Odyssey cancels summer theatre in Strathcona Park but reinvents with online programming

Jesse Kahat

For 34 years, Odyssey Theatre has been delighting audiences with Theatre Under the Stars in Strathcona Park every summer, but this year it is going virtual. Despite the new realities of COVID-19, Odyssey Theatre will not go dark. Instead, it is ready to deliver an interactive digital theatre series for everyone – bringing together audiences and artists everywhere. A Virtual Odyssey is an innovative digital theatre series which will captivate audiences with creative and interactive online programs for families, youth, adults and artists.

Mitchel Rose, Ross Mullan, Bruce Spinney, Maryse Fernandes, Odyssey Theatre. 2019

“While we are disappointed not to perform in the park this summer, the safety of our audiences and artists comes first. But I am thrilled to launch an exciting online theatre series that will bring Odyssey into the homes of our patrons and reach a whole new audience in Ottawa and across Canada,” says Laurie Steven, Odyssey’s artistic director. Steven, an award-winning artistic director and playwright, is collaborating with a talented team of Odyssey actors, designers and playwrights to create entertaining programs that offer something for everyone.

As a love letter to its home by the Rideau River, Odyssey will be presenting Strathcona Park Diaries – a social media project and art contest that will pay tribute to the place where it has made magic all these years. Interviews with past Odyssey artists, coupled with stories from Sandy Hill residents, will let neighbours relive beautiful memories made in the park.

Odyssey Theatre kicked off A Virtual Odyssey on May 7 with a live, interactive reading of a play that they workshopped online: Sheridan’s comedy classic, The School for Scandal, adapted for mask and movement in a neo-Goth style. Two more readings are scheduled: a new translation and adaptation of Molière’s satire on medicine, The Imaginary Invalid, by Ottawa’s David Whitely; and, Steven’s own The Blue Demon, an original mythic fantasy created in collaboration with Sri Lankan artists. Viewers can submit their questions during the reading in real time.

A new podcast series is sure to enchant audiences. Odyssey’s Wonderous Tales is an eight-episode weekly podcast where tricksters and sages, villains and heroines will transport listeners into faraway worlds of folktales from around the globe but with a new Canadian twist. Odyssey’s talented writers and actors will perform updated versions of these diverse stories with narration, music and inventive theatrical storytelling.

Odyssey is adapting its highly successful Youth Apprenticeship Program to an all-digital format. Ottawa theatre artist Eleanor Crowder will lead students through live, interactive workshops with professional guest artists to explore performance, design, writing and directing. The program finishes with a presentation of scenes, monologues and improvised pieces inspired by the play, attended online by the friends and family of apprentices. Free for youth ages 15-19. Applications are open now and due on June 19.

Puppet and mask making workshops are also on offer for young people (and their parents). Odyssey’s talented mask designer Clelia Scala is hosting two Zoom sessions, one on July 7 (register by June 23) for 5-7 year olds, and a second on July 14 (register by June 30) for 8-12 year olds. Kits to make each creation and materials about the stories or characters will be mailed to participants prior to the workshop date. For details and to register see the Youth section of the Odyssey Theatre website:

Odyssey’s first webinar series, Commedia Talks will offer actors, directors, designers, theatre arts teachers, and theatre lovers everywhere an in-depth look at the art behind the art form as they share the secret of bringing Commedia dell’Arte to life in full length productions of both contemporary and classic works. With masked performances, interviews and the creations of their artists, they will showcase the depth and range of this theatre form from the Italian Renaissance that inspires Odyssey’s creativity.

A Virtual Odyssey will run throughout the summer and into fall 2020. Odyssey Theatre is Canada’s award-winning mask and Commedia dell’Arte theatre. For over three decades they have stirred imaginations with extraordinary plays that include epics, comic fantasies, satires, tragedies, and madcap comedies. Their stunning performances are woven from masks, puppets, music, dance and ritual. Behind the scenes they create original plays, train professional artists and reach out to the community to introduce new audiences to the magic of live theatre.