Naomi Tessler

Unearthing Stories, Harvesting Community

Our final summer show we were all set up at Ken Ross Park on the deck of the community house-prepared for any weather at all, we were simply waiting eagerly for our audience members to arrive. We weren’t sure who was going to come or how many people were going to come, we just hoped we would have enough people so we could play their stories back.

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The actors in our Playing Back Our Neighbourhood Stories youth ensemble and I did a circle around the play structure, inviting young families to join us and when we returned to our performance space, the audience members had begun to trickle in. I felt relieved and the actors felt nervous.

Our show began with opening remarks made by MPP lisa Macleod who spoke about the spirit of Barrhaven and how pleased she was to see youth engaged in the arts in the community.

The audience warmed up to sharing their stories slowly but once they got into it, we heard a beautiful tapestry of colourful Barrhaven tales.

We heard stories about discovering the neighbourhood and being proud to live in a peaceful, active community. Stories about elders getting lost and being supported by community members and local police who went out of their way to ensure their fellow community member got home safely.

We heard stories about Barrhaven street parties, community coming together and growing stronger in the wake of tragedy.

Our youth ensemble listened to each story with full heart and soulfully played them back. The audience was deeply impressed by their intuitive responses and their innate improvisation skills.

Once the actors got going, they went full speed and pulled out fantastic punch lines and had the courage to deepen their physical expression.

During the technique: rant, the actors passionately ranted about the kinds of changes the audience members would like to see in their community. The actors love this technique and it was clear by the way their expressions and actions grew in intensity and connection to the audience’s story and truly captured the essence of their experience. One rant about traffic went so well that Counselor Michael Quaqish responded “these are the comments I get on my desk everyday!” We were grateful he joined us in our audience and great to know these concerns are being heard.

Our performance closed with audience members sharing that our show instilled a deep sense of: community, wanting to connect with each other, hope, diversity and pride about living in Barrhaven.

It was a positive experience for all involved and the actors were thrilled to have the support of their community behind them.

The BBQ supported by: Darryl Bartraw, Emily Veryard, Joe Veryard and Eric Seizew was a wonderful way to end our event. New connections were made and the whole audience enjoyed good food and great people.

Our raffle prize winners were thrilled to take home their special gifts from: Bella photography, Bows and Tiaras or Braves Haven. We are truly grateful for their contributions to our project!

It has been an incredible journey performing for the Barrhaven community this summer. Our youth ensemble has grown so much in their skills and in their self-confidence!

We thank the Nepean Housing Corporation, Farm Boy, Braces Haven, Bows & Tiarras, Bella Photography, Darryl Bartraw, Barrhaven BIA, AOE Arts Council, Neighbourhood Arts 150, Emily Veryard and all our volunteers for making our final summer show and community bbq a huge success: bringing out the stories of Barrhaven and bringing community together.

It was bittersweet as the ensemble said goodbye to each other at the August 19th show as some of the group will have too much school work to take part in the fall session.  However we are excited to welcome new actors to our ensemble in our fall session beginning September 19th.

We look so forward to sharing our final show, which will weave together all the stories of Barrhaven we heard this summer on:

Tuesday, October 24th, 7pm, Barrhaven Community House-16 Kilbarron rd.

We hope to see you there!







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.


Naomi Tessler

Gathering, Building, Growing

For the past two months, I have been heading out past the fields of cows on Tuesday evenings to play, tell stories, co-create, laugh, improvise, co-learn and teach playback theatre with an intimate group of Barrhaven youth.

At the start, gathering a group of Barrhaven youth was no easy task.  Asking youth ages 12-15 to improvise turns out to be a tough sell! However, with the support of Nepean Housing Corporation, South Nepean Satellite Community Health Centre and the Barrhaven BIA, we have a strong group of youth taking part in the project who are dedicated, funny, talented and overcoming their shyness to get onstage and play back their Barrhaven neighbours’ stories in our four public performances this summer!

Naomi5 In each of our Tuesday night sessions, I have been working with the group on building community, confidence and trust in addition to building their skills in: performance, movement, storytelling, sound-making and improvisation. The ensemble has slowly become more comfortable with using their bodies to express emotions and they are mastering improvising stories—even in French!

Since the beginning of May, we’ve been working each week on a specific playback theatre technique, introducing the group step by step to the rituals and art that is playback theatre.


Playback theatre is made up of many improvisation techniques that are all used to play back the audience members stories in different ways. Playback theatre requires active listening to make sure the actors truly understand the heart of the story the audience member is sharing. It requires a willingness to deeply trust one’s fellow actors and have the courage to create and dive into the action on stage.

This style of theatre is challenging the youth in our group to discover and step into their strengths! For each performance, they will be on stage at all times. Before our first show on July 7th, we are taking the time to keep working on confidence building to support the group in opening up and being prepared to make bold choices individually and collectively on stage.


Throughout our time working together there have been a few challenges that I did not anticipate.  I have learned from the group that in the age of Instagram and Snapchat that if two youth who are friends are seen on stage linking arms—it could be possible that all their friends and family in the audience would assume they are dating.   As such, there are a few youth in our group who have requested not to link arms or sit beside each other in our performances.  One of the techniques which is called pairs typically requires linking arms but to acknowledge the social media anxiety it could bring forth, we have collectively decided to do the technique a different way.  Our group specializes in sarcasm and would love to do a whole show in that language!  It has therefore been tough to guide the group away from sarcasm (unless it’s part of a story we’re working on) and into the exploration of their full range of emotions and expressions. When we began talking about the performances, the group went into panic mode when they realized that their friends might see one of our shows!  They had been thoroughly enjoying our Tuesday evening workshops and rehearsals, but hadn’t considered who might be coming out to the community performances we’re working towards.  When discussing show dates and times, they comically suggested and honestly requested a Saturday morning show since their friends sleep in on weekends! They got excited about performing at the seniors’ residence as they felt there would be full support from that audience. Working with this group of youth, I’m realizing that I’ve grown a bit out of touch with teenage worries. It can truly be mortifying to perform in front of youth that one considers to be more popular, or to be doing silly repetitive movements in front of someone that one has a crush on.  As such-I’m consciously aiming to meet the group where they are and have fully supported the 11am Saturday show!

As we grow closer to our summer performances, I have grown extremely proud of the strides the group has taken to learn these new techniques and overcome their performance anxieties to be able to thrive on stage.

I’m thrilled to announce that we now have all our performances lined up:

Show #1: Friday, July 7th ,7:30pm-Barrhaven Community House-16 Kilbarron rd.

Show #2: Tuesday, July 18th, 6:30pm-Court of Barrhaven-1111 Longfields Dr

Show #3: Friday, August 11th, 6:30pm-The Log Farm, 670 Cedarview Rd

Show # 4: Saturday, August 19th, 11am, Community BBQ lunch to follow,

Ken Ross Park: at the hill by the Soccer Field/Play structure

Each show will have free food for the community audience (sponsored by Loblaws and other sponsors TBA) and I am working on gathering some raffle prizes from local businesses.  So far Braces Haven Barrhaven has provided a generous raffle prize of $500 towards orthodontic treatment for each show!

 I am thoroughly enjoying connecting with the Barrhaven businesses and artists to try and bring community together to take part in our events.

As we draw closer to our first performance I am bubbling with curiousity and excitement to hear the stories the community will share with our youth and watch in wonder as the youth play them back!

 Naomi Tessler, June 2017