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The Okai Collier Company [OCC] was formed in 1994 and this year celebrates 25 years of creativity. Established by Artistic Director Omar F. Okai and Writer / Producer / Director Simon James Collier, the idea of the company was to explore and push the boundaries of everyday ideas, opinions and opportunities in the creative arts: music, theatre, film, dance, painting and the written word, using a variety of media. These projects have include over 150 award-winning theatrical / film productions, documentaries, cast albums, audio productions, books, exhibitions for new artists, and social investment projects. Okai Collier has always been committed to maintaining a balanced portfolio of work, divided between the commercial and charitable spheres, drawing on a diverse range of people and disciplines, encouraging new talent and thereby creating vehicles that are ground breaking, informative and entertaining.

omar and simon rehearsing '1888'

OCC's first production was a new musical called Viva O Carnaval, which was work-shopped in June 1994, at The Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler's Wells, and then went on to have a 3 week run in December of that year. The piece was supported by The Baring Foundation, The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust and Canon UK Limited. It was a huge first production for us and proved to be a tremendous learning curve, as although we had both been in the 'entertainment business' for a few years, it was the first time we struck out on our own and created a full-blown production from scratch. It was very successful, both as a piece and in terms of an education; we even secured a music publishing deal. I remember us both looking at each other through blood-shot eyes when the final curtain came down and saying 'what were we thinking' and 'do we really want to go through all of that again!' - the answer was clearly a 'yes'.

Production photos from 'Viva O Carnaval', workshop and final show

1995 and 1996 were exploratory years for us, we were still finding our feet so to speak. Funding was always tight (it always has been), but we moved forwards with 'smaller' projects, honing our craft. We next produced La Vie En Rose, a one-woman show with Julie Clare, which was staged at The King’s Head Theatre, Beck Theatre, Merlin Theatre and Towngate Theatre. It was a biographical piece about the life and music of Edith Piaf. Spooky Noises, Countess & Cabbages, Love, Life & Laughter and Everyone's Opera followed, again, all with very limited funding, but ones which provided the foundation for much larger interpretations years later. We also co-produced Whole Lotta Shakin', which again went on to be re-imagined on a larger scale, this time in London's West End.

1995 - 1996 Production Posters, and 'Spooky Noises' production photographs

1999 saw the transfer of Whole Lotta Shakin' (originally staged at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry), to the West End under the new title; Great Balls of Fire, which opened at The Cambridge Theatre. The following year saw the company take it's production of Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens, to The Globe Centre in East London, which supports people livings with HIV.

'Elegies' (Globe Centre) and 'Great Balls of Fire'

In 2001 the company re-staged Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens for a three week run at The Bridewell Theatre, and immediately following this recorded a cast album, which for the first time included both the show's songs and monologues. Also in 2001 the company was involved with two charity productions; Shiny Happy People, with Victoria Wood for 'Focus', and Doing Something Right for The Globe Centre.

'Shiny Happy People', 'Doing Something Right' & 'Elegies'

2002 - Ruthless at Stratford Circus, London - [the European premiere of the off-Broadway hit] - proved to be extraordinarily successful and went on to win 5 Musical Stages Awards. Best Musical Production (Off West End), Best Director (Off West End): Omar F. Okai, Best Actress in a Musical (Off West End): Lisa Baird, Best Actor in a Musical (Off West End): Paul L Martin, Best Writers/Lyricists/Composers of New Work: Joal Paley and Marvin Laird. Later that year, also at Stratford Circus OCC presented A Time To Speak, a spoken-word performance piece written and starring Tony Dallas. 2002 was a special year as we produced a Service of Thanksgiving, Remembrance & Hope - to remember 20 years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral for an invited congregation of 1,400 people, including Dignitaries, Foreign Ambassadors, Celebrities, and those affected by HIV/AIDS. Speakers included: Tony Dallas, Debbie Gayle, Gus Cairns (Editor of Positive Nation magazine), Zoe Wanamaker and Professor Brian Gazzard. All music especially composed by Rowland Lee. Sarah Connolly MBE was the soloist for the anthem ‘Music for soft voices’ and pas de deux ‘It’s Alright’ performed by Vipul Bhatti and Beatrice with choreography by Omar F. Okai. The Service included The Whitfield Orchestra and Choir conducted by Rowland Lee and the soloists were Omar F. Okai, Golda Rosheuvel, Nadine Cox and Nathan Amzi. The Service then proceeded on a Candle Light Vigil across the Millennium Bridge, to be met by the congregation of Southwark Cathedral (Estimated 2,100) people, to join in a single Vigil led by the Sub Dean of Southwark, and then a reception held in the Crypt at St. Paul’s, with a sitar performance from Bandish Gudkha.

Production shots from 'Ruthless'

In 2003 we returned to The Bridewell Theatre with A... My Name Is Alice (co-production), an award-winning all woman review show from New York, which we had previously staged a single performance of in 2000. Also in 2003, OCC commissioned Rowland Lee to compose 'Requiem' a piece for World AIDS Day, which was presented in conjunction with Crusaid. The piece was performed at St. Martin in the Fields, London, with Sarah Connolly, MBE, with a reception hosted by the South African Ambassador at South Africa House (Trafalgar Square) afterwards. The Requiem, following a performance at the Philharmonia Grand Hall, St Petersburg, Russia in 2011 by the Opera Choir of the Mikhailovsky Theatre accompanied by The St. Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra, has now been published by Editions Peters.

