Naomi Tessler

Story Magic

Directly before our first show, the actors in our Playing Back Our Neighbourhood Stories youth ensemble were nervously running through our techniques, frantically asking questions about the basics– which they already knew inside and out.

I was growing concerned about how the performance would turn out and as our audience members began taking their seats the ensemble’s jitters doubled.  They were surprised and nervous that people had shown up to watch them perform.

The pressure was on…

As we began our introductions, the audience’s laughter soothed the group and they relaxed into their new roles as performers. They immersed themselves in the dance between actor and spectator and fed off the energy the crowd was offering.

The audience was filled with Barrhaven residents of all ages and backgrounds and there was no need to encourage the stories to come out—this audience was ready to share and excited to see how the actors would translate their stories into theatre.

Our actors, accompanied by our talented Barrhaven youth musician, listened intently to each storyteller and honoured them by playing back their story with full heart and charisma.

Youth who had been previously shy and quiet in rehearsal were comedic and boisterous and the whole ensemble was willing to dive in and express themselves with a full range of emotion and movement.

Each technique was artfully performed and each story was beautifully represented. When there were elements of a story that was missed, the youth were more then happy to take another chance at capturing the story again.

Audience members shared their joy of living in a beautiful, peaceful and quiet place and the frustrations of living so far out.  We heard stories about Barrhaven residents supporting each other in winter storms and a Barrhaven bus driver’s challenges with students forgetting their bus passes.  We heard stories about conflicting friendships, skunks eating garbage, bumpy bike rides and the challenges of new developments. Stories were shared about school experiences and finding community, taking part in the many sports activities Barrhaven has to offer and the kindness and patience of Barrhaven drivers.

The ensemble and I were moved by the everyone’s stories and it was clear that our audience was deeply engaged, entertained and felt a part of a true community experience.

Our first show was a real success and I was amazed at how far our ensemble had come!

After our successful first show on July 7th at Barrhaven Community House, we were all set for our next performance at The Court at Barrhaven Seniors Residence on July 18th.   The audience members for this show were excited to have visiting performers in their atrium and were waiting in their seats well before our performance began. The youth confessed that they didn’t have much experience with performing for or connecting with seniors and the nervousness that had evaporated by the start of our first show had returned.  To challenge things further, our sound equipment wasn’t working which meant the youth had to project their voices extra loudly to make sure anyone with hearing troubles could still enjoy the show.

After some calming warm ups and pizza, the youth seemed ready to shine onstage again, but as I was welcoming the audience and making my introduction, we were all taken by storm when one of the residents who was trying to sit down, missed the chair and fell right over.  Noone moved for a moment and then feeling the need to help, I rushed over and tried to offer support. All the seniors, who’d clearly experienced this many times before, coached me not to do so, and they called for a nurse instead.  The nurse arrived and called in a support team and after a little while, the audience member was seated and ready for the show.

It was tough to dive right in after that fall, but we gradually moved the audience along and the first stories shared brought us all to a new place.

It was a pleasure to hear the seniors’ stories of the community and friendships they’ve found in Barrhaven, their experiences of reconnection with family and their memories of the bread and meat pies at Richmond Bakery.  They shared stories of their initial struggle in moving to Barrhaven (which they referred to as ‘the sticks’ and ‘the boondocks’–and the youth later confessed that they were unfamiliar with those terms) and they shared stories of hope in feeling a sense of belonging and peace.  They shared past times of strawberry picking early in the morning to beat the heat, apple and pumpkin picking and the times when the main street didn’t even have lights.

Their stories were a pleasure to bring to life and the experience of intergenerational community building was amazing to witness.

Our ensemble listened with compassion and performed with courage and creativity, aiming to make sure they reflected the seniors’ stories back with humility.

Their techniques were strong and they tried their best to make their voices fill the room.

I was impressed with their flexibility to let go of one of the techniques we had planned to use. Our technique: rant, requires audience members to share stories about struggle, challenge or frustration and no one had a story to share of that nature.   This technique is the youth’s favourite and I could tell they were waiting for it, but we needed to meet our audience where they were and so we moved on to the next technique and the actors smoothly rolled on with the show.

Our first two Playing Back Our Neighbourhood Stories performances have been a true success!  The stories shared by the audience have offered a mosaic of memories and experiences of Barrhaven and the way our youth ensemble played them back truly brought everyone into the heart of each other’s journey—building connection and community amongst our audiences and our ensemble.

