call the “Gods Pod,” is one of the characters - and is as ambitious, and is as nefarious, and as dependable and not so dependable as all the other characters who have to answer to the great god, Zeus. The essential element is that it's being done [via audio]. So we only have one of the five senses to enlighten us. That's the ear: hearing. Now, we've come full circle. Hearing about Greek mythology liberates the imagination because you have no touch involved, you have no sight involved, you have no taste involved. The only sense you have is hearing.

That is a catalyst for the imagination to do whatever it wants to do and to make what you are hearing palatable for whatever intellect is listening. That works amazingly well on young people because they have yet to integrate into their personalities all the biases, proclivities and dispositions of the adult world. Young people immediately and easily connect to the possibility of [the Greek gods]. That happens because of the ear. When you don't have that visual, then you have to create it in your own sensibilities.

Season 4- Key Art (1)
Live from Mount Olympus. Courtesy of Onassis Foundation /

What do you hope parents can share with their kids after they finish listening?

We're into our fourth season, and what we are learning is that although the young people are introduced to the podcast through the permission of their parents, the parents get as involved in listening to the podcast as the young people do, and maybe even more so. I recently did a favor for my friend, Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose son had a project to interview a favorite celebrity of his, and he chose me. I did the interview. The son, Sebastian, was [acting as] an anchor person. One of his questions was, “So what are you doing now that you have left Hadestown?” I used the podcast as an example. At the end of the interview with Sebastian, Lin said, “Oh, as soon as we're finished, we're going to look into that.” Now, they are fans of Live From Mount Olympus. I found this to be true in many situations, that because of the enthusiasm of the young person, not only does the parent give their permission, but they also stay along for the ride.

Do you have a favorite episode that's upcoming? What can you share about what's about to be released?

Well, the smart answer when that question comes up about anything is: My favorite is what I'm recording now, which is the episode that introduces Pandora. Now, that's actually appropriate for this conversation because Pandora is the catalyst for the enlightenment of the mortals who are referred to as "clay people," because they have yet to realize the difference between virtue and habit. There's a huge difference between the two. Just as we look at animals and understand that they are living reflexively. Their lives are habitual and our lives are enlightened. So this is the attitude of the gods about the mortals that they have populated the Earth with. It is by way of introducing Pandora to that environment, that the mortals begin to understand that they are essentially unenlightened. It's through the many shapeshifting talents of Pandora that the mortals learn, “Oh, we can be better than we are.” Every time we introduce a different member of the Olympians, it is the bedrock of it as a lesson for contemporary humankind to learn about ourselves and about our current situation.

What we have found is that the young people are able to look at the world that we are currently living in and see similarities to the mythological world that we are bringing to them by way of the podcast. Perhaps that will help not only the young people, but anyone who's listening to be a little more discerning about how we treat one another. My attitude is we're all siblings. That's exactly true of the Olympian gods. Everybody is related. I think we're onto something with this podcast. I have been lobbying for a more intricate version of the podcast, because right now, everywhere you look, there's some warfare going on. I'm talking about the present world. One of the most important and beautifully written mythologies is by the blind poet, Homer, The Iliad. I've been talking to our producer about going in that direction so that the contrast between who we are now and what we were in ancient times can be more immediate because we've hardly evolved.

Every generation fights a war for some unknown reason. If we have to describe the human species, you can't get away from the fact that we are warlike. We like to kill one another. The first conflict of historical importance between the West and the East is the Trojan War, and that's what The Iliad is about. So I'm thinking if we can get some of that information in the ears of our young people. Perhaps we can help them understand a little more about why we are, where we are, and become a little less stressed and depressed about it. Again, it's about liberating the imagination so that we look forward to the future with optimism as opposed to dread.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You can listen to Season 4 "Prometheus" of the Live from Mount Olympus podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The second part of season 4, Live from Mount Olympus: Pandora, will premiere this fall.

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