In 2018 the Odyssey Theatre together with the Goethe Institut Los Angeles produced the West Coast premiere of the worldwide interactive project JUST IN TIME created by renowned German choreographers Kattrin Deufert and Thomas Plischke. Other participating cities include New York, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Brussels, Singapore and Reykjavik
To me, William Inge’s romantic masterwork PICNIC is a potent mix of deeply human juxtapositions—love and family, morality and longing, fortune and desperation, idealism and reality, frailty and resilience, fear and courage, prejudice and acceptance, small towns and big cities—Essentially, it’s about America.
I was eager to tell a story about America—an idea still struggling to live up to its promise, searching for its soul. To me, it seemed that the American story was deeply embedded in the Black American experience. A country built largely on the skills and forced labor of its generationally deep residents.
I wasn’t sure if it would work, I was loathed to change a word of text, but it turned out, not a single word needed to be adjusted. The play, in the hands of a black cast, rang like a bell. Rather than narrowing the scope, it only expanded the scope of the story of America, inviting us to celebrate how unique and similar our human experiences are.
This sweet story of innocence, explores the enormous question of identity; identity of self and the Country we live in.
We were 10 days into rehearsal when we had to stop because of COVID. We had been casting and designing since November, so it was heart-breaking to walk away.
The actors and I have continued to work over Zoom. The play keeps revealing itself, and in a COVID world, it teems with relevancies. What is the value of a life? What is the value of a vulnerable life? Can a marriage survive crisis? What do you do in the face of utter isolation?
But the gift of this play is the catharsis it offers. In the hands of these actors, it makes me laugh and it makes me cry. Every time I hear it. That kind of release is a gift right now.
As a storyteller—as a Black storyteller, rarely are you given the chance to be a part of an entire cast that looks like you without the story being racially charged. So when John approached me with Picnic, it was so refreshing to know the storyline had nothing to do with the color of my skin; a privilege that is even unbeknownst to the very people who have it-a privilege of being able to express all the range that the human species can have with no repercussions or doubts. This production isn’t to challenge but to open and share the very commonalities we think are so different.
After the script, I remember instantly falling in love with the entire community. William Inge lays out this simplistic town lead by dynamic people. Whether from cross generations, different levels of education to the knowledge of dance moves, the ensemble works so intricately together in carrying out the message of Love and Legacy. I feel our version of Picnic will only heighten this heartfelt experience Inge intended.
Hello dear audience and supporters,
The temper of these times is hard to fathom for most of us. The pandemic, social unrest, a divided populace, rampant unemployment, the coming election and now, growing disregard for health and safety measures, etc., boggle the mind. I can only hope that, as has been proven in the past, the arts will survive and will ultimately rise like the Phoenix and reflect upon the enormity and absurdity of these times.
Of course, Theatre is a crucial part of these arts and perhaps the most graphic in finally reflecting upon what has happened and what is happening. At the same time, because we are a “live” form, dependent upon human congregation, we will be at the bottom of the list in terms of safely reopening. (And we’re committed to going substantially beyond the legal requirements.)
As an update, I can only tell you that we’re stubbornly holding our own and ardently preparing for the future. At the Odyssey it’s been a flurry of activity, utilizing our small SBA loan/grant, to do eight weeks of overhauling the building, making it more functional and safe for our forthcoming reopening.
This includes stripping away carpeting and rebuilding seating risers with hardwood surfaces (much more easily sanitized), re-doing seating plans to accommodate social distancing, strategizing new ways to implement safe ticket buying and use of the bathrooms, secure paths to our three theatre spaces and an added outdoor box office window that will accommodate distancing, etc.
Simultaneously, on the creative and programmatic side we’re looking not only at projects we had previously planned, but also ones relevant to the current situation
Meanwhile, I’m hoping sincerely that you are all secure and safe, and I really look forward to our meeting again…sooner rather than later. I wish you the very best. We miss you.
If you wish to send a contribution by mail, please send to:
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Now, in this suspended state where GATHERINGS have become dangerous to our health, us theater-makers are ESPECIALLY CHERISHING memories of recent work which had a special impact on audiences. “IN CIRCLES” the musical by GERTRUDE STEIN and AL CARMINES from fifty years ago that I directed for the Odyssey Theatre in 2019 was a fresh, magical dialogue between words and music and logic and absurdity which somehow also succeeded in telling a story of how MAGICAL EMOTIONS can sustain us. All of us who created the project together ADORED working on it. And now, and for a long time to come, it WILL SUSTAIN US. —David Schweizer
Cast members include Henry Arber, Jacque Lynn Colton, Shelby Corley,
Ashlee Dutson, Kenneth J. Grimes, Kyle G. Fuller,
Chloe Haven, Aaron Jung, P.T. Mahoney. Musical director Kenneth J. Grimes.
“It’s Monday and, yet, another inspiring week of seeing the democratic process in action. The hearty souls who have marched for over 2 weeks stir the blood and make one, once again, hopeful about the American dream.
The Odyssey Theatre most emphatically stands in support of this mighty movement. It’s been a long time coming and it’s encouraging to see this burst of new energy promoting racial equality and the confrontation of police violence.
Since we began, the Odyssey has always stood for equal opportunities for all ethnicities and minority groups in terms of both artists and audiences… and we’ll continue to maintain and escalate these efforts. The last couple of weeks have been truly inspirational.
Yes, yes, yes, we stand in total solidarity!”
Cast with director, designers, and staff