We look so forward to our next two shows and hope you can Join us for

FREE Entertainment, FREE Food and FREE local raffle prizes on:

Friday, August 11th, 6:30pm Food Served, 7pm Show Time
The Log Farm, 670 Cedarview Road
Saturday, August  19th, 11am Show Time, Community BBQ to Follow,
Ken Ross Park, Near the Play Structure

We thank the Nepean Housing Corporation, Loblaws, Braces Haven, The Court at Barrhaven, AOE Arts Council, Neighbourhood Arts 150, Emily Veryard and all our volunteers for making our first two shows come to fruition, enabling the magic of stories to be shared and performed.


Claudia Salguero

Canadian Pride, Harmony in Cultures


I am at a stage in my life in which I am finding answers to these questions and the Neighbourhood Arts 150 project is playing an important part in this personal discovery.

I became a community Arts-Based Facilitator four years ago and since then, through volunteering or having been hired by institutions, I have witnessed the power of the arts in individuals and communities.

thumb_2017-05-12 20.41.49_1024In January this year I was awarded a grant from AOE Arts Council to create a community mural for the Hunt Club – Riverside Community Centre.  I am humbled by what I consider to be a huge recognition for my previous work and one that provides an answer to some of my questions. I think that this grant also represents a gift for my neighbourhood since my project consists on the creation of a community mural entitled “Canadian Pride, Harmony in Cultures” for the Hunt Club – Riverside Community Centre, painted by members of our diverse and eager-to-express community.

The idea of the creation of the “Canadian Pride, Harmony in Cultures” mural is to celebrate our multicultural community and express our gratitude to Canada as the country where we live in peace and where our kids grow up safe and with countless opportunities. This mural will represent our participation as community in the Canada 150 celebrations.

Since the conception of the project I thought about bringing community together and my dream is coming through: we have had community brainstorm sessions with participation of seniors, adults and teenagers and a great number of painting sessions with women and youth. We have still many more painting sessions to complete the mural in time for its unveiling in September. Our mural will be comprised of independent pieces that represent the countries and areas of the world from where our multicultural community comes.  It will also represent Canada’s First Nations and Canadian culture and landscape.

thumb_2017-05-17 18.56.31_1024The creation of this mural for Hunt Club – Riverside is a gift for our neighbourhood. It is bringing a sense of belonging, empowerment and community-building to our neighbourhood and when installed on the exterior of our Community Centre, it will provide colour and vibrancy to an area of the city where art and opportunities for expression are badly needed.

Thanks to Neighbourhood Arts 150 Project I am able to create a big community mural in my own neighbourhood and to confirm to myself that being a community arts based facilitator is definitely one of my most important missions in life as an a artist and as human being.

Claudia Salguero, July 2017



Human Recipes

Time is an important ingredient in bread making. You have to wait for the yeast to feast on the sugar and bubble up. You have to wait for the dough to rise, doubling in size and finally wait for it to bake. This spring, THUNK!theatre hosted a series of five bread making workshops at the Parkdale Food Centre. The workshops were run in lead up to performances of our show bread during the Wellington West Happening Festival. Each workshop featured a different baker from the community teaching a different recipe. We knew that each recipe would require either a resting time or a baking time. We knew that this time would be the perfect opportunity for our participants and workshop leaders to share their own stories.

To facilitate this storytelling we adapted a Mad Lib-style exercise so participants could fill in a template provided, based on prompts for words or phrases from their own experience. When combined, the template became a story unique to each participant. In these workshops, the stories were structured as recipes, inspired by each guest baker’s recipe. Each week we also worked from a theme based on the recipe and the baker; for example. Emalia Wani’s Aaysh recipe was used to explore the idea of a “journey”, based on her experience as a refugee from the war in Sudan. Pamela Wildraut’s Sprouted Rye Sourdough recipe and her experience being an apprentice baker at Bread By Us gave us the theme of “growth”.

