Arts

Local theatre company celebrates 25 years of productions

photo courtesy Odyssey Theatre
Èva Morin | Fulcrum Contributor

FOR THE PAST two decades, Odyssey Theatre has been a summer staple for the Ottawa community. The company’s summer program, aptly named Theatre Under the Stars, uses  Strathcona Park in the Sandy Hill neighbourhood as  centre stage, performing plays in front of an all-ages audience. In celebration of their anniversary, Odyssey Theatre chose to perform Carlo Goldoni’s The Fan this summer as a tribute to their roots.

“In our first season, we performed a play by the very same writer—Carlo Goldoni—and we’ve been on such a journey that I wanted to come back and celebrate our roots with another work by Goldoni,” explains artistic director and Odyssey Theatre founder, Laurie Steven.

“What was also exciting was that the actor who played the lead role in our very first play came back to play the lead in The Fan for our anniversary. It was like coming full circle,” she says.

Odyssey Theatre has come a long way from its debut 25 years ago. The company has expanded their summer program to four and half week run, and launched an indoor series in 2009. Over time, other programs have been created to stimulate artistic development and growth among actors and writers in the area.

“A principle that I established in the very first season was to bring a guest artist to help the company, which evolved into the training program, Exploration, where [a] guest artist comes [in] and trains our actors on unique art forms that they can bring to their acting,” says Steven.

The company specializes in Commedia dell’Arte, a type of theatre that originated in the Italian Renaissance. Actors use elaborate masks and tell tales of love in a comedic fashion. Programs to perpetuate this art form have been implemented at the theatre.

“We also have the only new play development program in Canada, where writers and creators can be supported to develop work specifically for mask theatre and puppetry,” says Steven.

With the end of summer rapidly approaching, Steven admits she would like to see the company expand to perform shows during the winter.

“We would like to have a winter show, where the work would be more experimental. That would be the dream. Of course, with that we need to raise money, which is always difficult, so that will be the challenge. But artistically, that’s where I’d like to go,” she says.

Although the company launched an indoor series in 2009, Steven explains financial and space issues have kept it from becoming an annual event.

“We would like to do one indoor winter performance every other year. We are hoping our next indoor winter show will be in the winter of 2013. We don’t have a regular space for that; each time we do [an indoor performance] we will have to find a theatre to work with,” she says.

While fundraising may be a tricky obstacle to overcome, Steven has no doubt that the company will continue evolving in order to ensure many more years of great theatre.

“A lot has been happening over the last 25 years, but I think there’s lots of innovative and new ways of reaching people [and] taking new directions in communications and in [the] arts while incorporating it into theatre. At the same time, there’s still something undeniably powerful about the live performance.”