Rural Arts Space: How Theatres Can Go the Distance

By Guest Blogger Rebecca Anne Bloom

 

Scrabble tiles spell Social Distancing on a brown background

Photo by Joshua Miranda from Pexels

“But there wasn’t the merest whiff about of the kind of magic that comes when the theatre darkens, the bottom of the curtain glows, the punters settle down, you take a deep breath… none of the person-to-person magic we put together with spit and glue and willpower.” ― Angela Carter, Wise Children

For many theatres in 2020, only the ghost light lit stages where previously stories had come to life. The auditoriums where cheerful and excited audiences once sat lay dormant, blanketed by darkness. Artistic teams, performers, and patrons waited with bated breath as the arts and the world were rattled by an invisible enemy. There appeared to be some home when at the start of March, the Ontario provincial government announced it was investing $25 million into the arts sector; however, many arts and culture spaces in rural or remote communities were excluded. This begs the question; how could theatres stay alive? If we ever come out of this pandemic, would there be any art spaces left?

Although there is a shroud of uncertainty, many rural arts spaces continued to unite and engage the community during a time of social distancing. Places like Theatre Orangeville, the Foster Festival and Westben switched to showcasing performances through online platforms. Artistic teams got creative, focused on ensuring the arts were kept alive and the members of their communities were nurtured with uplifting entertainment. To understand more about how members of the arts community continued to stay optimistic, I looked at the theatres in the City of Kawartha Lakes to learn how they fostered innovative ways to keep performing while ensuring patrons and artists were safe. I spoke with the Artistic Director of Globus Theatre in Bobcaygeon, Sarah Quick, and members of the Board of Directors at Lindsay Little Theatre, to see how rural theatres can still produce quality performances, regardless of social distancing protocols.

 

Winter photo of a large barn. The top of the barn is red, the bottom is cream. Into centre, just below the peak is a large sign that reads LAB. Below is a banner that reads Lakeview Arts Barn. there is snow on the ground

Photo by R. A. Bloom Creations & Photography

 

Globus Theatre @ the LAB

Situated just outside of the village of Bobcaygeon, sitting back from Pigeon Lake Road/Highway 17, is a big pink barn. Once a working cattle barn, the Lakeview Arts Barn, is a contemporary 150 seat black box theatre, with Globus Theatre as the theatre-in-residence. A professional summer theatre formed in 2003, Globus as produced over 10 world premieres and over 15 Canadian premieres. Their 17th season was set to be their largest one yet; however, it like many others was cancelled. As restrictions slowly shifted late in the summer, Artistic Director Sarah Quick and Artistic Producer James Barrett saw an opportunity to bring theatre to light once more.

“When we saw the possibility of opening for a smaller season, we immediately knew that we wanted to do something,” explained Sarah Quick. “The LAB is a versatile venue, with removable seating, 7,000 square feet of open floor space and high barn ceilings.” From a play reading series that showcased new Canadian comedies, to a live-streamed improvised soap opera, a festive comedy show to musical performances, Globus Theatre ensured that proper protocols were followed at all times. “We booked based on social circles, removed our curtains to ensure all our tables were 6 feet apart and even invested in a custom 12’x24’ vinyl curtain from Ontario Staging Ltd. to surround our stage.” Having experience with working on a budget, the artistic team knew having a season could be possible, within their parameters. What resulted was their fall Season Within Reason and a winter Sprinkling of a Season which featured dinner and socially distanced live programming for audiences of 50 patrons. This proved so popular with audiences; Globus is forging ahead with an extended summer season with limited audiences but not limited programming!

Lindsay Little Theatre

Tucked away on George St. in Lindsay is a small community theatre that has been in operation for over 50 years. At full capacity, the Lindsay Little Theatre’s (LLT) performance space seats 40 people, which proved to be a barrier for conducting shows during the pandemic. “It is almost impossible to provide quality shows with social distancing, meaning little or no revenue for community theatres but they still have their overheads,” explained Marion Bays, Director of Fundraising and Sponsorship. “To put on a production usually means royalty payments exceed what would be taken in at the door.” So, when the Board of Directors considered hosting theatre events, they knew they would have to get creative. Enter, the Pie Eyed Monk, which forged an amazing relationship with LLT. 

Finding a community partner was a key factor into re-opening for Lindsay Little Theatre. Local restaurant The Pie Eyed Monk was unable to continue catering for larger scale events like weddings. Joining forces to hold a COVID-19 safe dinner theatre experience in their second-floor event space was a win/win for both companies. What resulted was a successful 3 show run of Norm Foster one-acts, which left the audience wanting more. The theatre is excited to announce that another murder mystery dinner theatre event is currently in rehearsals. 

a script is on a table, the title of the golden coloured script is One Actmanship. A mask in a clear plastic bag and a paper sit above the script

Photo from Kathryn Woolridge-Condon from Lindsay Little Theatre

 

The Case for Rural Arts Spaces

We have seen that over the course of the year, many industries have taken a hit. For anyone wondering why the arts is so important, or why the members of performing art spaces work tirelessly to keep the doors stay open, the answer is simple: the community needs the arts. When asked why Globus Theatre chose to re-open during these unprecedented times, Sarah was quick to say: “our community looks to us to find out what to do. Not only could we answer the social needs of our patrons, but we also hired artists who had their livelihoods put on hold. It was amazing to offer work to performers who didn’t think they would be on a stage for some time.” A similar feeling was echoed from the board members of LLT. “We have loads of ways to see movies and TV shows these days, but really nothing beats the magic of a live show,” stated Logan Geryzmisch. LLT’s President Shannon Peters Bain agreed. “Our human heritage is storytelling, and where there are people there should be theatre. There are always actors and artists among a community and a need to explore society and history through dialogue.” Through the ingenuity of many passionate people, Globus Theatre and Lindsay Little Theatre were able to provide the Kawartha Lakes community and beyond what they desperately needed – hope.

