Since Odyssey’s artistic journey began in 1985, the Company has emerged as a singular artistic voice in Canada’s theatrical landscape. We introduced a dynamic summer program to Ottawa, Theatre under the Stars, winning awards and extensive critical acclaim. Over the past 30 years, Odyssey has created and produced a substantial body of original Canadian plays. We have expanded our audience offerings through Lazzi Lazzi and indoor productions, and introduced unique artistic development programs: New Play Creation, Explorations, Performance Labs and Youth Apprenticeships. The Ontario Arts Council designated Odyssey a Key Organization that has a “significant impact on: the art form, the artists, their audiences and their community.”
Odyssey’s initial productions featured classical texts from Commedia dell’Arte—an Italian Renaissance art form wherein actors wore masks, played in the streets and offered bawdy tales of love and lust, and battles between masters and servants. It is rich in social satire and laced with physical comedy. We moved from using classical Commedia scripts to creating original plays inspired by those traditions, and brought Commedia master Alberto Fortuzzi from Italy to train the company in the creative methods of the form. Our first new play festival in 1990 included contemporary comedies / social satires inspired by Commedia, by Laurie Steven, Dean Gilmour, and Kim Selody, including Moonlight Mischief and The Diplomat.
Working with Fortuzzi led to a tradition at Odyssey of bringing distinguished guest artists from Canada and abroad to work with us. As a result, we broke new ground by exploring various forms of mask and their corresponding physical styles. And we added the arts of clown, bouffon, mime and puppetry to our repertoire.
Our next major step was to expand beyond the boundaries of comedy, as we brought our masked theatrical approach to myth and folktale. In 1995, we began collaborations with mask-movement artists from different cultures, incorporating Peking Opera, Kathakali, and Indonesian Wayang Wong, which led to a series of groundbreaking productions including the award-winning The Wedding, the first of its kind in the world.
Our growing popularity encouraged us to introduce a new program—Lazzi Lazzi—to respond to requests for performances in the community and to introduce mask work to broader audiences. Shows were created for the National Arts Centre (Studio), Great Canadian Theatre Company (Night Howl series) and the Ottawa Fringe Festival, as well as national galleries and museums.
We formalized our New Play Creation into an exciting program where writers can receive training and be supported to create work for our art form, including Lib Spry, Robin Patterson, Chet Rajani and Janet Irwin, who have been among our writers-in-residence.
In 2008, we completed a new strategy for Odyssey looking ahead to our growth. Key components included adding indoor productions of edgier work, and the first was mounted in 2009, A Guy Named Joe. We consolidated artist training into annual workshops, Explorations, and introduced In the Works, a new play festival of staged readings.
In Performance Labs with top Canadian choreographers, we are investigating a fusion of post-modern dance and masked theatre performance. We are also working on our first international collaboration with Sri Lankan artists in an exciting fusion with Kolam, their traditional form of mask theatre. Odyssey’s future includes touring to reach new audiences and continuing our theatrical exploration.