This nation shall have Paris as capital, but it shall not be called France,
it shall be called Europe. Victor Hugo, 1867
In 1827, when Thomas Sauvage was director of the Odéon, or the "Second Théâtre Français" as it then was, it was the first theatre in France to present Shakespeare in English, by a British theatre company. In the early 20th century, both Antoine and Gémier offered new discoveries to French audiences with many foreign playwrights, including Ibsen, Tolstoy, Turgenev and Strindberg. In 1928, Gémier founded the "Société Universelle du Théâtre". Later when Jean-Louis Barrault was running the Odéon (1959-1968), the theatre presented most of the Théâtre des Nations productions, which came from many different points around the world (e.g. "The Idiot" in 1966, by the Gorky Theatre from Leningrad, and "The Marriage of Figaro" by the Metropolitan Opera of New York). In 1983, Giorgio Strehler, the founding father of the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, submitted an idea to the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, for the "Théâtre de l'Europe", the plan being to present or co-produce European productions at the Odéon, to help assert "the cultural identity of Europeans, as a multi-faceted, complex and contradictory identity, which can, despite this, be recognised as the red thread weaving our history." By 1990, this network for cooperation set up between theatres became the "Union des Théâtres en Europe".
The Minister, Jack Lang, offered Strehler the position as artistic director for the project and by the 1983-1984 season, this accounted for half the Odéon programme, with the other half programming Theatre National de l'Odéon's productions. The Odéon was given official status as "Théâtre de l'Europe" in March 1990, at the same time as the Catalan stage director, Lluis Pasqual, was appointed artistic director. The official decree dated June 1, 1990, changed the by-laws ruling the theatre and modified its official mission. Henceforth, the "Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe" would be fully independent, its mission being to "foster joint work and projects by stage directors, actors, writers and other European practitioners of the dramatic arts for the purpose of presenting new, original works and bringing life to the artistic heritage of Europe." Since that date, audiences have been applauding productions presented on stage at the Odéon, in the original language version, with super-titles, directed by such names as Deborah Warner, Lluis Pasqual, Peter Zadek, Klaus Michael Grüber, Giorgio Strehler, Andrzej Wajda, Jose Luis Gomez, Luc Bondy, Robert Wilson, Kenny Ireland, Patrick Mason, Lev Dodine, Ivan Popovski, Howard Barker, Carmelo Bene, Luca Ronconi, Krystian Lupa, Carles Santos, Romeo Castellucci and the Socíetas Raffaello Sanzio, Christoph Marthaler, Anatoli Vassiliev ...