Hello and Bonjour from Carousel Players!

close up photo of the face of a white woman. She wears large sunglasses, earmuffs and a scarf. She is smiling Hi there. My name is Samantha and I’m writing from St Catharines, Ontario, the traditional land of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishnaabe, the Neutral and Wendat peoples. I am very grateful to the original caretakers of this land. In Niagara, I grew up in Welland, Ontario frequently walking along the Welland Canal and having picnics at Merritt Island. Now a resident of St Catharines I frequently visit Rotary Park, a beautiful place with paths surrounding a big open field, and trails that lead to the Four Mile Creek. I thrive on the healing properties of this land and water, and I wish to ask, how will you connect with the land today? By writing this, I hope to create a safe space for all. Welcome!

 

I’m so excited for this guest blogging opportunity, and even more excited to represent the organization I work for, Carousel Players. Founded in 1972, it is one of Canada’s oldest and most respected professional theatre for young audience companies with roots in the Niagara Region. To learn more about Carousel, visit us h e r e : w​ w w . c a r o u s e l p l a y e r s . c o m . ​

I am the Outreach Coordinator for Carousel, which means under normal circumstances I participate in local events and help facilitate our own. I get the wonderful opportunity to interact with children and families in all corners of the region, from Fort Erie to Grimsby, and everywhere in between. My favourite part about my job is meeting people from all walks of life and engaging with them. I love when I meet a parent who tells me of their fond memories of seeing a Carousel Players performance when they were in school, or speaking with a child who has recently watched a performance. I joined the company in 2019 back when in-person events were allowed, and I miss interacting with people terribly.

We all love theatre here, am I right?! And of course, none of us can gather in person, anxiously waiting to take our seats and share in an experience together, and that hurts. So many arts organizations have had to grieve the loss of live performances, feverishly try to cope, and quickly come up with ways to engage with our audiences.

This year, one of the ways we ​pivoted​- one of my least favourite words now as it is no longer used as a fun dance move – is that we were still able to create some phenomenal experiences, one of which wan outdoor scene, three larger than life puppets (puppeteer by at least two people) are in a filed. Audience is dispersed between the puppetsas our Giant Puppet Party. There we were in September of 2020, prepared to welcome families to our large-space event featuring a 12 foot puppet, and not two days before, the government announced new restrictions that only 25 people could gather outdoors. Talk about a let-down! With this news I sadly informed some of the families that we could only accept the first few who registered. Fortunately, people were very understanding, and the event wasn’t cancelled altogether! The few families who could attend brought their amazing homemade puppets, we did some funky moves together, a little dance, and we all went home!

Then in the fall, our incredible team madefabric overlaying a box. The fabric has a glittering effect theatre magic happen again when they created Halloween Happening, an indoor large-space event that allowed families to walk through different “rooms” inside the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Kind of like a haunted house, but no jump scares, and we kept the creepiness factor to a minimum. It included a fairy room, a pumpkin patch, a giant witch puppet and her cauldron, among others. The selected entry slots filled up so quickly and before we knew it, we were sold out! I was elated! Not only would I get to see more families in person again, but this time they would all be in costume!

 

Winterworld was another unique event that came out of last year. In the atrium at the St Catharines Public Library, our team created a beautiful snow queen installation with multiple dioramas surrounding her, including a bunny hill with tiny little bunnies on skies. It was magical.

a large snow queen stands on a pedestal

Even though we experienced the disappointment over and over again of plans that didn’t come to fruition, we were still able to
make magic possible, and that gives me the warm and fuzzies. Was it the same? Of course not! But experiencing the joy and excitement of others as they danced with our giant puppet Nadine the Ondine, or entered the Dragon room in Halloween Happening, or set eyes on the tall majestic snow queen still put a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart.

One of my favourite moments of last year was the bravery of a little boy who got frightened while inside the Halloween Happening and immediately rushed to get out, only to tell his parents that he wanted to go back in, and try to go through the experience slowly so he could face his fear. What a hero! I think we can all take a cue from this little boy and find ways to be adaptable and face what scares us, even in the midst of a pandemic, especially at a time where the need for support and connection is so great.

Thank you for reading. If you’d like to connect, please email outreach@carouselplayers.com​ and I will gladly chat with you. Stay safe, and until next time!

Samantha

 

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Samantha et je vous écris aujourd’hui de St Catharines, Ontario, le territoire traditionnel des peuples Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, Neutral et Wendat. Je suis très reconnaissante aux pclose up photo of the face of a white woman. She wears large sunglasses, earmuffs and a scarf. She is smilingremiers habitants et gardiens des terres. Je viens de Welland, Ontario au centre de la région de Niagara. Pendant ma jeunesse j’ai rendu visite au canal Welland et à l’île Merritt fréquemment. Maintenant une résidente de St Catharines, je vais souvent au parc Rotary pour une promenade. C’est un très bel endroit avec des sentiers, des bois, et des chemins qui vont jusqu’au bord de l’eau du ruisseau Four Mile. Je prospère quand je suis dehors grâce aux propriétés curatives de l’air et de l’eau, et je voudrais vous demander, comment allez-vous connecter avec la terre aujourd’hui? En vous écrivant, j’espère pouvoir créer un espace sûr pour tous. Bienvenue!

Je suis excitée d’avoir l’occasion de vous écrire, et même plus excitée de représenter l’organisation pour laquelle je travaille, Carousel Players. Fondée en 1972, elle s’agit d’une des plus vieilles compagnies de théâtre pour jeunes publics au Canada, et elle se trouve ici à St Catharines. Si vous voulez en savoir plus, visitez www.carouselplayers.com​.

Je suis Coordinatrice Communautaire pour Carousel Players. Je participe et aide à organiser des événements qui se déroulent directement ici chez nous ou des activités dans la communauté. D’habitude, j’ai l’occasion d’interagir avec des familles en personne dans tous les coins de Niagara. Ce que j’aime le plus c’est de rencontrer et parler avec toutes sortes de personnes. J’aime beaucoup rencontrer des parents qui partagent souvent leurs expériences et bons souvenirs de nos spectacles lorsqu’ils étaient jeunes. J’aime aussi m’engager avec les enfants lorsqu’ils regardent une pièce de théâtre. J’ai commencé à travailler avec la compagnie en 2019 quand les événements en personne étaient possibles, et rencontrer des gens me manque énormément.

