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Meet Our  Director

Karla Maria Steffens, MFA, LMSW (she/her/hers), founded Odyssey Theatre for the Young of Art in 2001 when she and her family moved to Mount Vernon, Iowa. Karla draws on thirty years of theatre training and involvement, teaching and counseling to inform her work with students and their families, taking a humanistic, intersectional, multicultural, and strength-based approach that recognizes the importance and value of each person and meeting each student where they are at. Karla received her MA from Johns Hopkins in Creative Writing, and both an MFA in Writing, Directing and Multimedia, and her MSW from the University of Iowa. She is a licensed therapist in the State of Iowa and holds certifications in Drama and Play Therapy, AutPlay (Art Therapy with neuro-diverse individuals), and TAC (Training in Adoption Competency). Prior to moving her family from Chicago to Mount Vernon in 2001, Karla held several positions in professional theatre, including: that of Executive Director at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts Centre East and the position of Artistic and Administrative Director of The Children's Theatre School where she developed a K-12 creative dramatics and theatre curriculum, scope and sequence, for over 700 students annually and overseeing a faculty of twelve. Karla currently holds a faculty position in Theatre at Coe College and is a licensed counselor at Cornell College. Theatre has been her passion since she first began putting on plays in the backyard as a child. Her commitment to theatre education has only continued to grow since that time.


A Brief History


Odyssey Theatre for the Young of Art continues to celebrate the magic of making theatre in Mount Vernon and Lisbon, as they continue their offering theatre workshops to area youth. Since 2002 Odyssey has offered twice a year theatre workshops for young theatre artists of every age- from six years of age to 76 years of age- a Holiday Theatre Workshop and a Summer Drama Workshop. The Holiday Workshop brings together adults from MVL Community Theatre with students in grades 1st-12th, for a kind of "Ages on Stages" collaboration in which the stage is shared as equals. This past holiday seasons Babes in Toyland brought together seventy artists, the longest in kindergarten, the oldest 76 years young, each a student of theatre, ready to learn, to support on another, and yes, ready to play)it is called a "play" after all. The Summer Drama Workshop is intended for students 1st through High School. What is unique is that each of the actors is treated as an equal, no matter their age, their level of experience or ability. The key to Odyssey's success is a genuine working respect for one another, for self, for play. What is innovative about the Odyssey Theatre Holiday Show is that it not only brings together this wide range of actors to work together , but also has as the goal to mount work that intends to truly captivate and to "WOW" the audience. As one second grader suggested: We don't want them to say it's cute, because that just means that it wasn't any good, but that they love us anyway. We want them to think it's GREAT! It's the "one room schoolhouse" with students of all ages learning from one another, in fact, teaching one another… relying on one another! WE say: if you need me, I will be there. It's a promise that is honored from first rehearsal to the close of the play. From the oldest to the youngest, we are in it together… to lean, to love, to create… and to make the impossible magic of theatre a reality. I look forward to seeing you join us in the making of magic in our next workshop.


Karla Steffens
Director & Founder

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