Rowland Lee's 'Requiem' and 'A... My Name Is Alice'

There were two productions at The Bridewell Theatre in 2004, firstly Stephen Sondheim's Passion (co-production), and secondly the European premiere of Purlie, which went on to be nominated for 4 Whats On Stage Awards: Best Musical Revival, Best Overall Fringe Production, Best Actress in a Musical: Joanna Francis & Best Choreography: Mykal Rand.

Production images from 'Purlie' & 'Passion' - The Bridewell Theatre

In 2005 the company worked in association with Hackney Empire in presenting a season of work, encouraging new creatives. The season was devised alongside Susie McKenna, who was Creative Director at the theatre at that time.

Inspiration, Innovation, Integration Season

2006: The company work exclusively at Jermyn Street Theatre, with a rehearsed presentation of J. B. Miller's The Dorchester, and full productions of Howard Ginsberg's My Matisse and Larry Herold's Preacherosity.

Production Artwork & Stills from 'My Matisse' and 'Preacherosity' - Jermyn Street Theatre

2007 saw OCC remain at Jermyn Street Theatre will a full production of The Dorchester. The piece was directed by Lynda Baron.

'The Dorchester' - Jermyn Street Theatre

In 2008 the company moved most of it's production output to Hackney Empire, releasing productions under both 'The Okai Collier Company' and 'Evcol Entertainment'. The Smilin' State [under 'Okai Collier'] was a huge success, written by Noel White and directed by Omar F. Okai. The company also co-produced Dance With Me, it's first feature film, written and directed by Sasha C. Damjanovski.

'The Smilin' State' - Hackney Empire, and 'Dance With Me'

Over the years we have done numerous co-productions. One of the many was presented at Above the Stag Theatre in 2008. Called; Saintly Sinners: Something Naughty This Way Comes, it was a burlesque show devised by Leon Ancliffe and Omar F. Okai.

'Saintly Sinners'

It was at this point in Okai Collier's history that Evcol Entertainment was formed, and from 2008 - 2017 nearly all of the theatrical productions were produced through that label, although still remaining under the OCC umbrella. To date there have been 29 Evcol theatrical productions, and 11 Evcol Audio Drama productions, with a further 13 planned. [There are separate 'Adobe Spark' pages for Evcol Entertainment's theatrical and Audio Drama productions]

'Evcol Entertainment Logo'

In 2010, in a production with Ben David Productions and Fallen Angel Theatre Company, The Okai Collier Company presented a new musical adaptation by Alex Loveless of The Remains of the Day, at The Union Theatre. It was a production that received a huge amount of attention, and was the Evening Standard's Critics Choice.

'The Remains of the Day' - Union Theatre

In 2011 OCC returned the The Union Theatre and in association with Silhouette Productions, presented 1888, a new musical by Gerry Ware about the Whitechapel murders associated with Jack the Ripper. The production was nominated for two Offie Awards, Best New Musical and Best Actress in a Musical - Gemma Salter.

'1888' - Union Theatre

2011: Empty Space... Peter Brook Award. Okai Collier received two nominations for this noted award [again in 2014], acknowledging the company's body of work and both Omar and I would like to thank Blanche Marvin MBE, creator of the awards, for her continued support over the years.

2013: The White Witch of Rose Hall (co-production). The piece was originally commissioned by Joseph Jeffers [ASKI], as a means by which to bring stories from countries such as Jamaica and the Caribbean to UK born descendants who may not be aware of such history and folklore. The show ran at The Broadway Theatre, Catford, between 9 - 26 October 2013.

'The White Witch of Rose Hall'

In 2017 the company presented an Edgar Allan Poe double bill at The Jack Studio Theatre. Omar F. Okai directed The Masque of the Red Death, and Maud Madlyn directed Adam Dechanel's adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher.

'The Masque of the Red Death' & 'The Fall of the House Usher'

Although most of the company's theatrical output is now presented under a different banner, Okai Collier itself is still fully engaged in creating and developing new work. Omar F. Okai's Celia project is due for production in 2019, directed by Arlene Phillips and choreographed by Mykal Rand. Alongside the theatrical productions, OCC is also fully committed to it's Social Investment work, with creative projects working with younger generations in the community. These projects are literary and arts based, [graphic novels, music, performance, costume making, story-telling, script work, singing, composing] with participants creating their own narrative, dealing with issues and social concerns appertaining to them. The projects are based throughout the country and have proven to be hugely successful. Below are images from some of those Social Investment Projects. [Projects produced in association with: The Cedar Centre, Southern Housing, The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Maxlife, Adam Dechanel, Angelic Inspiration Entertainment, Clockwork Digital Studios, Urban Theatre, St. Barnabas Church & New London Orchestra]

Social Investment Projects

Alongside it's theatrical / film output and Social Investment projects, OCC has had an active publishing unit, producing numerous titles in both print and the CDbook format. A number of it's publications have been optioned for television, whilst others have been adapted and produced as Audio Dramas. The company has also worked closely with Adam Dechanel and Clockwork Digital Studios in developing and producing a series of comics and Graphic Novels.

Selection of publication covers and artwork

Over the past twenty-five years it has been an absolute privilege to work with the many hundreds of people we have teamed up with. It's been wonderful to revisit the archives during the past few weeks and feel proud to have produced the body of work we have done. Although what's included here is by no means the full list of the company's output, it does represent a flavour of it. Here's to looking forward and continuing to create for many years to come.

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