Tout le monde ici adore le théâtre, n’est-ce pas? Et malheureusement, ce n’est pas possible de se rassembler et de participer à une pièce de théâtre ensemble. Ça me fait mal au cœur et je suis certaine que je ne suis pas la seule personne qui ressente la même chose. Beaucoup d’organisations artistiques ont dû naviguer des moments difficiles et trouver des solutions créatives pour leurs auditoires.

an outdoor scene, three larger than life puppets (puppeteer by at least two people) are in a filed. Audience is dispersed between the puppetsL’année passée il a fallu que l’on pivote nos activités. (Pivote est un mot que je déteste maintenant car quand j’entends le mot “pivoter”, je pense à la danse, et maintenant il est rarement associé à la danse). Nous avons créé des expériences théâtrales non conventionnelles, dont l’une était la Fête de Marionnettes Géantes en Septembre, un événement dans un champ incluant notre propre marionnette à douze pieds, Nadine. On était près à accueillir tout un certain nombre de familles, lorsque tout à coup, le gouvernement a annoncé que seulement 25 personnes pouvaient se rassembler dehors. J’étais tellement déçue! Regrettablement, j’ai contacté plusieurs familles pour annuler leur inscription, et seulement les cinq premières familles ont pu participer. Heureusement la fête n’a pas été annulée complètement et quelques familles sont venues pour célébrer avec leurs marionnettes! Ensemble nous avons chanté et dansé et c’était vraiment amusant.

 

fabric overlaying a box. The fabric has a glittering effectA l’automne notre incroyable équipe a créé de la magie théâtrale de nouveau quand on conçu Halloween Happening. Cette Fois situé dans un grand espace à l’intérieur du FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, l’événement a permis aux familles de se promener une à la fois parmi plusieurs scènes avec des thèmes différents. C’était un petit peu comme une maison hantée, mais pas aussi effrayante. Quelques exemples de scènes: une chambre de fées, un champ de citrouille et une sorcière gigantesque avec son grand chaudron. L’événement était présenté à guichet fermé! J’étais tellement contente! J’aurais l’occasion de revoir plusieurs familles en personne ET toutes en costume!

 

Ensuite c’était le temps pour Winterworld. Dans la cour intérieure de la Bibliothèque Public de St Catharines, on a construit une installation comprenant une reine de neige dans une robe blanche élégante, et plusieurs dioramas qui l’entouraient. Par exemple, une petite piste de neige avec des tout petits lapins qui faisait du ski. C’était très beau, adorable et magique!

a large snow queen stands on a pedestal

Même si rien ne s’est passé comme prévu l’année dernière, on a été capable de créer quelques expériences pour nos communautés. Est-ce que cela a évoqué les mêmes sentiments en moi que l’an 2019? Absolument pas! Mais au moins j’ai eu la chance de voir des familles et des enfants qui riaient avec notre marionnette géante, ou qui s’amusaient avec le dragon à Halloween Happening, ou qui étonnaient la reine de neige majestueuse au centre du lobby. Même si ce n’était pas la même chose, ça m’a mis un gros sourire et de la chaleur dans mon cœur.

Un de mes moments préférés de l’an dernier était le courage d’un petit garçon qui a eu peur dans le H​ alloween Happening​ et s’est précipité dehors sur le coup. Tout de suite après, il a dit à ses parents qu’il voulait réessayer de refaire l’expérience au complet une autre fois afin d’affronter sa peur. Quel héros! Je pense qu’on peut tous apprendre de sa bravoure. C’est possible d’être adaptables et de faire face à ce qui nous fait peur, même en pleine pandémie, et surtout à un moment où le besoin de connexion humaine est tellement fort.

Merci d’avoir lu mon premier blog. Si vous voulez communiquer avec moi, envoie-moi un email  outreach@carouselplayers.com ​et ça me fera plaisir de vous répondre. A la prochaine!

Samantha

uprooted

The final blog in a series by SPARC Guest Blogger Denise Lysak.

 

I will start my last blog, by raising a glass to writers everywhere. storytellers playwrights songwriters

i am simply taking on a role that was not assigned to me
I am the raconteur and in this, my last blog, for SPARC, I will share with you my observations from the Northern Ontario Touring Conference (NOTC) that took place in November

over the course of three consecutive Thursdays.

It was led by amazing facilitators and the host organization was Pat the Dog. If you are curious about their mission and mandate, I encourage you to google Pat the Dog.

Here is the Link: Pat the Dog

this last blog is intended to ignite          to spark          to be deeply personal

For so many of us, COVID-19 is challenging our very existence. Touring is cancelled. Theatres remain closed. Arts spaces are shuttered. we as a community are confronting more than one

Crisis.
a health crisis      an economic crisis          and, dare I say. An Identity Crisis.

So many people in so many communities

Are desperate. For RELIEF. For HOPE. For the Seuss-like world

we are living in

to be OVER. No offense to theodor seuss geisel

The Grinch is peeking out from a green face mask. The words 'Six Feet People" are to the left of his face. Only his eyes, part of his nose and one hand are shown.

Friends are out of work. Projects on hold. people have been uprooted. missions and mandates collect dust just like

 

Elf on a Shelf

An Elf on the Shelf toy sits inside a glass jar, a countdown calendar sits belies the jar - counting down the days until the elf is out of quarantine

participants in the conference, yes a virtual conference, online, with no doughnuts in the morning, no drinks in the evening, no hugs in green rooms or rehearsal halls or lobby bars

were asked to share BIG IDEAS, to reference the past to talk about the present to look at the

f             u            t                u                 r            e

If this is hard to read

Know that is intentional

If this is uncomfortable

GOOD

Yes. The breakout rooms were aspirational. Yes. The icebreakers were fun and I might even steal a game or two to use in future zoomESQUE meetings. Yes. The gym classes gave new meaning to

Yogis everywhere. And, if you ever wondered what clowning is like for the uninitiated; make new friends.Look for Aga Boom, run-away Cirque clowns when they return to the stage.Take your kids to theatre school and enroll them in a clowning class. Go to an outdoor festival and say “hello” to a clown.

