On Tuesday, October 24th, 2017 at 7:30pm, our Barrhaven Youth Theatre Ensemble anxiously awaited an audience of family members, neighbours, friends and fellow residents of Barrhaven to join us for our final show as part of our Neighbourhood Arts 150 project. Standing offstage and out of view, the youth scrambled with their scripts, hoping to carve out one last moment of rehearsal, working hard to overcome their nerves.
Our final show-Tales of Barrhaven– would be quite different from our summer performances. Our summer shows were completely unscripted and improvised. The youth needed purely to rely on the playback theatre skills they had learned throughout our spring session of the project and practice active listening to make sure they truly took in each audience members’ Barrhaven story in order to play it back. The re-enactments the ensemble performed for our summer audiences were deeply memorable. They did a fantastic job of honouring each teller’s story and capturing the essence of their Barrhaven experience.
Over the course of our three summer show, the actors skill level in improvisation greatly improved and they had found their rhythm as an ensemble. Tales of Barrhaven, challenged our ensemble in a different way. For this show, there were two ensemble members who had taken part in our spring session and summer shows and 3 new actors who joined for the fall session. This season they had to learn how to collaborate in creating their script and performing it. They had to master the art of memorization which was new for the group and they had to remember their blocking: where to be, what to do onstage for each moment of our play. While they had worked tremendously hard and come quite far in their rehearsals—the cast was concerned about how the show would go, and as each audience member walked in, their fear escalated.
To begin our performance-it was a gift to have Victoria Steele- Executive Director of AOE Arts Council- offer a warm introduction to our play and I was grateful for the chance to share the full scope of our project. Once that was complete–from the moment the actors took the stage until the moment of their bow— the full ensemble performed flawlessly! They remembered every line, every movement, all the blocking we’d worked on was seamless. It was a wonderful show and they delivered it with class, joy and ease. The actors seemed to take great pride in sharing the Barrhaven stories we’d gathered in the summer which were weaved into our final show. They delighted in using scarves to enliven the stories and bring to life objects, elements and animals. They were excited to share their own Barrhaven memories that they had added to our piece and their many talents of dancing, singing, storytelling along with acting had the chance to shine.
It was a true delight to hear the feedback from the audience members who thoroughly enjoyed the piece (and the dessert afterwards). The actors’ family members were so proud of their children and were sad to see the project come to a close. I was most thrilled by the responses from the Barrhaven residents who had joined us and had shared a story at of our summer shows. It was these audience members who truly saw our project come full circle. They recognised our intention of co-creating Tales of Barrhaven as they felt they had received a token of recognition as a member of the Barrhaven community in having their story woven into our final play. One audience member arrived late, but sat down just in time for her story to unfold within our show. She was so touched that we had selected her story -as one out of the many stories shared with us this summer- to be part of Tales of Barrhaven. This kind of response was a heart tap, an inner applause, a butterfly kiss for me. My full vision for my Neighbourhood Arts 150 project had been executed, performed, felt and received on a somatic level by the ensemble and audience alike.
It has been a true honour leading Playing Back Our Neighbourhood Stories-a Barrhaven Youth Theatre Ensemble Project in this community. I will miss collaborating with our ensemble and will look to the experience I’ve had with this project as a guide for community arts projects to come.
Much gratitude to Nepean Housing Corporation for their ongoing support in hosting us in their space, Loblaws for snack sponsorship for our weekly sessions and rehearsals, Patrice Stanley, Victoria Steele and AOE Arts Council for making this Neighbourhood Arts 150 Project possible.