Show Swappers: A SPARC Collaborative Community Initiatives Project

By Eric Goudie

The goal of SPARC (Supporting Performing Arts in Rural Communities) is to be a catalyst for the collaboration of creators, presenters, producers and community animators in rural and remote communities across Ontario. This past Fall I joined forces with emerging presenter Bethany Brown to bring some (free) performances to our respective towns as part of the Ontario Culture Days festivities.

The idea behind this show was to do an “artist swap” between Hastings, Ontario and Fergus, Ontario, staging a free performance in each town. We applied for Collaborative Community Initiatives funding  from SPARC  to cover travel, accommodation, marketing, venue and production costs. Initially we considered doing two completely separate shows, with artists from one town playing in the other and vice versa, but soon found that it was both easier and more collaborative to put all artists into a single show, and give everyone two chances to perform.

Running time for the show was over 2.5 hours, so there was no shortage of content. During the set-up time in between acts my co-producer and I acted as hosts; we talked about SPARC, talked about Culture Days, and about the performing arts in our respective communities.

The show definitely hit its target, and built creative capacity in both of our communities. It allowed venues in both towns be included in Ontario Culture days, and it offered two free concerts to appreciative audiences, which is never a bad thing. But more importantly it became clear by the end of the show that it was the performers themselves who had grown the most. I was pleasantly surprised by this.

Artists from both towns had a chance to perform in a new location, for an unknown audience, and they gained valuable experience playing in a venue where family and friends didn’t make up the largest part of the audience. Artists from different disciplines (music, theatre, etc.) came together and collaborated. One musician who has written a play now wants to follow up with the theatre performers to get some feedback on his script. Another chose to drive himself instead of taking the transportation provided so that his videographer could come along, and several hours of promotional footage were shot during both shows. Those are the spin-off projects you can’t predict, let alone specify in a funding proposal, but that mean so much to the people involved.

Bethany and I learned a lot too, of course. We both gained a much deeper understanding of what it takes to collaborate to put on a show with another community, how important it is to be clear from the start about our respective visions, and to make sure logistical challenges are adequately addressed prior to show day. We also learned how important it is (and actually, how totally feasible it is) to calmly but rapidly adapt to changing production conditions, switching up the order of performers when someone is stuck in traffic or adding another microphone when the band invites another singer to join them onstage.

Would I do it again? In an instant. Would I do few things differently? Probably, but not too much – it was, ultimately, a great adventure, and I’m actively exploring ways to do this or something similar to it again soon. I’m open to suggestions!



**We are currently seeking guest bloggers and/or vloggers from rural and remote performing arts backgrounds to contribute their experiences, wisdom, struggles and ideas to our online blog.  Please get in touch if you feel like you have an article, story or hot topic to share! 

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