ARTS and culture

Like Trade, like agriculture, like the sciences

are tools to harness the power of people to be better, to elevate

the humanities for the

common good.

We need to fight like hell to be here, to get to the other side, to be relevant once again.How do we forge opportunity out of crisis, out of a convergences of crises?I have no illusions about the long road ahead of us. About the difficulties and obstacles in our way.

We can do anything!
We can be anything.
Imagine.
Transform.
Innovate.
Create.
With confidence. With boldness. And, above all with a new agenda.

So that artists can shape

our landscapes and skylines

for audiences everywhere

in 2021 and BEYOND

It is not lost on me that we

all

rise

or

fall

together.

And, here we are with a different kind of holiday season before us.Who will go                                                                                                                                                            caroling?

Who will deck the halls?

Who will serve up figgy puddings?

So as we continue to #shelterinplace and #stayhome, please watch

Snoopy’s Christmas vs The Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen

Attending the conference was a gift. Being a guest blogger for SPARC was a gift. You have given my words space to fly.

And, in the spirit of giving as people across the globe celebrate

 

Snoopy sits in front of a red kennel. It has snow on the roof, gifts and Christmas lights. The Title is Snoopy's ChristmasHanukkah                                                                                                                                             Kwanzaa                                                                                                                                        Christmas,

 

 

 

 

I will end where I started. With a toast to the writers. In this case, songwriters.

Daniel, Daniel, and Sheena.

Yes, there are

two

daniels.

This is my wish for all of you…

A SIMPLE KIND OF CHRISTMAS in a complicated time by

Red Moon Road

 

Creative Spaces – a Photo Essay

Our Guest Blog this month is a photographic essay with text by Dee Lysak and photos by Wanda Kabel-Easton.

 

The still images are shared in black and white. They represent a mapping of cultural spaces – up and down the King’s Highway #71, in the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls.  Rural and remote communities and the people that reside there, alongside of their urban counterparts, are living through a once-in-a-lifetime global health pandemic. This photo essay explores the sad reality of so many spaces that are  shuttered, indefinitely. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

black & white photo - the outdoor stage for the Moose & Fiddle Festival, a wooden structure with a roof and no floor or sides

I sit empty. Vacant. Waiting. Wood beams, pine boards, asphalt shingles. The quiet surrounds me.

This summer – the woodland friends kept me company. The blue heron in the reeds on Caliper Lake. The blue jays. Nuthatches.  Jackrabbits.  The sounds are familiar, yet others are missing.

I am purpose built. I am an outdoor stage for the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival. I need musicians: singer-songwriters, guitar players, drummers. I miss the audience. Where has everyone gone?

 

 

 

 

black & white photo of a boat exhibit. a small speed boat is left with a sign in front of it with a fish and writing on it - the writing is not erasable, other exhibits are in the background to the right

Imagine. Tables and chairs. A painter’s workshop.  Folk art. Tyler Boyle. Bridge & Falls Creative Residency. A potter. A writer. A playwright. A geologist. A reading. Artist talkback.

People entering. Take your seat. People. All walks of life. Indigenous. Non-Indigenous. Young and old. The lights dim. A live performance of AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE ANISHINAABE by Ian Ross. Performed by Ian Ross and James Durham. Laughter. Applause. Cold brew coffee. Pastries. Q+A. Conversation.

In the here and now, all alone. Waiting. Patiently. For the next act. For friends to come again. Enter. Exit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

black& white photo - a wooden and glass structure sits on the edge of a hill, forest behind it

Wood. Light. Air. Sun. Wind. Rain. 

I am ON THE ROCK. I am the inspiration. Artist-centred. To work. To create. To take deep dives into artistic practices. Creative minds. Come and go. The window opens. The cool breeze rushes in.  Poet’s linger. Laptops. iPhones. Pencils. Paper. Voices. Movement. Artists play.

I am ON THE ROCK. I am transformed. I am a satellite performance space. Playing now. 14 Chairs. Pop up performance. First set: Charlie Madden and Jake Blosser.  The music echoes over the Canadian Shield. Sitting here at the head of a trail.  In the deep, dark woods. Twilight is upon us. The moon rises.  

When will we meet again? Soon, I hope. 

 

 

 

 

black & white photo - a covered wooden pavilion sits on a hill. tress surround it. picnic tables are inside of it

Summer picnics. Let’s break bread together. BBQ, grills are fired up. Smokers: hickory, applewood, mesquite. In my mind’s eye. Coolers are everywhere. A buffet table.  Red + white checkerboard cover.  Side dishes. Cold salads. Condiments. Families. Aunts and Uncles. Grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, cousins. Friends.

On the lawn. Children play: hopscotch; red rover, red rover; duck, duck, goose.  Minnow races.  Dogs on and off leashes.  Beach towels. Clouds roll in. Thunder and lighting. Rainbows. Campfires. S’mores.  Sing-alongs. Ghost stories. 

Art in the Park?  Crafters. Displays. People roaming. Wifi on. Bags filled. Transaction approved. 

Shelter in place? Am I now redundant?  Do I still exist? Without living – breathing human beings, I am just a shell.

fire and water

A new piece by Guest Blogger Denise Lysak.

I will start with the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single person contemplates it, bearing within her the image of a cathedral.” I think this is a perfectly good place to kick-start this blog titled ‘fire and water’.  

The Moving Gallery is just a tiny structure with windows, walls and wheels OR maybe, if you let yourself imagine, it is so, much more. With every artist that worked on this project – the Moving Gallery became a living, breathing exhibit and exploration around the theme of water. It was infused with original works of art: all informed by thoughts, sensibilities, care, connections, history, brush strokes, stories, photos, sketches, reflections, impulses, charisma, and courage.  

 

four children sit on a brown leather couch, adults are standing and chatting to each other behind them. Three of the children are eating, the fourth (on the left of the couch) is looking at the camera and smiling.

