Guest Blog UCAN CREATE – Session 3 – Odette Toilette

Read our third guest blog from Megan John and Mared Jarman (@blindnotbored) of UCAN Productions on our UCAN Create collaborative project. Find out more about UCAN Create in our Case Studies Section. 

Our third masterclass (which was in February) transported the project to a whole new level.  Ucan Create is all about creating, producing and showcasing your own work. It gives young people the opportunity to learn a new skill, work with some amazing people and create something new and unique. Each masterclass has been  as inspiring as the last and it’s impossible not to be excited and enthused in the company of our incredible masterclass practitioners.  Its safe to say that the wonderful Odette Toilette did not disappoint! Lizzie Ostrom is a lifelong scent fan, who in 2010 (under the name Odette Toilette) began hosting events for people to play with their sense of smell, from sniffable history tours to recreations of ancient aromatic rituals, Japanese incense ceremonies and scent speakeasies uncovering illicit perfumes.  To find out more go to

This masterclass was an  introduction to the world of scents and how we can use them in our creative projects, including theatre and music productions. From scent-based storytelling, to turning a sound into a smell, or a scent back into song lyrics, we got to play with lots of different ideas that could be used in our work.

The masterclass started with a series of scent driven exercises designed to evoke and provoke the imagination. We began working as individuals and were each given a piece of cork soaked in a strong citrus smell.

UCAN Create Masterclass 3

One by one we were asked to share our own personal views and thoughts about the smell, we all had such mixed opinions.  Some strong emotional connections, be it love or hatred, some had precise memories and some people didn’t react at all other than recognising the smell itself.  It was extremely interesting to see how people react differently to scent. Next we were given a small sponge ball soaked in a powerful scent.  In partners we were asked to think of a space, world or location that this smell may inhabit. We were asked to imagine the air, is it thick? What’s the temperature? Colour exterior?  It was amazing how we could all create vivid and complex worlds all from this one sense and one scent.  It was an interesting place to begin a narrative, basing it on scent alone and noticing how smells can tell their own story, without words.

Finally we were given a small plastic pot filled with scent and put into groups to imagine a happening. It was a dark, herby and  evocative scent which caused much debate amongst the groups.  We all had to agree on what was happening, what event was taking place with this scent.  Again our imaginations went wild and people were conjuring all sorts of images and ideas.  The common thread between the groups was that this was a dark place with strange and wonderful things happening. The scent  turned out to be a commercial perfume! Based on death and decay, all the smells of crypts and  rooms!  Definitely dark and pungent places!  We soon learnt that scent is a very personal thing which works entirely on our own memories and thoughts. This can be very powerful when it comes

to performance.

 With theatre and performance in mind Lizzie (Odette) ran a very interesting exercises based on characterisation.  We were all given a scent, on a piece of card this time and asked to create a character. The aim was to use the scent as inspiration and a focus to form and develop our characters.  Who are they? What do they do? How old are they? What’s their temperament…? The list goes on!   Once we had all created our characters we were asked to enter an improvisation circle as our  characters.  Small scenes evolved from these weird and wonderful characters, which were all based and had derived from this one smell. It was amazing to see how each character was so varied and how individuals respond so differently to scents.

Our final exercise was truly unique!  We were using one sense to provoke and inspire and then translate it into another sensory experience. Confused? Don’t worry I was too, let me explain…  For a final time we were given a piece of card laced with scent.  Chemical and industrial, dirty and yet clean and oh so familiar.  We were asked to imagine what sound it makes. That’s right, what sounds does this smell create for you?  Sounds crazy I know but surprisingly it wasn’t as hard as it seems.  Of course these things are completely subjective so your own instinct is all that matters.  We were given a variety of percussion instruments and asked to choose something that worked for us.  Whichever instrument recreated your personal sound. We experimented with rhythm, levels, pitch, speed etc… To finish, the entire group played as an orchestra, recreating the sound of this scent. What a bizarre but strangely wonderful experience to smell this industrial smell whilst listening to the sounds and rhythms of people’s own representation of it.

I have to say that this was one of the most unique and inspiring Masterclasses I have ever experienced.  It will be very exciting to see how we can use scent in different ways to inspire and create some new and interesting work.  We are also intrigued to see how we can weave all of these styles and art forms together to create an epic immersive experience! Personally this isn’t a masterclass that I will forget in a hurry!


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