Odyssey Theatre

Spreading Roots with Odyssey Theatre Tree Puppet and Masks

When Odyssey Theatre asked us to make them a tree for their community arts project, it was a bit of a head scratcher. The tree had to be: white, 6’ tall, able to fold into the back of a small car, light weight (so that actors can easily pick it up during performance)
strong, and built with separate branches and detachable roots
And here it is!

Spreading Roots tree puppet - rag & bone

We used flexi-firm for the roots and branches. We use this interfacing/stabilizer fabric for a lot of projects. Inside the trunk is a removable piece of sonotube. Each branch is stiffened with wire, and slots into its own pocket on the trunk. The leaves are translucent organza – orange, yellow and pale green, twisted onto the branches with florists’ wire.

When the director of the project, Rebecca Benson, came over to discuss the tree design, we mentioned that we also make masks with flexi-firm. Masks? She needed eight masks: two bunnies, two squirrels, two bees and two birds. Oh boy. We had a lot of fun making these.



The show takes place at various community locations around Ottawa this month. Check their website for places, dates and times. The project is part of the AOE Arts Council’s Neighbourhood Arts 150 project, the same program that funded our Snippets of Canada 150 project. We’re looking forward to seeing the show – and maybe we’ll see you there!

Rag & Bone Puppet Theatre, September 25

Odyssey Theatre

Odyssey Theatre: Spreading Roots Music, Movement, Mask: A song for the trees

The next phase of creating Spreading Roots involved community workshops to incorporate music and dance into the performance, as well as introducing the use of mask. Inspired by the stories about trees that she had collected from the neighbourhoods that she had visited, as well as her own experiences living and travelling in different parts of the world, South African-born Jacqui du Toit wrote the lyrics for Tree of Life. She wanted the song to be simultaneously local and global:

A home for creatures of forest,
A nest for the birds of the air
Small bushes to mighty sequoias
Earth’s living things to share

What would we see?
How could we breathe?
Where would we be without trees?

The task for composer and music educator Venessa Lachance was to take this paean to trees and set it to music that is uplifting and celebratory, while both satisfying for an accomplished singer and simple enough for a novice. Based on the reception the song has received from workshop participants, it’s fair to say that she succeeded!

Workshop participants ranged from local children to members of seniors choirs to community conservation volunteers. Venessa’s recording of her composition, with its catchy melody, was immediately engaging with the participants.

 The timbers we must depend on,
The branches, the roots and the leaves,
Anchor the ground that we stand on,
Give us the air that we breathe.

What would we see?
How could we be?
How could we breathe without trees?

 Venessa, in turn, has drawn great inspiration from the volunteer performers “It is always a great pleasure to work with people from the community; it makes me see our region in different ways and make me love it more and more.”

When no more stands of maple,
Of oak, of pine may live,
Will clearcut lands be able,
The gift of life to give?

What would we see?
How could we be?
How could we live without trees?

How indeed?



Odyssey Theatre

Odyssey Theatre: Spreading Roots Sharing Stories: Our favourite trees

When storyteller/writer/actor Jacqui du Toit first went into the communities that would be hosting Odyssey Theatre’s Neighbourhood Arts 150 project, Spreading Roots , to collect stories about trees, she found some hesitation and confusion at first. “Stories about trees? What do you mean?” Trees are an essential part of our communities, and our environment would be bereft and desolate without them, but perhaps we don’t always actively think about how we relate to them individually.

odyssey 1 found that as the groups that she gathered with really started to think about the trees around them, that many beautiful memories and stories began to emerge. One man related that, as a child, he had a favourite tree that he would regularly go to, and he would whisper his secrets to that tree. The tree became his confidant and repository of his innermost thoughts. He grew up and went away and didn’t think about his tree until many years later when, as an adult returning to his boyhood home, he sought out his old friend.  Sadly, he found that the tree had been cut down. This has inspired him to become active within his community to protect his neighbourhood’s trees.

Spreading Roots blog 1 photo Sharing stories in CarlingtonThere were many such stories from the communities that Jacqui visited, from Greely, Stittsville,  Carlington, Westboro, Strathcona Heights, Carson’s Road and Orleans, and in creating a script for Spreading Roots she sought to weave different stories from each neighbourhood into the performance text.