Vivian writing.JPGThroughout the workshops, we discovered different ways to introduce and run the exercise. We learned that a prompt sheet with suggestions was the best way to begin the conversation. The prompts were designed to have the participants begin to think about the themes. We offered questions like: “What five things would you be sure to take with you if you are leaving your home and don’t know when you will return?” These were printed and handed out at the start of the workshop. After we had completed the first stage of bread making, usually the mix and knead, we would gather round the large table in the Food Centre and invite participants to work in pairs and discuss their answers. Then we would bring the group and their responses together to lead
the collective creation of what came to be known as the Human Recipes.

IMG_20170406_141254Sitting around the table, enjoying samples of the bread that we had just learned to make, this portion of the workshops became an opportunity for participants to share their experiences and tell stories. Some participants boldly shared their experiences of coming to Canada, witnessing changes in their neighbourhood or discovering a new sense of community. Others were more shy, preferring to share their personal stories of trauma, growth and connection on anonymous pieces of paper.

It was a time to make connections with the other participants in the workshop. Small moments of meeting and warming to new people at the table. Connections from the shared experience of making, baking, waiting and sharing. Connections that will hopefully continue outside the kitchen of the Parkdale Food Centre, throughout the neighbourhood.

THUNK!theatre, July 2017

Margit Hideg

Visual Art in Local Language Classes

On May 17, 2017  new Canadians created colourful art pieces for The Wisdom of the Trees arts project during their regular English class at the Beaverbrook Library.

As each participant becomes a part of the installation, they acknowledge their position in our human forest: in their community. Margit asks each artist to visually describe how their roots influenced their choices in life and share these stories with the group.

It was interesting to see how the universal language of visual art helped to communicate various ideas of identity with the participants in each wokshop. Everyone was interested to find out how we define Canadian Identity. I chose to work with the idea of trees and forests which I thought symbolized how this multicultural country accepts and celebrates diversity.” says Margit as she reflects on this workshop.

This was another opportunity to collaborate with a language teacher and create a learning environment in which students are working with a professional visual artist alongside the language teacher.

It was fascinating to see how art making stimulated students’ vocabulary, command of syntax, and use of metaphor.  This experience demonstrated how teachers can use visual art as a powerful tool to help  language learners encounter language in dynamic ways, build vocabulary, and make rich cultural connections. Participants were able to practice strategies for engaging with works of art and collaborate with peers to develop connections. While the emphasis of this workshop will be on teaching foreign languages through the visual arts, this method is also applicable to teaching any other discipline. Many teachers feel that through integration of the arts into their academic lessons students are able to learn more deeply because they use varied ways of thinking and problem solving.

One artist rights “Peace, harmony and diversity” on her tree. Another draws the flags of the countries that she has lived in and another simple writes that she drew her tree beside water because she feels the need to live close to the water. Another draws the roots of her tree in gold and writes that they represent her family members who are so good, they are represented by the colour gold.

Margit adds: “Artmaking in a participatory setting becomes a process of discovering within us our inner child, the sensitivity needed toward fantasy in everyday life. Each creation becomes a cosmogram holding the frequency of love and curiosity needed to maintain our creative energy. This simple change of consciousness carries the potential for us to look around and see how life shines. Once this change is made it was easier for students to open up and translate their artwork into words.”

It was a great experience to bring some extra fun to our local library language lessons! We hope that the participants will continue to use art as a way to relax and organize their thoughts in a visual way.

Margit Hideg, June 2017



As in all the storytelling/animation projects I’ve done with Awesome Arts, there was the great pleasure in witnessing everyone:

  • recognizing the essential nuggets in their own stories (and the parts that weren’t as important), how to put them together more effectively, how to make them sing — both of the people who ended up recording came with a strong sense of story and seemed to relish the refining process
  • becoming invested in one another’s stories — able to give useful and kind feedback on what was and wasn’t working in each others’ tellings; although Jennifer didn’t end up recording her story, Wilf and Amanda were able to help her see the difference between a speech (which is what she started with) and a story
  • coming together as a group enjoying a joint venture

Amanda and her family are relatively new arrivals in Carp, having emigrated from England a few years ago.  Her family story doesn’t have anything to do with Carp but, as you heard, is funny and very human.  It took a few tries to get a comprehensible explanation of curtain wire, commonplace in England and critical to the plot, worked out.  Amanda’s father-in-law used it to repair the choke in his wife’s car — it came unravelled at an inopportune moment…

Wilf, on the other hand, grew up in Carp and his story about Bert really captured the tone of rural Ontario life in the 50s and 60s and the semi-acknowledged place of a misfit like Bert in the community.  As Wilf himself observed, the edited version is a story about a trick; the longer oral version is a portrait of an individual in his community.  I’m glad the latter will be posted eventually!