Photo Credit: Opening Day for the Moving Gallery, June 2017 | Northern Ontario Sportfishing Centre, Sioux Narrows, Ontario, Canada

 

Chalkboard with writing on. The top reads: Water is.... below words placed on in various places read: reflective, life source, rain, refreshing, l'eau, fun, getting polluted, tears of... pain joy, puddle and more

Photo Credit: Chalkboard Wall, Moving Gallery, Design and Build by Chrissy Sie-Merritt

 

two tree trunks made into stools are in front of a table. On the wooden table are iPods and headphones. Above the table is a painting. On the left wall are photos hung on string and a bucket hanging from the ceiling.

Photo Credit: Cherry Orchard and Photo Wall by Nicola Cavendish | Podcast Station by Ian Ross | Drop of Water Painting by Chrissy Sie-Merritt

 

A woman in a white dress with colourful stripes on the bottom - a Jingle Dress - crouches on a rock at the side of a body of water. She dangles the fingertips if her right arm in the water.

Photo Credit: Jingle Dress Photo Gallery by Kate-Lynn Paypompee

 

Photo of an oil painting of sunset over a body of water with clouds in the sky

Photo Credit: Original Painting by Chrissy Sie-Merritt

 

headshot of a caucasian male with short salt and pepper hair. He wears glasses that are black rimmed on top and without rims at the bottom. He is wearing a collared, striped shirt. There are windows in the background.

Photo Credit: Ian Ross – Governor General’s Award-Winning Playwright | Creator of Podcasts for the Moving Gallery

 

a small, low wooden table with water and blue coloured bubbles in it

Photo Credit: Water Sensory Table | Design & Build by Crissy Sie-Merritt

 

The MOVING GALLERY, is a tiny mobile studio fitted with art installations: iPods with recorded podcasts, visual art pieces, interactive exhibits, chalkboard walls, mechanical flipbooks, and ‘selfie” corners – created and developed by amateur and professional artists, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across Canada. The Moving Gallery travelled to fairs, farmers’ markets, festivals and forts throughout the summer of 2017, in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial.  

With the Moving Gallery, audiences and artists came together in a tiny space and as you took your first step in, you were submerged in the soundscape by Gerald Laroche.  Sounds of crashing waves, rain drops and the call of the loons supported an immersive experience. The tiny studio engaged audiences in a sensory experience, from hearing and seeing to touching and feeling.  

In 2020, fires have raged and continue to destroy vast swaths of land, endangering town, cities, human life, wildlife, natural and built environs. Our work as creators is to create conversations, to evoke critical thought, to challenge perceptions, and, yes, at times, to simply entertain. The installations that were part and parcel of the Moving Gallery, celebrated in part our nation’s sesquicentennial in 2017 and the larger gift of water.  And, it is in that polar opposite that moves me to discover the dichotomy of fire and water.  

 

Fire and Water word map with many words written on it - easiest to make out are: Word, Moving Gallery, Ebb, Art, Time, Cloud, Lake, Paintings. There are many more words on the poster that are not as easy to read.

There are words in the “cloud” that jump out at me: scorched earth, evacuate, climate fire, ash, water and life. The word cloud hints at a serene landscape – with the green of mother earth veiled by the light and airy atmosphere from above – all while taking another turn around the sun, in that idea of a year.  In our utopia, this would fairly represent planet Earth and all of its inhabitants, creatures great and small. Our world view tells a very different story and suggests a reality that is far from the idyllic imagery suggested above. How do we reconcile the two?  With art.  With art that opens windows to the world.  With art that boldy illustrates the world we live in and challenges, all of us, to imagine and build an even better one.  With art that touches our souls, heals our minds, and moves our bodies to act.  Now.

THE WHO’S WHO, MOVING GALLERY                     Artistic Curator Denise Lysak

PRIMARY CREATORS                                                      TINY STUDIO DESIGN TEAM

Nicola Cavendish | Writer                                              Erik Arnason, Eduardo Aquino, Shawn 

Wanda Easton | Photographer/ Blogger                     Bailey, Chrissy Sie-Merritt, Shawn

Gerald Laroche | Soundscape Artist                            Sinclair

Kate-Lynn Paypompee | Photographer                       Elyse Hartman | Gallery Guide

Ian Ross | Storyteller

Chrissy Sie-Merritt | Visual Artist

Building Community Media

Today’s blog is an introduction to next week’s Expert Chat – My Voice Counts: Building Community Media In the Internet Age, by Victoria Fenner.

 

beige and brown portable radio with blue buttons and ed dial on the front

 

I’ve lived in a community with its own community radio station for most of my adult life. 

For the first part of my life, that was coincidental.  My first experience with community radio was at university.  Back in the 80s, that was the most common form of volunteer produced community radio.  Though based on a university campus, the mandate of campus based stations was to serve both the campus and the community. 

In recent years, especially the past ten years or so, there is a new trend developing.  Small towns all over Canada are starting their own stations.  In places like Picton, Cobourg, Stouffville, Huntsville and Haliburton, people have started their own non-profit based radio stations.  

What this means is that people can turn on the radio and hear people on the air from their community.  They can hear their own local musicians, sometimes even playing live from the studio.  It’s also not uncommon to hear poetry, radio drama and sound art on the airwaves.  The best thing for me, as a listener, is that I get to hear what my neighbours are doing. 

As a producer of sound art, it also means I can get my work on the air. My neighbours can hear me. I can also hear about exhibitions coming up, events in the community and also (if there are shows that do information programs), I can hear what my town council is doing to make sure my community is a healthy community for arts to flourish. And call them to task if they’re not.

There are many things that community media does beyond art – in this column I’m focussing mostly on performing arts because the mandate of SPARC is to promote performing arts in rural and remote communities.  Community media – radio, television, internet based or even good old fashioned newspapers, can do that.  

It’s important to have media which supports your community. A growing number of communities are realizing that the best way to ensure that the needs of the community are being met is through community ownership of its own media.  So they’re setting up their own community media organizations.  Some have radio stations, some have internet portals and some of them even have their own standalone over the air TV station. 

If this idea intrigues you, there are a few organizations who can help.  If you want to learn more about community radio, the National Campus and Community Radio Association (ncra.ca) has a list of all its members (mostly in English speaking Canada), as well as resources to read about how to set up a station.

For francophone communities, you can go to the website of ARC du Canada – Alliance des radios communitaires (https://radiorfa.com/ ).  There are also many Indigenous community radio stations in Canada.  You can also check out the website of the Community Radio Fund of Canada, https://crfc-fcrc.ca/ , an organization set up twelve years ago to help fund community radio across Canada (disclosure – I am on the board of the CRFC).

I’ve used radio as my first example because that’s the medium to which I have dedicated most of my life’s work.   Right now, I’m also branching out into community television and exploring new concepts like video gaming and virtual reality with one of my colleagues.  (another disclosure – I also work in community television too with the next organization I’m going to tell you about).

 

old fashioned television with dials on the right and rainbow stripes across the screen

 

If you’re interested in television, video gaming and virtual reality, check out CACTUS – The Canadian Association of Community Television Stations and Users (cactusmedia.ca).  CACTUS was established about ten years ago by a group of people who saw the need to support the emerging community television sector beyond the usual model of community channels owned by the big cable companies. For a whole bunch of reasons, many of those stations have been closed down, leaving communities without a way to reach each other on television.  

CACTUS’s vision includes working with communities to help them develop community media across all platforms – not just radio and television, but also community based virtual reality and video games. 

Whatever distribution method you choose, the important thing is that it’s media produced for your community by people IN your community.  Because that’s what real community media is.  It’s not just some corporation creating media FOR you.  It’s about media created BY you.

If you would like to learn more about community media, I will be doing a webinar for SPARC where I can answer your questions about what’s involved in starting a community media organization in the place where you live. 

Details about the Expert Chat: Wednesday August 26 at 7pm on the SPARC Member Network Facebook group page (click here).

VF bio:

Victoria  is a community builder through media arts.  Whether she’s facilitating an arts camp, running a community radio, television station or community internet portal; or helping community groups develop their fundraising plans, she enjoys helping people find their unique role within a shared purpose.  She integrates principles of socially engaged arts practice in her projects, conducting story circles, acoustic ecology  and participatory media arts workshops.   She is also a radio journalist and environmental sound artist who is constantly exploring new ways to listen.  She lives in Barrie with her partner, singer songwriter Edward St. Moritz. 

Making Things Count: Pandemic Postcards Documentary

Graeme Bachiu takes us inside his pandemic documentary journey.

I decided fairly early on in the pandemic (late March or early April) that I was going to have to do something while I was stuck at home, projects cancelled and clients gone radio silent with 4 and a half year old twins trying to grasp junior kindergarten delivered by hardworking teachers suddenly thrust into an uncomfortable situation. Yet I noticed on social media some interesting stories in Haldimand Norfolk as the pandemic progressed.

Of course, I knew that I’d have no real ability to produce content in the conventional way, the before pandemic way…I’d have to come up with a new way of doing things. I collaborated with some close friends on some text message brainstorming and put together a bit of a plan.

on left is a photo of a senior man, on the right he stands at a window, with assistance, and looks at guests outside

Roy Alton, a long term care home resident in Dunnville who appears in the documentary, visiting with his family through a window.

 

For over a year I had been delivering low-key one-on-one cellphone filmmaking training sessions and I figured that would be the most likely way to capture content and stories for a documentary film. I created a six minute tutorial video which I sent to my eager potential storytellers and asked them to answer some questions by speaking directly to the camera at a quiet moment. I wanted the end product, a series of vignettes about how people were coping or in some cases thriving, to be personal and introspective. I set them loose on shooting some b-roll and asked for everything to be uploaded to Dropbox at which point I would begin to do some editorial.

Of course, there’d be some revisions and re-shoots and I enlisted my regular team of professionals to do an audio mix, colour correction and some motion graphics. We accomplished this all on shitty rural internet, using Slack to keep the team in touch and the wonderful folks at frame.io to pass our footage back and forth. We shot some footage ourselves, observing strict distancing, leading me to believe that this is the first 100% socially distanced documentary series produced during a pandemic in Ontario…and possibly in Canada?

split photo - on the left a photo of a man in an audio recording set-up, on the right the same man sits at a desk

Filmmaker and Musician Craig F. Watkins, from Delhi, has made hilarious music videos from his basement during the pandemic.

 

After I finished a provisional edit on the first episode (I had about 4 planned) I contacted Bell Media who I had a previous business relationship with and they were very excited, opting to purchase and air three episodes. In the middle of a serious public health emergency I was able to produce an hour and a half of interesting stories with a rural perspective, get it sold and aired on a national broadcaster and pay my crew. We turned the entire production around in 5 weeks…timely, quick, entertaining and poignant. It featured child care workers, a long term care facility, songwriters, cafe owners, people thrust into working in agriculture and some of the first people in Canada to test positive for COVID-19, all told in intimate stories and knitted together with sea shanties, old-timey banjo music, brass quintet music from 150 years ago and funk songs about not showering in 10 days. I figured what the hey, the broadcasters have never been more desperate…time to up the weirdness. If I didn’t have kids I would have shaved two weeks off the turnaround.

Executive Producer Carole Aeschelmann and I have a passion for telling stories about the rural areas of Ontario and Canada and, aside from the thrill of creation and the pride of doing something different and unprecedented I take great pride in generating some revenue for the people who work with me.

A blonde woman in a light green top plays guitar and sings. She is sitting in front of a wood pannelled wall.

Singer/Songwriter Whitney Fowler from Cayuga talks about running her cafe during the pandemic.

 

Making Things Count: Pandemic Postcards is now available to Bell Fibe subscribers on Bell Fibe TV1, channel 1.

The Elephant in the Room

A blog by guest blogger Denise Lysak on COVID and its impact on the Arts

poster of elephant holding an umbrella over a flower - text says - In a world where you can be anything, be kindPhoto Credit: Be Amazing

I live in rural and remote northwestern Ontario. I live off-the-grid on a small tea-coloured lake that is home to more fish than people and the most common species are northern pike, pickerel, perch, large and small-mouth bass. The fish share their space with an abundance of wildlife – from water mammals like beavers and otters to large birds of prey. Almost every day in the summertime, you can see rabbits, pine grouse, painted turtles, red squirrels, geese, ducks, blue jays, woodpeckers, loons and if you are lucky – trumpeter swans.  On rare occasions, our paths have crossed with white-tailed deer, foxes, lynx, wolves, black bears, and yes, even moose. 