In order to turn some of the oral stories into stop motion animation videos, they need to be edited down quite a bit. Tina Le Moine, the follow-up artist that will be transforming the stories into animation, does a marvellous job of that but I realized that the the oral stories and the stories used for the animation are quite different. To honour the two art forms (storytelling and animation) as well as the original story told, we came up with the idea of sharing both on Youtube. The longer version will be shared with no animation, it will be a stand along oral story. The other will be the shorter, edited, animated story. The participants and artists were pleased with this solution.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy projects like this so much and find them so valuable is that people need and want to tell their stories.  When we tell our stories, our connection to one another is affirmed and we recognize what we have in common.  When you’re working with older people, that need for connection, for being heard, for experience being acknowledged and valued becomes even more pressing — although I could say the same about many of the other groups I’ve worked with — immigrants and people young and old who’ve found themselves in stressful, difficult situations.  And then there’s the satisfaction of shaping and telling your experience in a way that others are clearly happy to listen to…  So — definitely worthwhile and a deep pleasure!

– MASC Artist Katherine Grier

Brenda Dunn artinjest

re[place] re[collect] Small Town Big City

It’s a good thing my photographer comes from the Pontiac. His rural street cred is necessary to help ease the tension when we first roll in from the big city. I’ve never thought that I’d live in a rural area, but I recognize the incredible advantage to having that built in recognition and sense of community.

When we meet seniors from these more remote neighborhoods, there is sometimes a hesitation, even suspicion, about what we might be doing, and what intentions we may have brought from downtown Ottawa. The impression, for some, is that the big city is not a particularly caring or friendly place. The idea comes from a sense of anonymity. One of the greatest things about a rural community is that you KNOW everyone. Like them or hate them, they are part of your ecosystem. And that can come hand in hand with an idea that there is no community – no shared responsibility – in a place where you cannot possibly know everyone.

I can see how it can look that way. But I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a really close knit and mutually supportive community in Ottawa, and being part of the Arts scene has played a huge part in that. For a small town, the entire population becomes part of this mutually sustaining ecosystem. Everyone recognizes, and therefore feels accountable to each other. One of the advantages of being so entrenched in the arts is that there is this funny little subset of “big city Ottawa” where the concerns and the mutual support feels in some ways like a small town. Although that can cause artists to struggle with economy of scale, it can also lend well to connecting with and sustaining a very devoted and supportive audience.

This project has reminded me that there are some wonderful things about being part of a community, and I’m reminded to appreciate the niche that the arts has provided in the Big City of Ottawa. So thanks Ottawa Arts. Mighty nice to know you.

Brenda Dunn artinjest

Brenda Dunn artinjest

re[place] re[collect]

When a project is beginning, there’s always trepidation around how participants are going to engage. I wanted to create the re[place] re[collect] project because I think people have stories that matter. That said, I wasn’t sure how much that would matter to my participants!

When I first get in touch with facilitators in the seniors support community, they all have supportive and enthusiastic responses. But right away, even within that amazingly helpful group, Carolyn stands out. She knows instantly which of her members would love to chat to me, and she is clearly as passionate about getting me connected as I am.

Our first site visit is to join into a luncheon held monthly out in Metcalfe. When we’re introduced, we’re sort of surprise guests. The attendees are polite, but they are suspicious at first of a giant recording device. I make it very clear that NO one has to be recorded or photographed if they don’t want to, and Carolyn is great and smoothing our introduction. I’m lucky – my photographer is also from a rural area and he acts as a bit of an ambassador and gets noticeably warm reception. After that, we just sit down to lunch and start chatting.

And that’s all it takes.

These people are instantly able to recall details and moments that are perfect little capsules of rural Ottawa 20, 30, 40 50+ years ago. I hear about lighthouse dances and backyard parties, I learn about buildings that served 10 different purposes for as many different owners. I am immediately overwhelmed by the generosity with which people share. Not just with me, but with each other. This is my first tiny toe in the water of this project, one that asks so much of the participants. It is instantly a flood of recollections. Something tells me we’re going to get all the stories we need.

Brenda Dunn artinjest