The world we live in is the boreal forest and it spans 50 million hectares in the Canadian Shield.  The physical features of the Canadian Shield include rocks, bares and plateaus. The Canadian Shield has uplands which are high or hilly areas, and there are also a lot of rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.  Here social distancing can be the norm, 365 days of the year and that is certainly true pre COVID-19. But to be sure right here, right now, COVID-19 is the elephant in the deep, dark woods.  

I have been at home in the performing arts for decades.  My church – for many, many years was the theatre at MTYP at The Forks in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where two rivers meet. My favourite seats were in the balcony and from there I could watch the artists and the audience. There are other sacred spaces, homes to creative endeavours and incredible works, that hold me and keep me…the ruins in St. Boniface, the cage beneath the 232-seat black box Gas Station Theatre in Osborne Village, the Leighton Artists Studios at the Banff Centre, the number 14 bus in Vancouver, BC, the Oodena Circle at The Forks, the On The Rock tiny studio in Nestor Falls, a long ago rehearsal hall on the 5th floor of the old PTE building on Princess Street (that is now the downtown campus for Red River College), and the Cargill Theatre in St. Paul/ Minneapolis– just to name a few. 

The elephant in the room is like the house hippo. Real or imagined? Well, it must be real. Each and every space listed above is shuttered. Artists are at home. Creators in a “gig economy” are facing financial hardships with no end in sight. Seasons are cancelled. Symphonies are not playing music and the only sound you hear, is silence. Careers are on hold. Our makers, our artists, our musicians all have names.  They are not just statistics or numbers on a pie graph.  

On the radio today, I heard that after four months – The Louvre is opening. The Louvre Museum, is the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. A central landmark of the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city’s 1st arrondissement. This good news story sent me on a google expedition to see what else might be opening in the near future. It turns out that much closer to home, both the Lake of the Woods Museum and the Douglas Family Arts Centre is now open to the public. I love the Lake of the Woods Museum and I have yet to visit the Douglas Family Arts Centre.  I will put that on my must-see list for later this fall.  Why, wait – you might ask?  Back to that elephant in the room and the coronavirus that when somewhere, can be anywhere. 

My personal choice is at odds with the very tenets I hold most dear.  Art and culture live in a continuum. Without either we wither – we are simply empty shells existing across time and space. Art influences society by changing opinions, instilling values and translating experiences. Research has shown art affects the fundamental sense of self. Painting, sculpture, music, literature and the other arts are often considered to be the repository of a society’s collective memory. I know so many people who need each and every one of us – to take up space in galleries, studios, theatres and museums. Their very livelihoods depend on it. And, yet – like the willow I bend. I fear that if I act too much like the oak – I will break.  For me, for right now – the elephant looms large and is still very much in the room. The pachyderms have taken over the very spaces that I once entered and exited with freedom, excitement and wild abandon. I am going to wait this out, with patience and kindness. I will find ways to act – to help keep the lives of people I know, as intact as possible under the circumstances.  There are “donate now” buttons to google. And, there are gift cards and subscriptions to purchase. I will also join in important conversations with leaders in the industry, with elected officials, and with arts and cultural funders. 

Now is the time to act, boldly and swiftly.  During this very, long pause – this unscripted intermission we need policies that support professional artists and arts organizations from all disciplines.  Guaranteed incomes for artists and operating funding for organizations should replace the old standby that is often called “project funding”. I once sat in a room filled with people – back when workshops and conferences happened without hesitation. One of the sessions encouraged us to look at the outline of a purple cow. This purple cow represented what could be – if only we allowed ourselves the free will to get past the very idea, that the cow was purple.  Imagine how different our world could be, if we challenge each and every one of us, to come to this new normal with every good idea that has ever been raised. To change perceptions and to challenge the status quo.  Let’s strive for something better, fairer and more just.  Let’s dig deep and do the hard work.  I am happy to say that the elephant in the room has now been replaced with the purple cow.

 

Rural Arts Advocacy

A blog by Fanny Martin, Executive Director & Creative Producer – Art of Festivals

It started with frustration. In March 2019, Mass Culture hosted a Digital Gathering on cultural planning in rural & remote communities in response to feedback from SPARC Steering Committee member Felicity Buckell, who attended the first city-focused webinar of the series. 

In conversation with Annalee Adair, Felicity highlighted some challenges of rural cultural planning, from the lack of genuine local political support for the arts to limited resources to effectively advocate for that support.   

The Community Presenters’ Network took up the baton and, with the support of SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program, put out a call to start unlocking the network’s collective advocacy potential. This was the beginning of my work with SPARC and the CPN. I had produced the Digital Gathering that spurred this desire for action and wanted to dig deeper into these questions, so I embarked on interviews and research to understand how deep the disconnect is and what steps the network can take to rewrite the narrative. 

Advocacy is a long game, and context varies widely from one rural community to another. Success stories are inspiring but often dependent on structural conditions that take years to shape. So how do we get started on a change process with lasting power? What can we achieve with a concerted effort? The Advocacy Starter Guide I produced outlines 5 key steps to mobilize and amplify the network’s potential for making its case: 

  1. WHY: What is our VISION? 

Compelling advocacy is driven by strong values and ambitious shared desired outcomes. Change doesn’t start or end with more money: what is required is a lasting, genuine shift in attitudes and perspectives that reshapes power relations and priorities. This vision could take the form of a manifesto, charter or set of principles, like the HIGH FIVE framework for children’s sport and recreation programming, which promotes cross-sector collaboration to create the conditions for children to thrive. 

  1. WHAT: What are our key MESSAGES? 

Vision and values need to be translated into messages that are clear, compelling and consistent. We need to rewrite the script: it doesn’t have to be hockey or theatre, and there are enough resources for both sport and culture in a well-rounded society if we shift our assessment of what matters. 

  1. HOW: What are our TACTICS? 

Advocacy is a long-haul journey that requires a tactical approach: a series of campaigns and actions, sustained by research projects and monitoring mechanisms. Making these efforts visible and transparent through “advocacy diaries” – for example a shared open blog – could amplify the network’s impact and support ongoing dialogue between stakeholders. 

  1. WHO: Who are the PEOPLE we are working with, for and against? 

Identifying who holds power and how to reach them is a key step in designing a campaign. Strategic alliances with other networks, organizations and individuals with overlapping agendas can also help leverage third-party advocacy and reach targeted decision-makers.

  1. WHEN: What is our STRATEGY to make systemic change happen? 

What is the anatomy of a good campaign? Who does what – and when? What resources should be allocated to which actions? What constitutes success? How can progress be measured and milestones celebrated? Creating an advocacy checklist and timeline can help focus efforts and track outcomes: this could take the form of a step-by-step approach to crafting and delivering effective messages and a regularly updated calendar of important dates for the different levels of campaigning (Council meetings, regional conferences, budget reviews…). 

_ _ _ 

The Advocacy Starter Guide, finalised in February 2020, expands on these questions, with quotes, checklists and additional resources, to provide a foundation for customized toolkits and campaigns. But what does this all mean now, in the time of the pandemic? 

With remote working now an option for thousands of workers, urban density perceived as a risk, international mobility patterns affected by health, cost and environmental considerations, we know there will be changes to the ways we live, work and play.

We don’t know yet how deeply the performing arts sector has and will be impacted, how our gatherings and celebrations will be modified in the short and long-term, or how artists will make a living. But we heard official declarations of support for artists; we saw grant conditions overturned to accommodate shifting new contexts, and public funding fast-forwarded to organizations at risk. 

How will this impact rural and remote areas? What opportunities are emerging to make a powerful case for rural arts as the beating heart of vibrant, attractive, caring communities? 

The Advocacy Starter Guide is the first step in exploring these questions and rewriting the narrative. I invite you to read through it and share your thoughts! How can we channel our frustration into collective action? 

 

Follow this link to the Advocacy Starter Guide or email Rachel (rachel@sparcperformingarts.com) for a copy to be sent to you.

reIMAGINE What Is The Way Forward?

A blog by SPARC guest blogger Denise Lysak exploring one festival’s way forward during COVID-19.

Kitchen Party poster - August 22

All across the country, companies struggle just to survive. Theatres, galleries, museums, and festival sites sit empty. So many artists, musicians, painters, actors, directors, guides, technicians, carpenters, janitors, marketers, designers, and arts practitioners face crippling financial strain, professionally and personally, as well as uncertain futures. Spaces AND people are in unprecedented times. Museums, galleries, playhouses are all cultural gems and losing them would hurt our shared history and heritage. 

As we, the audiences, wait and hope that soon: a) world premieres will come back; b) new exhibits will open; and, c) festivals will find their way forward.  So much hinges on science and discovery – therapeutics or a vaccine and until then, arts and culture are on hold as the coronavirus silently waits. What is the way forward?

Is there a new temporal home for a new season? Can people pivot? Can musicians make a living with live streaming concerts?  Can playwrights, directors, designers, and actors sit at tables, not in the same room, and create new works? Can art exist without audiences – in halls, in seats, in unusual spaces and places – on street corners, on buses or on roof tops?  Can the home, for now – be online?  

If you had asked me this, ten years ago…I would have said no. If you asked me this same question, two years ago, the same response would have been uttered – just no.  And, today, I am still uncertain.  My head says “yes” and yet, my heart says “no”.  Stay with me for just a moment.  Imagine if you will – a kitchen table littered with newspaper headlines and images, cut from free presses.  What do you see?  

THE SHOW GOES ON(LINE): AS EVENTS CANCEL DUE TO COVID-19 

EVENTS ARE GOING DIGITAL: SHOULD YOUR COMPANY FOLLOW?

MUSIC STARS ARE LIVE-STREAMING AT-HOME CONCERTS

OTTAWA FACING SILENT SPRING AS FESTIVALS, EVENTS CANCELLED

EDEN MILLS WRITERS’ FESTIVAL CANCELLED, REPLACED BY ONLINE EVENTS

The headlines bring more questions than answers.  Will the shift to online events forever change the experience that exists between the artists and the audiences? Will people pay to listen to a live-streaming concert online?  Will dialogues be silenced as gallery guides no longer stand in front of a large canvas, discussing the feelings evoked by a series that begs for critical thought and freedom of expression? My simple answer is “I hope not”. 

How then does that square with a decision to curate an abridged version of the now cancelled Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival in 2020 and produce a 90-minute online event? I hope this is temporary. I hope the online home is truly a temporal home. Let’s focus on the idea that the online platform is simply a tool. A resource to connect to audiences. A way to move through a time and space – until we can all be together again.  

The KITCHEN PARTY is aptly wrapped by the idea of standing together, while staying apart. What does that mean for the artists and the audiences who have put the Festival on its feet? 

In ordinary times, it would mean: a very, long pause.  But these are extraordinary times and we wanted to meet the moment.  So…we have assembled a small group of the who’s who of Moose n’ Fiddle past and present.  We will mark COVID-19 with an abridged version of the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival.  

On Saturday, August 22nd, we invite you to continue to shelter in place, to stay home and be safe while enjoying the sights and sounds of an online KITCHEN PARTY.  In the spirit of standing together, while staying apart, this Kitchen Party will be 90-minutes in length and it will kick off at 8pm. Say hello to Siouxperboat, Belle Plaine, Adrian Sutherland from Midnight Shine, and Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir! Our narrators will be Wanda Kabel and yes, me – Dee Lysak.

The KITCHEN PARTY, online event will be hosted by 89.5 The Lake [Acadia Broadcasting] and the link will be on the moosenfiddle.ca website.  So, grab a cold brew from Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, order up some wood-fired pizzas from Black Oven Pizza, kick off your shoes, and tune in! This KITCHEN PARTY will be in the cloud and we invite you to join us. Yes, things are going to look and feel different. 

The online platform is a virtual room, to see – to hear – to learn – to entertain – to reIMAGINE.